Monday, July 27, 2020

Weekly Column: Creating More Equitable Admissions Policies for Magnet Schools

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Connection, The Prince William Times, The Fort Hunt Herald, and Potomac Local in the week of July 27, 2020.
Creating More Equitable Admissions Policies for Magnet Schools

               We need more equitable admissions practices in what are called “Governor’s Schools.”  Earlier this month, Governor Ralph Northam appointed me to a task force with about 20 other individuals including Secretary of Education Atif Qarni to examine equity within our Governor’s Schools System.  Governor’s Schools were created in 1973 to provide an intense, summer academic experience to high-achieving students and were later expanded to full-year programs, including Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST) in Fairfax County which also serves Prince William and Arlington Counties.

              I have often expressed concerns about TJHSST’s admissions practices.  Very few children from eastern Fairfax or Prince William Counties are admitted.  When I reviewed data few years ago, fewer than five children had been admitted out of 125 applicants from Walt Whitman Intermediate School.  In the most recent freshman class, there were none or there were so few African American students admitted that Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) was prohibited from releasing the actual number.  

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

COVID-19 Update Thread

As you probably know, our region has confirmed multiple cases of COVID-19, the new coronavirus. The Virginia Department of Health has created a webpage dedicated solely to virus updates where you will find content that is updated daily. The CDC also has a dedicated website. 

If you are a healthcare professional evaluating a patient for suspected COVID-19, please contact your local health department immediately.

Here is a link to all of the Governor's Executive Orders:


As always, please reach out to my office at 571-249-4484 or district36@senate.virginia.gov if you have questions or ideas about things we can do to serve the community better. I will continue to add updates below.

***UPDATE MONDAY, 6/29/20 2:30 P.M.***

New Housing Assistance Program
The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) will administer the $50 million program through a variety of partners, including nonprofit organizations and local governments, which will receive upfront funds that they will distribute on behalf of eligible households. Individuals and families receiving funding will also be connected to housing counseling and receive other technical assistance.
 
Eligible households must demonstrate an inability to make rent or mortgage payments due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Monthly rent or mortgage must be at or below 150 percent Fair Market Rent (FMR), and eligible households must have a gross household income at or below 80 percent of area median income (AMI).

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Fairfax County BRT/U.S. 1 Widening Update

Today, Fairfax County's Department of Transportation provided an update on the status of the U.S. 1 Bus Rapid Transit Project and U.S. 1 Widening.

Richmond Highway Widening Update



  • They have been developing responses to public comments
  • Incorporated minor design adjustments
  • Meeting with property owners
  • Working on right of way plans
  • Conducting title research
  • Design changes

    • Two way cycle tracks
    • Bridge features modified
    • Change from bridge to a pre-cast arch
    • Section adjustments to accomodate larger trees
    • Plaza designs at intersections
    • Raised driveways along U.S. 1
    • Reviewing viability of stormwater management facility enhancements

  • Schedule Revisions

    • Project has been delayed one year
    • Design approval in 2019 did not happen
    • FONSI planned in Fall, 2019 - didn't happen
    • ROW acquisition was supposed to start in Winter, 2019 and did not
    • ROW/Utility Relocation seems to be taking longer-6 years instead of 3.5 years

  • Design approval was expected but did not

    • Fairfax County has not approved design
    • Ongoing design features need to be resolved (stuff above) along with construction of BRT project with this
    • Approval was submitted in 11/19 but delayed due to a Title VI complaint that was initiated
    • VDOT did receive conditional design approval except for the Little Hunting Creek Underpass

    Monday, May 18, 2020

    Weekly Column: Where Should the NVTA Spend $500 Million of Your Money?


    Where Should the NVTA Spend $500 Million of Your Money?

                  Now is the time to help direct transportation funds to our community.

     For 27 years, between 1986 and 2013, Virginia did not raise its transportation taxes.  While labor, steel, asphalt and concrete got more expensive and cars became more fuel efficient, gas tax revenues declined.  During those years, Virginia stopped repaving roads and other maintenance to fund road construction.  In 2013, the General Assembly passed new taxes to restore highway maintenance funding and we passed new regional taxes to fund regional transportation construction through the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA). 

                    The 36th Senate District has benefitted from these taxes in projects like US 1/Richmond Highway widening (design and land acquisition), U.S. 1/Dumfries widening (design and land acquisition), U.S. 1 bus rapid transit (design), U.S. 1 at Featherstone widening, $80 million in Virginia Rail Express improvements, a new CSX bridge crossing of US. 1 at I-95 and Old Bridge Road/Occoquan Road intersection reconstruction.

