Ahead of I-395 tolling start, Virginia looks at more bus service

When tolls begin this fall on Interstate 395 in Virginia, a sliver of the money will help pay for alternatives for commuters trying to avoid the HOV or toll rules. New rankings suggest exactly which projects will be funded.

The initial scores suggest the up-to-$22 million in funding should largely go toward new or improved bus services to and from places such as Fairfax County, Stafford, Fredericksburg, Prince William, Arlington and Alexandria. Additional funding would go toward encouraging commuters to carpool, slug or take trains and buses.

These improvements are meant to be in place from the start of tolling in October through the end of June 2021

The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission is due to set a public comment period Thursday that is scheduled to run Aug. 4 through Sept. 6, including public hearings Sept. 5. The NVTC, PRTC and Commonwealth Transportation Board would then approve the final list of projects by mid-October.

In this first round of rankings, technical scores accounted for 55%, cost effectiveness 15%, and the immediate readiness of projects 20%. Jurisdictions could add another 10 points out of 100 for their top priority project.

Out of 17 applications requesting $31.6 million, 15 appear to be in the running for the $22 million in available funding.

Money must go to projects along the 95 Express Lanes and soon to be 395 Express Lanes extension.

Drivers with at least two other people in the car can ride free in the lanes with an E-ZPass Flex in HOV mode. Like the 95 Express Lanes, the rules will apply round-the-clock in the 395 lanes rather than today’s policies that open up the HOV lanes to all drivers outside of rush hour.

An additional extension of the 95 Express Lanes south to Fredericksburg is due to be completed in about three years.

Specific projects

The rankings would mean the following projects would be funded:

— Two additional morning and evening OmniRide commuter bus trips between Dale City (Horner Road, Telegraph Road and Dale City lots) and Ballston ($251,600).

— Better AT-1 Plus DASH bus service between West End/Beauregard, Mark Center and Van Dorn Metro station, with more frequent service, extended hours and better bus stops ($3,040,000).

— More frequent Prince William Metro Express OmniRide service between the OmniRide Transit Center in Dale City, Potomac Mills Mall and the Franconia-Springfield Metro ($562,400).

— New FRED bus service between North Stafford, Aquia Towne Center, Garrisonville Road, and Quantico ($322,619).

— More frequent rush-hour service on OmniRide Route 1 Local Bus between Quantico and Woodbridge VRE using a new bus ($1,133,500).

— New Fairfax Connector service to the Pentagon from Springfield. Backick North Park and Ride and Gambrill Park and Ride each get their own direct express bus by splitting Route 395 into two separate routes. Funding includes four new buses, new bike parking and improvements at the park and ride lots ($3,540,903).

— New outreach campaign to military facilities along I-95 and I-395 through the Northern Virginia Regional Commission urging workers to commute using carpools, slugging or transit rather than driving alone ($396,184).

— New OmniRide bus service from Staffordboro Commuter Lot (currently slugging/carpooling only) to downtown D.C. Funding includes purchase of four new buses ($3,569,200).

— More trips on DASH AT-9 between Mark Center and Potomac Yard throughout the day, including extended hours. Funding also includes four real-time bus arrival information displays ($1,949,000).

— New pavement markings along parts of the Crystal City-Potomac Yard Transitway in Arlington to ensure the bus only lanes remain bus only by even more clearly warning car drivers that they do not belong ($150,000).

— New OmniRide bus service from the Staffordboro Commuter Lot to the Pentagon Funding includes purchase of four new buses ($3,495,300).

— Changing Metrobus 7Y through Arlington to have outbound afternoon trips stop at Pentagon City the same way inbound morning trips do. The change provides a direct bus connection between McPherson Square and Pentagon City on the route to Southern Towers ($200,000).

— One year of operations of Arlington County’s recently opened commuter store at the Pentagon Transit Center ($211,962).

The above projects, plus $800,000 for marketing, outreach and program administration, total $19.6 million.

The next highest rated project — $3.3 million for improved Fairfax Connector bus service to the Pentagon with improvements to the Saratoga and Backlick North park and rides — would push past the available funding, however, there is some overlap in requested bike parking improvements and other park and ride upgrades with one of the other projects selected above so the cost could be reduced.

That project on the bubble scored only slightly higher than a $300,000 request from Prince William County to encourage people to avoid driving alone on I-95 and I-395, or to shift their hours to commute outside rush hour.

The final two projects scored much lower — bike lanes, sidewalks and a left turn lane on Leeland Road south of the Leeland Road VRE Station in Stafford County ($5.2 million), and an Arlington County request to overhaul the intersection of South Glebe Road and West Glebe Road to deal with backups onto I-395 north ($3 million).

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