VDOT Unveils Extended U.S. 1 Merge Lane for I-495 Express Lanes
Last month, I posted that VDOT had agreed to extend the merge lanes for all traffic from U.S. 1 onto the Beltway's southbound/eastbound express lanes after one of my constituents noticed the unsafe merging conditions.
The interchange is used by many 44th District residents and City of Alexandria residents on a daily basis.
A diagram of the new lane design is attached and it was implemented on July 23. Let me know if you have any feedback!
Newly Released - Mount Vernon History Revisited!
Waynewood resident Michael Bohn and former Patch Reporter Jessie Biele have come out with a new book that focuses on local history called, Mount Vernon - Revisited.
I picked up a copy a few weeks ago at the Village Hardware. It's a good primer into the early 44th District and provides some perspective as to how we got to where we are today in the 44th District.
Over the past two decades, Mike has written several series in the Mount Vernon Gazette focused on the Mount Vernon Trolley, old prominent homes in the Mt. Vernon area, and old Mount Vernon schools. I published a series of them on this blog:
My favorite pictures are the old shots of U.S. 1 before it was four-laned and straightened out in the 1930's.
It's a quick must read for anyone whose zip code is between 22306 and 22309!
The text of the press release from the publisher is below the fold.
Revisit the History of the Mount Vernon CommunityLocal authors Jessie Biele and Michael K. Bohn share vintage images
Mount Vernon Revisited, by Jessie Biele and Michael Bohn is part of Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America” series of local history books. Through 215 photographs, paintings, and maps, the book surveys the 340-year arc of history of the Mount Vernon area of Fairfax County, Va., a locale that is as interesting and varied as any in the country.
The book highlights the evolution of the Mount Vernon Estate and nearby landmarks, and describes other periods, milestones, and societal developments. Included are the economic rejuvenation of the area by a group of Quaker families in the mid-1800s; the Civil War; the coming of the trolley, and later the Mount Vernon Parkway; Fort Hunt; two World Wars; and finally, the suburban explosion of the 1950s and 1960s. Neighborhoods and sites along the Potomac River are laden with history, including landmarks such Woodlawn Plantation, Gum Springs, Pohick Church, Fort Belvoir and Gunston Hall. Mount Vernon Revisited captures all of these landmarks and events in an effort to preserve the area’s history for generations to come.
Miss Biele is a journalist as well as a marketing and communications professional. She is the former editor of Mount Vernon Patch, a local news website that covered the Mount Vernon community. Ms. Biele’s work has appeared in VivaTysons magazine, RunWashingtonMagazine, and AmStat, the American Statistical Association’s journal.
Mr. Bohn writes for McClatchy Newspapers, which range from the Miami Herald to the Anchorage Daily News; McClatchy-Tribune News Service, an international wire service; the Washington Post magazine; and the Connection Newspapers. This is his sixth nonfiction book since 2003.
Gum Springs Pride Circa 1966
The 44th District is home to Gum Springs - the oldest historically black neighborhood in Fairfax County tracing its roots back to its found Wes Ford - a freed slave of George Washington.
Gum Springs has endured many challenges through the years and often had to fight for its fair share of resources from the federal, state, and local government. My grandparents were involved in many of these fights starting when they moved to Mt. Vernon in 1941.
The President of the New Gum Springs Civic Association has forwarded me a link to this fascinating movie made in Gum Springs nearly fifty years ago when Fairfax County was first beginning to confront the effects of desegregation in 1966.
It is a fascinating glimpse into Mt. Vernon's past including a great cameo from then-Mt. Vernon District Supervisor and future Eighth District Congressman Herb Harris.
DoD to Contribute $23,798,603 to Expand Ft. Belvoir Elementary
Fort Belvoir Elementary School opened in 1998 and quickly became one of the largest elementary schools in Washington Metropolitan Area. Population at the base has continued to explode as the Army has renovated and added housing units on base.
Normally, when new development brings new families and infrastructure needs, localities can require developers to pay proffers, which are passed along to homeowners, to help cover the public infrastructure costs. When the Federal Government creates development, that is not possible.
Last week, the Department of Defense announced a grant of $23,798,603 to Fairfax County Public Schools. The press release
Fairfax County Public Schools will use its grant to renovate, repair and construct new classrooms at Fort Belvoir Elementary School to address the capacity and facility condition deficiencies that placed the school on the Deputy Secretary of Defense Priority List at #26. The school will serve over 1,590 military connected students in grades kindergarten through sixth.