    Saturday, May 16, 2020

    Comment on Regional Transportation Funding Today

                The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) has published its rankings for its next Six-Year Plan Update to fund $522 million of projects over the next six years.

                The NVTA plans its projects in a six-year plan every two years.  Local governments and other entities nominate projects for funding.  It uses objective criteria to rate projects based on congestion relief, economic development, pollution reduction and safety with congestion relief getting the highest weight.  This ranking is named after the bill that authorized it – HB599.  

                 After projects are scored, the score is divided by the funding request so that we can see which projects give our region the biggest bang for the buck.  As you can see in the table below, this means that while some projects scored very well – such as the U.S. 1 widening – after you consider the cost, their relative ranking dropped substantially.  

                 There are $404 million in seven projects at risk in the 36th Senate District at-risk:

    36th District Submitted Project List
    Comment Deadline May 24, 2020 
    Overall Rank
    Project
    Description
    Request
    HB599 Rank
    3
    Annapolis Drive U.S. 1/VA-123 Connection
    Connect Annapolis Drive between U.S. 1 and VA-123
    $8.0m
    9
    5
    Widen U.S. 1 Thru Town of Dumfries
    Widen and realign U.S. 1 through Town of Dumfries to construct new boulevard, construct sidewalks and paths.
    $78.0M
    6
    10
    Summit School Rd. Extension & Telegraph Rd. Widening
    Connect Telegraph Road to Minnieville Rd via Summit School Drive to bypass Potomac Mills Mall.
    $24.0M
    7
    20
    U.S. 1/Richmond Highway Bus Rapid Transit
    Construct bus rapid transit from Huntington Metro to Fort Belvoir
    $71.0M
    1
    22
    VRE Woodbridge Station Improvements
    Construct new passenger platform for new third rail. 
    $2.2M
    11
    23
    Extend Van Buren Road from VA-234 to Cardinal Drive
    Planning funds for new road between VA-234 and Cardinal Drive.
    $8.0M
    30
    25
    U.S. 1/Richmond Highway Widening Hybla Valley to Fort Belvoir
    Widen U.S. 1 to six lanes, new sidewalks, multiuse paths, and reserve space for BRT from Fort Belvoir to Hybla Valley.
    $183.0M
    3
    30
    PWC Parkway & Old Bridge Intersection Rebuild
    Realign intersection to create more seamless PWC Parkway.
    $30.0M
    37

    Please provide me your comments using the two forms below.  I have include links to information about the projects and the project rankings at the top of the form if you want to investigate further.


    I will be submitting all comments to the NVTA before May 24, 2020.

    Monday, May 11, 2020

    Weekly Column: Battling the Coronavirus - Efforts Must Be Expanded

    The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Connection, The Prince William Times, The Fort Hunt Herald, and Potomac Local in the week of May 11, 2020.
    Battling the Coronavirus - Efforts Must Be Expanded

    It has been four months since the Centers for Disease Control confirmed the first case of coronavirus disease, called COVID-19, in the United States.  As of May 11, over 800 Virginians have died, 3,200 hospitalized and over 25,000 Virginians have tested positive for this virus.  Only about 1.7% of Virginians or 147,000 have been tested.  Our hospitalization rate has continued to climb with over 1,500 people currently in the hospital.  The rate of infection has slowed, but this virus has hit our community very unevenly.
                    While nearly every Virginia locality has seen infections, infections have mostly been concentrated.  While Northern Virginia has the highest raw number of infections, outbreaks on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Shenandoah Valley and Northern Neck are proportionally more severe than they are here.  Several of our prisons, local jails and juvenile detention facilities have experienced outbreaks and four inmates being held for non-violent offenses have died. 
    Disproportionate Impacts
                    The Hispanic community has been disproportionately, adversely affected. Neighborhood Health operates a clinic on U.S. 1 on Beacon Hill.  Although only 50% of their patients are Latino, 90% of their positive tests have been Latinos and 74% of those tested lack health insurance.  The Northern Virginia zip codes with the highest concentrations of positive tests also have largest numbers of Latino residents including the U.S. 1 Corridor, Manassas, Herndon, and Bailey’s Crossroads.  

