Weekly Column: U.S. 1 Transit Study: It’s Time to Speak Up
The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette and The Mt. Vernon Voice in the week of October 15, 2014.
U.S. 1 Transit Study: It’s Time to Speak Up
Last week, Virginia’s Department of Rail and Public Transit held the last public hearing on the U.S. 1 Multimodal Transit Study. This study will determine the most appropriate road configuration, mode of transit and accompanying land uses for the U.S. 1 corridor for the next 30 years. As the study ends, public input is absolutely critical. In 2012, Senator Toddy Puller and I won approval of $2 million to fund the study. After sixteen months taking input and considering various alternatives, the consultant team is recommending the “Hybrid Option” – (1) a six-lane U.S. 1, (2) a bike-pedestrian path the entire length, (3) a median-dedicated bus rapid transit system from Huntington Metro station to Woodbridge, and (4) a two-stop Yellow Line Metro extension with stops at Beacon Hill and Hybla Valley. The total cost in 2014 dollars would be about $2.4 billion. However, after considering funding input from the Fairfax County Department of Transportation, the consultants recommended that the project be broken into four phases: In phases I-III, the bus rapid transit system would be constructed between 2024-2035. In phase IV, the Yellow Line extension would be built with service starting in 2040. While I am very excited that they recommended the Hybrid Option, the phasing approach and more specifically, the timing is totally unacceptable. We need projects in the ground as soon as possible. At the Executive Committee Meeting, the schedule was also unacceptable to Mount Vernon Supervisor Gerry Hyland, Senators Toddy Puller and Adam Ebbin and Delegate Mark Sickles. This view was also reiterated at the public hearing and many residents also commented that the Metro extension should be the first priority for funding with the bus rapid transit system coming second. It is a complicated problem. Construction of any project will require funding. There is some transit funding available from the state, but Fairfax County has not dedicated its transit funding more than six years out, and most of the funding scenarios considered also involve significant federal funding, presumably under the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) “New Starts” Program. As of today, New Starts grants base funding on numerous criteria including environmental benefits, local funding commitment and ridership. The U.S. 1 corridor has a long way to go to reach the housing densities traditionally associated with Metro stations such as Arlington’s Clarendon or Courthouse areas. Federal funding availability and criteria has changed over the last decade and could also continue to change – for better or worse. Moreover, our current infrastructure – with or without Metro – is incapable of handling another 120,000 people living on U.S. 1. These plans are dependent upon a new road grid secondary to U.S. 1 (e.g., secondary roads running along the west side of Hybla Valley and Beacon Hill so that U.S. 1 is not the only route between shopping centers). In the next month, we need to complete this study. Now is the critical time for people to weigh in. I have created a page on my website where you can post final comments that I will forward to the consultant team. Please visit and comment at bit.ly/route1comment. The consultant team will consider comments received and make final recommendations in the next 60 days. Then the Executive Committee will vote and forward recommendations to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for their endorsement. Then we focus on implementation. This will include updating the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan as soon as possible to add (1) station locations, (2) a new secondary road grid and (3) increased densities to support high quality transit. In the meantime, we need to work to find funding. It is now time to speak up. I truly believe that extending the Yellow Line to Hybla Valley is a game-changer for U.S. 1 that is key to strong schools and decent shopping and restaurants and to maintaining the high quality of life we all expect in our part of Fairfax County. I look forward to your input and it is an honor to serve as your state delegate. If you have any questions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Protecting Mt. Vernon's Fisheries
The 44th District is fortunate to serve as the sentinel "guarding" our border with Maryland. The Potomac River is a true asset and Virginia's Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) helps to keep it thriving and to restore it. Outdoor activities like fishing and hunting create millions of dollars of economic activity in the Commonwealth.
DGIF's has a team of biologists who continually monitor the our areas creeks and rivers. It is funded nearly entirely by licensing fees for fishing and hunting, and grants.
DGIF's biologist in our area is John Odenkirk. I have taken several trips with him to learn about his efforts to study and monitor the Potomac's Snakehead population which originated in Dogue Creek and Little Hunting Creek. Here's some of my prior posts:
DGIF publishes a series of videos called "The Fish Head Chronicles" on Facebook. One of their latest versions focuses on John's Mount Vernon fish monitoring and removal of an invasive species called the water chestnut. You can see the passion he brings to his job in the video. You can watch it here.
Enjoy the video and make sure you "Like" their page on Facebook!
44th District School Report Cards
The Virginia State Board of Education has issued its academic report cards for all of the schools in the 44th District.
I will write more later on the significance of these results. The schools that changed status from last year are West Potomac HS, Whitman MS, and Hybla Valley ES.
