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Riders upset Fairfax Connector may end Pentagon express service

Friday - 2/22/2013, 3:56pm  ET

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Bus routes 595 and 597, which go from Reston, Va. to the Pentagon are the busiest routes, but a proposal may eliminate them in order to enhance the Silver Line. (WTOP/Ari Ashe)

Ari Ashe, wtop.com

RESTON, Va. - Federal workers may lose a Fairfax Connector express bus service that carries hundreds each day from Reston to the Pentagon.

"Right now, it takes 35 minutes to get to work. It's just wonderful," says Sarah Stein of Herndon, who commutes from Reston North Park and Ride to the Pentagon each weekday.

"It's easy. I've been riding the bus for eight years. I can leave my house at 7:05 and sit down at my desk at 8 a.m.," says Mary Czernowski of Herndon.

But the Fairfax Department of Transportation is exploring whether to eliminate Fairfax Connector Routes 595 and 597 to the Pentagon and Crystal City in order to enhance service when the Silver Line opens.

"Our plan needs to be revenue-neutral, which means using the same amount of buses as our service uses today. By routing buses to Wiehle-Reston East Metro Station instead of all the way to West Falls Church Metro, we are able to reinvest those buses into enhancing existing routes," says Fairfax County Department of Transportation spokeswoman Ellen Kamilakis.

However, in order to provide new service to the Silver Line, buses need to be pulled from other routes.

But Pentagon workers say they believe there are good reasons to keep the 595 and 597.

First, the buses are always packed. The Department of Transportation says ridership is high on the two lines.

Second, a round-trip ticket is $15, the most expensive on the Fairfax Connector.

Those fares cover the operating costs, unlike other routes that taxpayers subsidize.

The buses run every 30 minutes from 5:35 a.m. to 8 a.m. and 3:50 p.m. to 6:50 p.m.

"Please, please, please find a way to keep this bus going. It's an awesome commute and the alternatives are very dreary for us," says Paul Mulgrew of Sterling.

"It'll suck because I already leave my home at 5 a.m. If I had to leave at 4:30 a.m., it would be ridiculous," says Christina Miller of Reston.

"It would be pretty frustrating because my commute time would double," says Chris Solee of Herndon.

At a recent forum on the Fairfax Connector, Fairfax County Supervisor John Foust called out officials on the plan.

"I strongly suggest that they keep the routes - figure out how to do that," said Foust.

The current proposal isn't the first time the 595 and 597 routes have been on the chopping block.

In 2009, the Department of Transportation tried to eliminate the routes when Fairfax County was made across-the-board budget cuts, but a deal was struck to keep the buses running.

This time, some want the Pentagon workers to choose the Silver Line instead.

But several 595 and 597 riders say they won't do that.

"The Metro is going to be a Band-Aid. It's not going to be equal to the service of the 595. You're going to have to transfer at multiple stops. This takes you directly into the Pentagon and Crystal City without any delays," says James Watson of Herndon.

"I'm not sure I would want to take the Metro. I might be looking at driving in and getting a parking pass at the Pentagon," says Kim Markee of Herndon.

"It is not going to be faster. It's going to be longer. What that's going to do is force people into carpools. They're going to put more people on the road," says Kathy Loftin of Herndon.

"The buses are serving them, but they're also serving all of us by keeping cars off the highway," says Supervisor Foust.

He says he's spoken to the Fairfax County Department of Transportation and remains optimistic about reaching a deal.

Officials at the Department of Transportation emphasize no final decision has been made.

"It's very important to us that we hear from our passengers about our Silver Line service plan. Our passengers are our partners. After the public comment period closes on Feb. 28, planners will start the delicate task of finalizing a plan that balances our resources and the needs of our passengers. We encourage our passengers to comment via email or to our Facebook and Twitter accounts," says Kamilakis.

This story has been modified to reflect a more accurate number of daily ridership.

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