    Monday, April 27, 2020

    Weekly Column: Serving During the Pandemic

    The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Connection, The Prince William Times, The Fort Hunt Herald, and Potomac Local in the week of April 27, 2020.
    Serving during the Pandemic
     Last week, the General Assembly returned to Richmond for what was probably one of the most unusual sessions we will ever have.   We convened for one day to consider the Governor’s vetoes of and amendments to the bills and budget we passed earlier in the year.
                    The Senate met in the Virginia Science Museum.  The House of Delegates met in a tent on the Virginia State Capitol lawn.  Men did not wear ties because we were told they are germ magnets.  The Senate clerk gave all Senators masks and gloves.  I wore a bandana mask and a bolo made with a Virginia quarter that I bought for the occasion. 
    Each Senator sat at tables 10 feet apart in order of seniority which put me in about the middle of the room.  Senator George Barker sat in a plexiglass box due to recent heart surgery.  The clerk provided box lunches and we were prohibited from touching the drink cooler.  We caucused in outdoor tents with chairs scattered six feet apart. The whole day was surreal.

    Thursday, April 16, 2020

    Tuesday, April 14, 2020

    Weekly Column: Good News & Bad News in Governor's Amendments

    The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Connection, The Prince William Times, The Fort Hunt Herald, and Potomac Local in the week of April 12, 2020.

    Good News & Bad News in Governor's Amendments

                    On Sunday, Governor Northam signed the remaining bills that were pending for action, proposed 140 amendments to the state budget, and also 101 amendments to bills.   As of today, the plan is for the House of Delegates to meet outdoors and the Senate of Virginia to meet in a tent behind the Virginia Science Museum in Richmond next Wednesday at noon for our “Veto Session.” 

                    First, the good news for our area.  The language requiring the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transit to study extending the Blue Line to Lorton, Woodbridge and Potomac Mills is still in the budget.  In addition, the authority and appropriations to fund the Prince William County Public Defender’s Office is still in the budget and cannot be amended further at this point.

    Tuesday, April 7, 2020

    Weekly Column: State Legislature Must Make Tough Decisions

    The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Connection, The Prince William Times, The Fort Hunt Herald, and Potomac Local in the week of April 5, 2020.

    State Legislature Must Make Tough Decisions
    Instead of reporting on the accomplishments of the General Assembly’s 2020 session, in recent weeks I have chosen to provide information about the COVID-19 crisis and its impacts.  The worldwide coronavirus pandemic is likely to change much of what state legislators passed earlier this year.  Many measures are in limbo, especially the state’s budget.  The legislature will reconvene on April 22 to consider budget changes and vetoes that Governor Ralph Northam may propose. 
    This week, Governor Northam announced that he is putting all new spending in the state’s new two-year budget on hold.  Therefore, it appears that when we reconvene, we will consider proposed amendments to implement his proposals, pending economic analyses, projections and decisions on how the state can use the $3 billion in federal stimulus dollars.

    Tuesday, March 31, 2020

    Weekly Column: Stay At Home!

    The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Connection, The Prince William Times, The Fort Hunt Herald, and Potomac Local in the week of March 29, 2020.
    Stay At Home!
                    The last two weeks brought us two executive orders and one consistent message from our Governor – Stay.  At.  Home.
    Last week, Governor Northam issued an order extending school closures, closing all entertainment and personal care venues and businesses, and restricting access at certain non-essential businesses.  This Monday, the Governor further restricted public gatherings after Virginians continued to appear in large groups at the beaches and a few restaurants.  
    It is important to understand that this disease can be transmitted before carriers develop symptoms.  It also appears to transmit without physical contact.  The majority of individuals diagnosed with this virus are under age 50.  While people under 50 tend to be less at risk for death, if one person under 50 infects 20 other people, the chain of transmission ultimately results in more deaths.  Continuing to socialize with others is incredibly selfish.

    Friday, March 27, 2020

    2020 36th District Paving Maps

    VDOT will repave over 100 lane miles in the 36th District portions of eastern Fairfax, Prince William, and Stafford Counties this summer. The entire map of roadwork for the 2020 summer paving season can be viewed at http://bit.ly/VDOTPaving2020.

    This work is only made possible by tax increases passed in the 2013 transportation bill - HB2313. I voted for the 2013 transportation bill as a State Delegate after a significant reduction of the Hybrid Tax. Though it was not perfect, the 2013 bill provided the revenues necessary to restart road maintenance that had been put on hold for two years.  We had not raised transportation taxes in 28 years and we are continuing to dig out of the maintenance backlog. Re-paving these streets is long overdue.

    In Virginia, all public roads are owned and maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).  Our local governments play no role in road maintenance.

    Several of the affected neighborhoods in the 36th District are Villamay, Wellington, Marumsco, Woodbridge, Colby Drive, Spriggs Road and Widewater. Maps by neighborhood can be seen below.
    Rippon-area paving scheduled for 2020
    Mt. Vernon paving scheduled for 2020

    Widewater paving scheduled for 2020
    Montclair paving scheduled for 2020

    Occoquan/Lakeridge Paving Scheduled for 2020