How Much Have We Lost?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Weekly Column: Attacking U.S. 1 Gridlock

The following column appeared in the Mount Vernon Gazette and Mount Vernon Voice on January 17, 2011:

Attacking U. S. 1 Gridlock in Richmond
Returning from my first week in Richmond for the 2011 session of the General Assembly, I talked with several U.S. 1 business owners. With the possible opening of Costco adding 5,000 new vehicles per day, on top of the new Kings Crossing Wal-Mart, thousands of new jobs coming to Fort Belvoir and continued growth, everyone had the same question – when will U.S. 1 be widened?

The bottom line is not for a while, but Senator Toddy Puller and I are doing everything we can in Richmond to jumpstart the process.

Here is a primer. U.S. 1 is part of the National Highway System (NHS) but is maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation. Fairfax County’s long-term plan for U.S. 1 calls for U.S. 1 to incorporate some kind of transit into its next design – either a Yellow Line Metro extension, light rail, or bus rapid transit.

Before any kind of highway design can be requested, the center of U.S. 1 or “centerline” must be established and approved by both the Commonwealth Transportation Board and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The FHWA will not approve a centerline contemplating transit until a transit study has addressed the economic and engineering feasibility of the transit options contemplated by the proposed centerline to ensure that transit is not a waste of money for the particular area.

In 1994, then-Delegate Toddy Puller pushed through legislation authorizing VDOT to complete a centerline study from Alexandria to Fredericksburg. That study was completed in 2009, but it did not adopt a U.S. 1 centerline from Woodlawn to Alexandria because no one would commit the funding for the necessary transit study.
The transit study is the first step to fixing U.S. 1. After the transit study is complete, an environmental impact study must be funded and completed. Once that is completed, funding must be identified for engineering and constructing the road. VDOT has a six-year and 12-year plan for road improvements. U.S. 1 is currently on neither. In addition, the cost of Metro or light rail is so high that extraordinary funding sources will be necessary.

Obtaining the funding for the U.S. 1 transit study is my number one priority this session. A few weeks ago, I gave a rush hour driving tour of U.S. 1 to the new VDOT Administrator for the Northern Virginia and a representative from Virginia’s Department of Rail and Public Transit (DRPT). Last November, I wrote to Virginia’s Transportation Secretary urging support for the U.S. 1 transit study when the McDonnell Administration identified $1 billion to spend on transportation due to policy changes they called an “audit.” Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova also asked the Governor to prioritize funding for the U.S. 1 transit study.

Senator Puller and I have also contacted the Secretary of Transportation and the Director of DRPT in the last week and requested their support for funding the study. I also spoke with Governor McDonnell on the first day of the session and he assured me that he especially understood the need given his familiarity with Mount Vernon and he promised to look into it. I also spent thirty minutes with the Governor’s Economic Development Team this past Monday. Senator Puller has introduced a new study
resolution I cosponsored and we are both sponsoring budget amendments to allocate the funding to achieve it. Though the budget is tight, funds may be available.

Please complete my 2011 survey at www.scottsurovell.org/survey, and visit my blog, The Dixie Pig, at scottsurovell.blogspot.com, for more frequent updates. You can also comment on legislation, set up a meeting or request a Capitol tour at http://www.scottsurovell.org/.

On Saturday, January 29, at 10:00 a.m., Senator Puller and I will be hosting a Town Hall Meeting at the Mount Vernon Government Center, 2511 Parkers Lane, Alexandria, VA 22306 to hear your views, suggestions and questions. I hope to see you there.

Good government requires your involvement so please be in touch so I can best represent you in the General Assembly. It is an honor to serve as your State Delegate.

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