How Much Have We Lost?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Historic Route 1 Signs Are Up!

In the 2009 Session, I was sitting on the floor one day when my former colleague Delegate Sam Nixon from Chesterfield County stood up and described legislation designating a portion of U.S. 1 through Chesterfield County, Virginia as "Historic Route 1." As soon as I heard "Route 1," my ears perked up.

I ran over to him on the floor to ask him what the impetus and intent was for the legislation. He indicated that Chesterfield County was concerned about the reputation Route 1 had in their jurisdiction and were focusing a redevelopment effort around the historic assets on their part of Route 1. They were also partnering with the City of Richmond to promote Route 1 travel throughout Virginia.

I thought this would be a great idea not just for Chesterfield County, but also for the Mount Vernon part of Route 1 and pretty much the entire state. When I lived in Arlington County for three years, I served on the Historic Affairs and Landmarks Review Board. Historic designations frequently improve the desirability of properties and promote economic development when they occur. I had also introduced legislation that session focusing on Route 1's historic assets throughout the entire state proposing that a special transportation district be created for Route 1 improvements to leverage these assets.

Our part of Route 1 has significant tourism resources. Mount Vernon is the #1 historic tourist asset in the state receiving 1,000,000 visitors per year - more visitors than Monticello and Colonial Williamsburg. We have the Woodlawn Mansion, Gunston Hall, and the Army Museum set to open just off the Fairfax County Parkway. The historic properties of Huntley Manor, Gum Springs, and Beacon Hill are close to Route 1. These are assets that our area should use to create jobs.

Given the stage in the process the legislation was at when I discovered it, we decided that we ought to ask the Governor to amend the bill. I drafted a letter which was ultimately signed by 32 legislators who districts contained precincts on Route 1 and Governor McDonnell amended the legislation.

A few months ago, I was driving along U.S. 1 in Fort Belvoir and noticed that the first signs had started to go up to promote this. One of the signs is above.

It's a small step, but it is progress as we seek to focus attention on the special qualities of the Route 1 Corridor that are frequently unappreciated.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

WMATA Considers Yellow Line Extension

The following column appeared in the Mount Vernon Gazette, Mount Vernon Voice, and Patch.com on July 19, 2011:
WMATA Considers Yellow Line Extension
There has been some talk in the papers lately about the Metro and the Yellow Line. This article is an update on some of the recent efforts by your state legislators.

First, a few months ago, multiple committees of Supervisor Hyland’s Visioning Task Force cited the extension of the Yellow Line from Huntington south towards Fort Belvoir as the number one economic development priority for our area. After the Washington Post reported that Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) was updating their Metro system map for the first time in 30 years, Senator Puller and I wrote to the WMATA Board asking that a Yellow Line extension be included in the new map. In response to our letter, Senator Puller and I met with WMATA staff here in Mt. Vernon to discuss the timeframe for extending the Yellow Line.

WMATA is currently in the process of revising their long-term plans. They are exploring extensions and expansions of existing metro lines, expanding bus service, trolleys, and bus rapid transit. Basically, everything is on the table as they try to plan for the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area over the next forty years.

WMATA made clear that their next map will not reflect any new lines until the proposed lines have cleared environmental studies, are included in a regional plan, and have been officially added by the WMATA Board. That step has not even yet occurred for the Silver Line.

However, WMATA is considering an extension of the Yellow Line – along with Blue and Orange extensions as part of their long-term plan. WMATA staff provided us with a map showing the homes of people who currently use the Huntington Station parking lots. Users are stretched from Lorton and Springfield to Prince George’s County although probably seventy-five percent are located between Huntington Avenue and the Potomac River in my district. I have posted the map on my blog.

Staff also provided us planning documents contemplating proposed Yellow Line extension with stations at Penn Daw, Beacon Hill Road, Gum Springs, Pole Road, Woodlawn, Fort Belvoir, Telegraph Road, and Lorton. I have posted the map they gave us on my blog as well along with a Powerpoint presentation regarding their long term plan and other contemplated extensions of the Yellow, Blue, and Orange Lines.

WMATA is currently studying the economic, engineering, and funding feasibility of these extensions by looking at ridership, system impacts, and trip impacts. Currently, the Route 1 Corridor is not zoned for the density of 10-12 housing units per acre at station locations necessary to support a Metro Line extension – that will need to change if we want a Yellow Line Extension.

Additionally, WMATA has a $6 billion maintenance backlog that is their present capital priority. Plus, they also are looking at ridership impacts to the core of the system which will reach maximum capacity by 2025-2030without any expansion. WMATA is considering express trains, double tracks in the downtown core and/or above-ground street cars. They are also looking at facilitating cross-county traffic by circumferential rail so that mass transit from Anacostia to Mount Vernon to Tyson’s Corner would be more feasible.