44th District Schools 2012-13 Academic Report Cards
Overall Fairfax County
West Potomac HS
Mt. Vernon HS
Carl Sandburg MS
Fort Belvoir ES
Fort Hunt ES
Hollin Meadows ES
Hybla Valley ES
Mt. Vernon Woods ES
Washington Mill ES
Woodley Hills ES
Weekly Column: The Top Three Issues: The Future of U.S. 1, Improving Local Schools, and Helping The Uninsured
The following is my column that will exclusively appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette in the week of August 25, 2014.
The Top Three Issues: The Future of U.S. 1, Improving Local Schools, and Helping The Uninsured
There are many issues facing the communities between the Potomac River, Huntley Meadows Park, Fort Belvoir and the City of Alexandria. The top three are U.S. 1, the future of our local schools, and a burgeoning uninsured population.
First, our quality of life revolves U.S. 1. The future of U.S 1 not only functions as the spine of our mobility, but it drives housing, retail choices, property values, schools, environmental quality, crime levels, and tax revenue.
A year ago, Senator Puller and I secured $2 million to fund the U.S. 1 Multimodal Study and determine the optimal transit, road, pedestrian, cycling, and accompanying land configuration for the U.S. 1 Corridor. That study will come to a conclusion in the next few months.
The study is effectively coming down to two choices. One is a dedicated bus rapid transit (BRT) system from Huntington Metro to Fort Belvoir. The second choice is a two-stop extension of the Yellow Line with a bus rapid transit system to Woodbridge – this two-pronged solution is being called the “Hybrid Option.”
Once the study issues a recommendation, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will need to take a vote to agree upon the Locally Preferred Option (“LPA”). Once the LPA is set, additional planning can commence. Achieving this will not only require the Board of Supervisors to agree upon making the redevelopment of U.S 1 a priority – it will require a consensus here in our community between residents, property owners, businesses, and other stakeholders.
The BRT option and Hybrid Option present two starkly different choices. Due to the land use choices necessary to support it, the Hybrid Option will bring the maximum benefit to the area. A two-stop Yellow Line extension will bring significant redevelopment to U.S. 1 from Huntington to Hybla Valley and beyond and is what our community needs. Enhanced bus-only transit will not bring the significant redevelopment that will maximize quality of life in this area.
Second, the quality of our public schools also depends upon adequate funding. Average Fairfax County teacher pay is $13,000 less than Washington, D.C., $10,000 under Arlington, $8,000 under Alexandria, and only $4,000 more than Prince William. Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) is facing a $2 billion capital backlog. There are trailers at nearly every school in our community.
Last year, thirteen schools in Fairfax County failed accreditation – six were in the 44th District although we only have about 7% of the County’s population. Universal preschool is the long-term key to solving this problem.
Additionally, five schools failed accreditation due to new computer-based science Standards of Learning (SOL) Tests. Closing the Digital Divide is recognized as having significant short-term benefit and is urgently needed.
Virginia’s other largest jurisdictions are already deploying computers to every child. Henrico County has provided computers to every child since 2001. This week, Chesterfield County issues their first 15,000 Chromebooks. FCPS currently spends $13,472 to educate each child. Computers for every child would cost about $50 million or only $265 per student.
There is no question that state funding of secondary education in Fairfax County is lagging. Thanks to the “Sequester,” Virginia’s economy continues to underperform the nation and state revenue is flat, and raging against funding formulas is a futile exercise without fundamental political change in Richmond, so in the medium-term, funding solutions will need to be local. Supervisor Hyland has been a strong voice for local education funding for nearly three decades. He will need all of our support.
Finally, our growing uninsured population is a long-term unsolved problem. Nearly 13,000 residents in the 44th District receive healthcare from Medicaid – this includes 9,300 children or 1 in 3 people under age 18 in this community. Each of those 9,300 kids has a parent without health insurance. The 22306 and 22309 zip codes lead Fairfax County in non-serious emergency room visits.
Uninsured healthcare expenses drive up premiums for everyone, but no person should have to worry that an unexpected illness will mean they can’t pay their rent. Closing the uninsured gap by expanding Medicaid or any other solution is a critical need in this community.
If you disagree with my analysis or priorities, always feel free to let me know at email@example.com
It is an honor to serve as your state delegate.
Weekly Column: Children’s Issues Dominate First Hispanic Town Hall
The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette and The Mt. Vernon Voice in the week of August 18, 2014.
Children’s Issues Dominate First Hispanic Town Hall
On Saturday, August 16, 2014, I held my third town hall meeting of the year and my first ever Hispanic Community Town Hall. I was also joined by the first Democratic elected Latino State Delegate - Alfonso Lopez - who represents South Arlington and Bailey's Crossroads.
The Hispanic population has grown from less than one percent in Virginia in the 1970s to 8.6% today. Here in our area, there was virtually no Hispanic population when I was a kid. Today, the Hispanic population is the largest minority demographic in the 44th District. One in four people who lives in the 44th District is Hispanic.
