With $ from I-66 Tolls, 3T Bus Service Will Be Restored in Downtown F.C.

THE 3T BUS LINE will to the City of Falls Church, running the length of West Broad St., and will connect riders to both East and West Falls Church Metro stations. (Map: City of Falls Church)

A meeting and vote much anticipated by City of Falls Church officials held in Richmond yesterday of Virginia’s Commonwealth Transportation Board delivered the hoped-for result. A major Metro bus line through the heart of the City, the 3T, was voted to be restored using funds from the new tolls on I-66, and will be back in service by January 2019.

The Washington Metro Area Transportation Authority (WMATA) had cut off the service in the summer of 2016 in a cost-saving gesture, despite major objections from City residents who relied on it for their commutes to work. Citizens showed up to protest the cancellation at City Council meetings, and were told that City officials would file official objections with WMATA and the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission.

Yesterday’s vote in Richmond approved a total of $12 million for 15 projects around the region to benefit commuters. According to the NVTC, the projects “will move another 2,000 people through the I-66 corridor during rush hour and save 120,000 hours of travel delay each year.”

Falls Church City Councilman David Snyder, the City’s representative to the NVTC and other regional transit-related groups, hailed the result, telling the News-Press today, “It was a strong effort by Falls Church City staff in response to a City Council priority. This is a great example of regional cooperation to use I-66 money for appropriate purposes.”

Falls Church Vice Mayor Marybeth Connelly added, “The City heard the concerns expressed by commuters when the 3T bus service was lost due to budget cuts. I am very pleased that by working with our regional partners we are able to have this bus service restored.”

The funding of $845,000 for the 3T is good for two years, and the City will petition to have it renewed after that. The 3T line runs the length of West Broad Street in the City, going between the West Falls Church Metro station down Haycock Road to W. Broad, and north on N. Washington Street to the East Falls Church Metro station.

The service, according to a NVTC report, “will feature a bi-directional, peak-period service with 20 minute headways, and will provide an attractive alternative to existing Metrobus 28A service.”

As a result, Falls Church residents all along West Broad will have a direct, non-stop “first mile and last mile” connection to the Metrorail station of their choice with the service, instead of needing to transfer buses to get to a station.

This will not only be a valued restoration for residents who’d grown used to the service before it was cancelled two years ago, but will be a boon for new residents, such as those in the 301 W. Broad building and in planned projects along West Broad, such as Founder’s Row, the Broad-Washington project and the West End development.

The F.C. Council officially approved this Commuter Choice grant application at its Dec. 11, 2017 meeting.

The Council was amid considerable consternation over WMATA’s demands at the time, having faced the cancellation of the 3T service in 2016 and then slammed with what was expected, by last December, to be a huge financial burden as its portion of a commitment to renovate the outdated Metrorail service.

Things have taken an upturn since then, with the State Legislature agreeing that the Metrorail funding should come from the state, not the localities, although much of that cost was assigned to the NVTC. And now the 3T has been restored.

There remain issues over the extent to which the state’s commitment of $154 million to Metro is fully covered, however, as the F.C. Council learned on Monday night. That’s because, according to reports, the state budget listed the cost as a percentage, not an absolute number, and with a discrepancy between the two, local jurisdictions throughout Northern Virginia have been huddling to figure out how this will be handled.

Shields told the News-Press Tuesday that he did not think the outcome, once resolved, would burden local taxpayers any further, that if the City has to ante up more than earlier thought, reserves would cover the difference.

State Sen. Dick Saslaw, who was a major player in getting the WMATA funding burden off the local jurisdictions during the recent Richmond legislative session, spoke along with State Del. Marcus Simon to the monthly luncheon of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce Tuesday, and seemed unaware of the latest discrepancy issue.

NVTC Executive Director Kate Mattice said of the 15 projects approved by the Commonwealth Transportation Board yesterday, they included “both the traditional, such as the expansion of successful bus routes, and the non-traditional, including the use of technology to get people into vanpools or to park-and-ride lots.”