Given that FCPS is currently facing a capital backlog of over $1 billion, this will allow the FCPS to focus on other renovation priorities.
Thank you Uncle Sam!
44th District's Osprey Impress!
As the Potomac River continues to recover, raptors have begun to rebound including Osprey.
William Young and Ashley Bradford has done an amazing job documenting an Osprey family near Bellehaven Marina (just north of the 44th District, but frequented by many 44th District residents!).
You can find Osprey nests all over the 44th District along the Potomac River including Little Hunting Creek and Dogue Creek. I've also seen Osprey nests on the softball field light poles at Walt Whitman Intermediate School and Mount Vernon High School.
It's only ironic that these nests include plastic bags (thank you AutoZone for helping our Osprey make their nests). What would these birds do without plastic bags? They attempted to reproduce with plastic bags attached.
Excellent videos and resources about a striking predator in our area.
10 Years & $15,000 of Saved Gas Later, The I-95/I-395 Hybrid Exemption Coming to An End
In July, 2004, the papers were buzzing with news about the new super fuel efficient vehicles coming out - hybrids.
They were a little bit more expensive, but the fuel savings were significant. The federal and state government adopted tax credits. Virginia also exempted hybrid vehicles from emissions testing and allowed these new cars to be plated with "Clean Fuel" license plates that were granted a then little used exemption for High Occupancy Vehicles (HOV) in 1994. The affordability of this new technology coupled with the HOV exemption pushed thousands of Virginians to purchase these new cars.
I was one of them.
My wife and I had two children. After our second child was born, I bought my dad’s 1995 Honda Accord and sold a two-door Saturn. The gas mileage on the Accord was average and the fuel efficiency of hybrid’s intrigued me. A local Toyota dealership said I would have to wait eight months for a Prius. Sheehy Honda on U.S. 1 in Hybla Valley told me they could put me in a Honda Civic Hybrid in a week and this week, my 2004 Honda Civic Hybrid has 180,000 miles on it and turns 10 years-old.
My gas mileage has averaged around 47 MPG over the life of the car. Given that the average U.S. vehicle today gets around 23 MPG or probably closer to 21 over the last 10 years. Over the last ten years, this means:
- My vehicle used about 4,741 less gallons of gas than the average American vehicle
- That equals about 380 fewer trips to the gas station over the last 10 years, 2,654 minutes saved pumping gas at 7 minutes per visit, or about 44 fewer hours standing around a gas station.
- Assuming an average price of $3.25/gallon - I have saved about $15,410 on gasoline
- I have also saved a hours driving in HOV lanes (mainly in Old Town Alexandria and I-66 given my commuting patterns)
- My vehicle put about 90,000 fewer pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (see here for calculations)
These were many of the reasons so many Virginians were eager to purchase hybrid technology and remain willing to invest in alternative fuel vehicles. It also why over last year 7,000 people signed a petition I launched with Senator Adam Ebbin after Virginia attempted to assess a $100 annual tax on hybrid vehicles on top of $25 of annual license plate fees. People felt as if it was akin to the government taxing non-smokers - taxing people for doing the right thing.
Hybrids proved to be so popular between 2004-2005 that regular users of the I-95/I-395 HOV lanes began to complain so the DMV authorized a new clean fuel plate to limit the exemption to the "original" hybrid vehicles. New vehicles could use all HOV lanes except the I-95/I-395 lanes.
About two weeks ago, the Department of Motor Vehicles sent legislators a letter was going out to the 10,000 remaining "original" hybrid owners (including me) notifying us that the I-95/I-395 hybrid exemption was being shut down due to the conversion of the HOV lanes to HOT lanes in about six months. Here's the letter.
It was interesting to me that 10,000 people have held on to their vehicles for so long. I was proud of my purchase when I made it. Many hybrid owners, especially the "original" purchasers, bought these vehicles because they wanted to help stem the damage to our air, national security, and checkbook caused by gasoline consumption. Many hybrid owners also view ownership as an expression of their values.
As this last benefit is removed, the popularity of fuel efficient vehicle technology has broadened and incentives are not as necessary to encourage Virginians to purchase efficient vehicles.
These early hybrid vehicle subsidies are probably one of Virginia's most successful government programs to alter consumer behavior. Today, nearly 100,000 Virginians drive hybrid vehicles. Collectively, that has made a real difference. It has also proven that there is a market for green technology in Virginia, and that the government can help encourage consumers to improve Virginia’s environment if it carefully targets subsidies at consumers.
