OmniRide is hoping to take advantage of the forthcoming 66 Outside the Beltway toll lanes, and for the first time, its passengers could be getting one-seat trips to the Dulles area by the end of the year.
The transit provider is hoping to start a commuter route that would take riders from Balls Ford Road to the Innovation Center Silver Line Metro stop in December, using the nearly completed I-66 Outside the Beltway toll lanes. The proposal is part of a suite of adjustments and increased bus service designed to take advantage of the new lanes, which are scheduled to be open by December.
The service would take riders from Balls Ford Road in Manassas to the Innovation Center stop, going on to several employment centers in the area before ending at the U.S. Geological Survey headquarters in Reston.
At Innovation Center, riders will be one Metro stop from Dulles Airport once the Silver Line extension is open – expected this fall – and the line will intersect with several Fairfax Connector routes. Riders can also take Metro from that stop into Tysons, Arlington or Washington.
Omniride Executive Director Bob Schneider said that for commuters heading from the Manassas area to Herndon and Reston, the bus will either be faster than a solo trip in the non-tolled lanes or cheaper than driving on the toll lanes.
“You want to go to the airport? No problem. Balls Ford Road, next stop, hop on Metro and now you’ve got access that works for airport workers,” Schneider told InsideNoVa. “This gives you employer access, retail worker access, airport employment access … and the route is anchored at USGS, and that’s one of the major employers that we’re trying to tap into.”
The route was recommended by the state Department of Rail and Public Transportation’s 2020 report on the I-66 corridor’s transit options. While the report recommended that the line run 10 buses per peak period, Schneider said it will start out running three northbound buses in the morning and three southbound in the afternoon each day. The state report was published in February 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic upended commuting patterns in the area.
Del. Danica Roem, a regular proponent of increased public transit service in western Prince William County, said she’s been calling for a similar line since the toll lanes broke ground.
“From the time someone leaves Balls Ford, they will not hit another traffic light … until they get to Dulles,” Roem told InsideNoVa. “And because the bus can use the toll lanes, that’s going to cut down costs for people … and it’ll have a speed factor as well.”
Other Route Changes
In other changes, the transit provider is looking to increase service frequency on its 65 Manassas local route, running buses every 45 minutes on the line rather than every 90, the current schedule. It would also be split into two branches: a 65N line would go from OmniRide’s western hub and Northern Virginia Community College to just outside Manassas and would restore service to Manassas Mall, and a 65B line would run between the western hub and the new Balls Ford Road commuter lot. The branch would also serve residential areas along Coverstone Drive west of Ashton Avenue.
Public hearings for those and other service changes will take place in the coming weeks. They come as OmniRide continues to regain ridership that was lost after the start of the pandemic. OmniRide’s local, commuter and Metro Express lines carried over 6,000 riders on average during weekdays in May, up from 3,400 in May 2021. The biggest gains this year have also come from the operator’s commuter service.
Sunday service on local routes is also expected to start for the first time in late August.