This community represents a new and growing part of Mt. Vernon and Lee and are a growing part of the community. It’s important that we reach out to and engage every group in our area in order to have a robust conversation about the challenges we face.
At the meeting, we discussed the following:
- Route 1 Transit Study.
- Healthcare Expansion for Low Income Families
- Secondary Education Funding
- Low Cost Internet and Computers for Students
- Virginia DREAM Act - In-state tuition for migrant students
- Affordable Housing
During the question and answer session, the main focus of the audience was improving local schools and providing more resources for children in the community.
Attendees specifically raised concerns about the seventeen trailers at Hybla Valley Elementary School - even after a new addition to the school. They pointed out that children cannot access bathrooms or water without going outside and back into the main building which also raises safety concerns.
Several mothers pointed out that Hybla Valley Elementary School does not have the same services for students as other schools in the area. The school also does not have a Parent Teacher Association which also limits parental involvement.
Attendees also had concerns about the lack of any meaningful after school activities for children in their neighborhood. Several mothers from Audubon Estates Mobile Home Park pointed out that they do not have convenient pedestrian or bike access to any parks or other activities. The only activities accessible to children are playing street. Several agreed that a bike and walking trails connecting Lockheed Boulevard, Audubon Estates, Mount Vernon Woods, Muddy Hole Park, and the Gum Springs Community Center would help to alleviate this problem.
The attendees also raised concerns about the condition of Audubon Estates, rent increases, and towing practices in their community.
Questions were also asked about how voting could be made more accessible to accommodate people's working schedules. It was also suggested that legislation should be introduced to allow the Virginia DMV to issues driver's licenses to all people residing in Virginia similar to Maryland.
Delegate Lopez explained how his father came to the United States, acquired a college education, and helped to educate dozens of members of his extended family. He also explained the Virginia DREAM Act and Attorney General Herring's recent decision which directed Virginia universities to extend in-state tuition to the 8,000 children granted status under President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy.
I encouraged the attendees to stay engaged in the community and we discussed setting up further meetings with other local elected officials.
It is an honor to serve as your state delegate. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
if you have any feedback.
Mulligan Road/Jeff Todd Way Set to Open!
The Mulligan Road - newly renamed Jeff Todd Way - saga is set to come to an end very soon. The new road will run from the Roy Rogers in Woodlawn to the bottom of the large hill on Telegraph Road just south of Hayfield Secondary School. It is a hugely needed improvement for East-West traffic flow in the Mt. Vernon-Lee Area.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) advised me today that the road will be open on August 18, 2014 with a ribbon cutting on August 25, 2014. Here's some older articles I've written about it:
On Sunday, August 10, 2014, I "inspected" the new road on my bike with my new GoPro camera. You can see my video at 4x speed below the flip (sorry there is no music).
The road is a MUCH
needed connection between 22309 and the Hayfield/Kingstowne area. It's about 2.5 miles long and is looking great.
It includes a mixed use path along the south end which the FHWA says the contractor is striving to complete by opening.
It road was funded by Federal, State and Local government, and took forever to finish for a number of reasons, but it's done. You can read more information about the project here:
The new shopping center at Beulah Road and Telegraph Road is starting to take shape including numerous "Wegman's towers." Relief is finally coming to 22309.
Judge Martin V.B. Bostetter, Jr.
When I got out of law school, the economy was still in the doldrums. The firm seemed to have a few post-divorce bankruptcies coming through and the partners needed someone to figure them out so it fell to the new guy - me. That's how I became a bankruptcy lawyer among other things.
At the time, there were two judges in the Alexandria Division Courthouse - Stephen Mitchell and the Chief Judge - Martin V.B. Bostetter, Jr
. I went on to try a few cases to both of them.
Last week, I learned of the passing of Judge Bostetter at the age of 88.
While I did not practice regularly before him and only practice before him for three of his forty years on the bench, I will never forget the day I was sworn in.
To become a member of the bar of a federal court, you have to certify that you've read all the rules and the local rules. I actually did this.
My partner, John Cummins, moved my admission to the bear before Judge Bostetter. Normally, the judge asks you a few questions about your law school, makes a joke about your boss, etc. Judge Bostetter thought it would be appropriate to cross examine me about my effort preparing for my swearing in.
After looking me over he said, "now you better have read those rules because if you walk into my courtroom and you don't know the law and you don't know the rules, I'll tell you that, and make a fool of you in here right in front of your client! Got it?
" While thinking (holy crap), I said, "uh huh."
With that, he made a big smile and said "welcome to Bankruptcy Court!"
He served as a U.S. Bankruptcy Judge from 1959 until 1999. He was Chief Judge for the entire Eastern District including Richmond and Norfolk from 1985 until his retirement. He was among the longest to ever serve. The courthouse in Alexandria on South Washington Street is named for him.