Easing the Burden on Military Spouses
Fort Hunt has always been a popular community for military families and growing up, I always had friends coming and going as their parents were moved around the country.
As a child, your perspective is focused upon your friend who is leaving, but not the effects upon the entire family As a practicing family law attorney, I really come to appreciate the emotional and economic stresses that transfers, deployments, and the combat injuries can place on the entire family.
For example, whenever a military family goes through a divorce, the issue of spousal support frequently comes up if only one spouse is serving in uniform. Due to frequent location transfers, it is often very difficult for the non-military spouse to develop a substantial career or earning history. Unemployment rates for military spouses are three times the rate of civilian spouses. Some studies suggest 90% of military spouses are underemployed
. Frequently, it is difficult for military spouses to start to focus on a career until their active duty spouse has retired.
On July 1, 2014, the Supreme Court of Virginia took one step to help change that for attorneys who are married to active duty members of the Armed Forces. After a public comment period, Rule 1A:8 became valid in Virginia
. This new Rule provides that the dependent spouse of an active duty member of the military can become provisionally licensed to practice law in Virginia if:
- They are licensed to practice law in another state;
- Hold a juris doctor from an accredited law school;
- Achieved a score on the MPRE exam that would constitute a passing score in Virginia;
- Is in good standing;
- Not subject to discipline;
- Physically residing in Virginia;
- Submits to a character examination;
- Has never failed the Virginia Bar Exam;
- Completes 12 hours of Virginia continuing legal education classes;
- Reads the Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct;
- Pays a fee; and
- Practices law under the supervision of a local counsel.
Unlike some other licensed professions, licenses to practice law are quickly obtainable. Without such a rule, a military spouse who is an attorney would have to proceed through the Virginia bar admission procedures to be licensed to practice - this can take over six months due to the time necessary to qualify for the Virginia bar, taking the bar, and the grading timeframe (I think I applied in March or April and was licensed in October).
The latest issue of Virginia Lawyer which is published by the Virginia State Bar has a great article about this
written by the Deputy Communications Director for the Military Spouse JD Network
. It contains some excellent anecdotes which illustrate the problem.
Virginia now joins seven other states granting this privilege to military spouses - Alabama, Alaska, California, Delaware, Florida, Geogia, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Maryland, South Carolina, and Washington. Hopefully, this will small step will provide some measure of help ease the transition as military families move around the United States and the world.
SFDC Pushes U.S. 1 Revitalization!
Great job by the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation (SFDC) putting together this video featuring redevelopment possibilities in the U.S. 1 Corridor. Share it around!
Weekly Column: A State Budget, A Federal Grand Jury, and Court Challenges
The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette and The Mt. Vernon Voice in the week of June 24, 2014.
A State Budget, A Federal Grand Jury, and Court Challenges
The last two weeks in Richmond have been unusually busy.
First, ethics are back at the forefront. in the wake of the resignation of State Senator Phil Puckett and change in control of the State Senate, the new state budget was written under one-party control. A $1.6 billion shortfall due to lagging income tax collections forced cuts which I detailed two weeks ago: K-12, higher education, affordable housing, healthcare, and funding for continued planning for improvements on U.S. 1 was removed from the budget.
Last week, press reports suggest a Federal grand jury was summoned to investigate the resignation of Senator Puckett and allegations that a judgeship for this thirty-three year-old daughter and a six-figure job at the Virginia Tobacco Commission were offered in exchange for his resignation. The lack of any state investigation spotlights the weakness of the ethics reforms we just passed.
In my August, 2013 column, I wrote that we needed to create an independent ethics commission that was empowered “to investigate and prosecute ethical violations, including alleged violations of campaign finance, political campaign and financial disclosure laws governing all elected officials. We should not rely on politically- elected Commonwealth’s Attorneys, our criminal prosecutors, to be put in the position of policing fellow partisan elected officials with virtually no support from law enforcement. There are too many conflicts of interest and political pressures in play.” Perhaps my recommendation will be taken serious now. The Constitution of Virginia does not delegate the enforcement of Virginia’s ethics laws to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Over the weekend, Governor McAuliffe also issued eight line-item budget vetoes. One related to a Petersburg-Chesterfield school partnership, one restored funding to ameliorate the effects of federal budget cuts, one restored the Attorney General’s ability to control settlement funds, and one had to do with Governor's budget submissions. These were not contested.
The Governor vetoed $350,000 of staff for the new Ethics Advisory Commission arguing it was irresponsible to create a new ethics bureaucracy when the law we passed was so weak and requires changes he intends to introduce next session. This veto was overridden in the House and sustained in the Senate.
Next, the Governor vetoed $8 million of funding for approximate two dozen unfilled judgeships including a Circuit Court position in Fairfax County because the General Assembly attempted to condition the appropriation on the judges being elected by the General Assembly. This is unconstitutional given our Constitution explicitly gives the Governor that right to appoint judges in certain courts when we are not in session. The Speaker ruled this veto unconstitutional – more on that in a minute.
There were also two vetoes regarding Medicaid. First, the Governor vetoed the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission (MIRC) which was set up to come up with “Medicaid reforms” before we moved forward with expansion. The MIRC has done nothing. The Governor called it a “sham.” I do agree with him and this veto was not contested.
Lastly, the Governor line item vetoed language explicitly prohibiting a Medicaid expansion (aka “The Stanley Amendment”). The Speaker ruled that veto unconstitutional because, like the judgeships appropriation, he held the language was not a separate “item” capable of being vetoed. I believe these rulings were wrong. Feel free to watch my floor speech on my You Tube Channel for my legal rationale.
The Clerk of the House will now enroll a final law as if the Governor’s vetoes of the judgeships and Stanley Amendment did not happen creating a legal gray area. The Governor has announced he is also moving forward with expanding healthcare to low income working Virginians. He will announce a plan around September 1.
This sets up a court challenge which will be decided by the Supreme Court of Virginia. A Court challenge has happened twice since the line item veto was created in 1840 (as best anyone can tell). To make things more interesting, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court has announced her retirement.
We now have a state budget, but healthcare for low income Virginians including about 7,000 people here in Mt. Vernon is far from resolved.
If you have any feedback, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
. It is an honor to serve as your state delegate.
Vetoes Drop and Virginia Moves Forward
This morning Governor Terry McAuliffe announced seven vetoes and other administrative actions. In summary, he has vetoed legal prohibitions to expanding Medicaid and he is moving forward on Medicaid expansion due to political obstruction. Administrative Action
First, the Governor announced that he is going to expand Medicaid administratively using his power as Chief Executive. There was bipartisan support to do this legislatively, but the most conservative members of the House of Delegates were blocking it.
He has directed the Secretary of Health and Human Resources to have plans drawn up by September 1, 2014.
He has also directed officials to hold all plans to construct a new $300 million General Assembly Building. He said that he cannot support this construction while Virginia cuts funding from homelessness.Veto #1 - Medicaid Innovation Review Commission
The Governor has vetoed the Medicaid Innovation and Review Committee (MIRC). The MIRC was created as a compromise in the 2013 session after some members objected to passing the Governor's transportation package without also passing Medicaid Expansion. We were promised that the MIRC would lead to expansion. It has done nothing.
The Governor also believes that the MIRC is a "sham" and he has directed his staff to stop participating in meetings or providing information.Veto #2 - Stanley Amendment Banning Medicaid Expansion
The Governor has also vetoed "the Stanley Amendment" to the budget which specifically prohibited a Medicaid Expansion without the approval of the legislature. There is no money tied to this language so the Governor believes it may be vetoed on its own.Veto #3 - Funding for New Judgeships
The Governor has vetoed all funding for new judgeships. He believes that funding judgeships and leaving a special session open for appointments is an assault on his power as Governor (the Governor gets to appoint temporary judges to Circuit Court and appellate courts if we are out of session).Veto #4 - Chesterfield-Petersburg School Partnership
The Governor is vetoing language allowing Chesterfield County to partner with Petersburg City on public schools. The Governor believes this is rife with legal problems and was not requested by either locality.Veto #5 - $4.6 Million cut from FACT Fund
The legislature created the FACT Fund to deal with contingencies created by cuts caused by the sequester. The Governor believes that these cuts are an assault on Virginia's military and he does not support it.Veto #6 - Funding for Ethics Advisory Commission
The Governor argues that the ethics legislation passed by the General Assembly this year was window dressing that did little (I agree with him). He has vetoed money to pay for staff for a new Ethics Advisory Commission and he will introduce legislation next session.Veto #7 - Forfeiture & Settlements
There was language inserted in the budget that limited how the Attorney General could use monies recovered from forfeitures and settlements. The Governor vetoed this language at the request of the Attorney General.
We vote on these vetoes on Monday night starting at 5:00 p.m. Get your popcorn ready.