Rest in Peace.
New Sherwood Hall Lane Bike Lanes
While I was on vacation, VDOT finishing the paving operations on Sherwood Hall Lane.
The striping is still in progress, but the new bike lanes are on the ground. VDOT still has to pain bike lane symbols in the ground, a few stripes here and there, and install signage, but they are now on the ground and usable.
I took them for a test spin with my new GoPro camera on Sunday, August 10, 2014 around 11:30 a.m. You can see my ride a double speed below.
Multimodal improvements are critical to get more cars off the road. It is also hoped that by restricting lane size, this will help to lower speeds and illegal passing on Sherwood Hall Lane which has become a real problem with increased cut through traffic.
These improvements were the result of two public hearings and significant public input. These lanes will eventually link into to a multiuse path on U.S. 1 and other bike lanes as U.S. 1 is redone, properties are redeveloped and road repaved.
Legislative Inaction and Legislative Efficiency?
I was reading the Washington Post this morning and an article about legislative inaction in the U.S. Congress
Congress passed 140 in the 112th Congress (2011-2012) resulting in 2,324 pages of new laws. As of July 8, 2014, the 113th Congress has passed 125 new laws resulting in 2,597 pages of new law.
While there are definitely shortcomings in Virginia's 60 and 45 day sessions and the entire part-time legislature concept, I went to look at a couple metrics.
For example, in the 2014 General Assembly, around 2,750 bills were introduced (minus commending resolutions), 902 were passed, 234 continued to next session, and 980 killed. The Acts of Assembly are the compilation of every bill we pass. The 2014 version isn't out yet, but the 2011 Acts of Assembly was 2252 pages long.
Much of what we do is "housekeeping" where there is no meaningful objection to the legislation. For example, of the 902 bills we passed, 502 were unanimous.
Obviously, the Federal Government is a complex entity, it's budget is probably three times longer than Virginia's. You would think that the U.S. Congress needs to pass at least 5-10 times as much "housekeeping" legislation (or at least pages) as the Virginia General Assembly. They are not even doing that.
I recognize that pages do not necessarily reflect substance, and it's not unusual to see a bill that has ten new words and takes up 10 pages. However, it is really remarkable just how little the U.S. Congress has achieved in a two year session
when you compare it to the typical product of our part-time, 45-60 day legislature.
A Few Thoughts on Week One of the McDonnell Trial
|Johnnie Williams' Smith Mountain Lake Vacation Home|
It has been a sad and sordid week in Richmond. My General Assembly Office overlooks the Federal Courthouse. I'm glad I'm not there to see this depressing spectacle in person. A few initial thoughts.
First, this trial is highlighting some of the worst parts of the political system in Virginia. The talk about a New York shopping trip
, $5,000 bottles of cognac
, free yard work
, requesting free Land Rovers for children
, Ferarris and rolexes
, free golf equipment
, no interest $120,000 and $50,000 loans, covered wedding receptions, and $10,000 wedding gifts has not been pretty.
Johnnie Williams unabashedly asserting that he gave money and gifts to gain "access" and legitimize his company and its product
only serves to reinforce the most pessimistic assumptions that many Virginians hold about politicians and donors that government is for sale. Not every donor is looking for "access" or something in return for their contribution. Some donors, mainly individuals, contribute because of their interest in public policy issues or over-arching government philosophies. However, this trial - no matter what the outcome - will only serve to further undermine public confidence in government.
This trial only reiterates the need for actual ethics and campaign finance reform in the Virginia, and the problems created by the Citizen's United ruling and its progeny.
Second, while much of the media focus has been on the Hobbs Act charges - the quid pro quo stuff - there has been very little media focus on the loan fraud and obstruction charges which I view as quite strong. Yesterday, Williams testified about receiving a note from Mrs. McDonnell attempting to return clothing two years after it was given (to make it appear to be a loan and not a gift) and during the midst of an FBI invetigation, and attempting to reframe their relationship as personal friendship. That's hard to defend.
Third, we will see if this "crush defense
" will work, but I am having a hard time reconciling the assertions that Mrs. McDonnell was ignored to the extent that she hated the Governor, their marriage was in shambles
, and had a crush on Johnnie Williams, so she felt it necessary to get the object of her affection to buy a $7,500 watch for her husband and share all of these luxury experiences with him. Things like watches and pictures speak a thousand words. The watch and the smiling picture of the McDonnells in a Ferrari are hard to get around.
Lastly, having been on the receiving end of a prosecution as defense counsel, it is important to remember that everyone is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in this country, the cross-examination of Johnie Williams is about to begin and the defense has not put on a single witness yet.
There are two (and sometimes three or four) sides to every story. The right to trial by jury is sacred in Virginia and whether the government has met its burden of proof to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt will be for twelve Virginians to sort out after all the evidence is in.