Most importantly, WMATA made clear that a Yellow Line extension must be a local government priority before it will happen. We are not the only part of the Fairfax County who wants to extend Metro lines. Orange and Blue Line extensions would benefit other parts of Fairfax and Prince William Counties and they are already starting to organize with the support of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors.

Moving forward, whoever is the most organized, has laid the most planning groundwork, has the most business and community support, and has the funding in place will get their line first. I am hopeful that our federal assets will put some federal funding on the table and move us up the list as compared with other extensions. However, a Yellow Line extension must be the number one priority for Fairfax County if it is going to happen before the Orange and Blue Lines.

The widening of U.S. 1 and extension of the Yellow Line is the most important way for us to bring revitalization, jobs, new retail, revitalized housing, and congestion relief to our area. Moving forward, I hope to be a leading advocate to make this possible along with Senator Puller along with Supervisors Hyland, McKay and Bulova.

If you have any questions, please send me email at scottsurovell@gmail.com. It is an honor to serve as your delegate.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Yellow Line Usage & WMATA's Long-Term Planning

Two weeks ago, Senator Puller and I met with WMATA's long term planning staff to discuss where things were headed with the Yellow Line and the steps needed to get the Yellow Line extended. During the meeting, they shared two documents with us.

First, they gave us this document below showing the current dispersal of Huntington Metro Station Parking Lot users.

Second, they gave us a Powerpoint document reflecting their long-term planning discussions. If you look at page Page 41 Plan B runs, you can see the Yellow Line segments under discussion.

Huntington Metro Parking Users

WMATA June 2011 Long-Term Transportation Plan Briefing

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Uranium Mining: The Coming Battle

Things are starting to heat up in Virginia over uranium mining. The General Assembly is likely to consider a bill early next year to allow uranium mining. I have started to get emails on the issue so I thought I'd let everyone know where I stand.

To most people, this issue seems to have come out of the blue, but it has actually been around a while. In the 1970's, large deposits of uranium were found in Virginia along the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Companies purchased mining or exploration leases in several places, including several in Fauquier County and Prince William County at the head of the Occoquan River.

The largest deposit in the United States is believed to be located in Pittsylvania County in the southern part of our state and currently the mining companies are focused on that area.
View Larger Map

In 1982, the General Assembly of Virginia enacted a statewide ban on uranium mining, in part because of the 1979 nuclear plant accident in Pennsylvania, known as Three Mile Island turned public opinion against anything uranium.

With energy prices rising and pressure to transition away from coal and oil, some people are starting to look at expanding nuclear power again. In 2008, the General Assembly rejected a bill to authorize a study to examine the safety of uranium mining in Virginia. There are currently four separate studies underway, including one by the National Academy of Sciences.We expect them to be completed by the end of this year.

One reason the issue has become more visible recently is that Virginia Uranium, the company proposing to mine uranium in Pittsylvania County, offered to fly most state legislators to France to tour uranium mines. They maintain that visiting would be helpful because France it has similar climate to Virginia. It is my understanding that uranium has mostly been mined in dry climates like the arid Southwest U.S. and opponents of uranium mining say that Virginia’s wet climate and storm potential pose unacceptable risks for uranium mining. About 15-20 people (out of 140) have taken the trip. I did not go for a variety of reasons (that is an entirely different discussion).

Many of the communities near the proposed Pittsylvania mining site are very focused on this issue. So is Virginia Beach because they get their drinking water from Lake Gaston. Many others are starting to pay attention.
At this time, we do not know what the four studies will conclude. In theory, I assume almost anything can be done safely within certain assumptions and with enough money. The problem is that the assumptions are frequently wrong. Humans have frequently proven to be very capable of under-estimating risk until after the facts. Just consider the impact of the recent Pacific tsunami on Japan’s nuclear plants, 9-11, or flooding along the Mississippi or Hunting Creek nearby.

One key issue is the safety of storing the mining waste, waste that can get into drinking water and containing elements that have been linked to serious diseases. A critical question for me is what kind of storage is planned, whether than storage is feasible and whether it is safe. Some say the waste must be contained for one thousand years. Uranium itself is radioactive and highly toxic to human and environmental health.

Here’s a good example of an unanticipated natural disaster in Virginia. In 1969, Hurricane Camile came up the East Coast and then “parked” on top of Virginia for two days. It dumped 27 inches of rain on ruralNelson County in central Virginia in three hours. 153 people were killed and 133 bridges were washed out. It wreaked horrendous devastation throughout Nelson County, destroying homes, farms, buildings and lives. Nelson County is also right along the U.S. 29 corridor right at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. A weather event like that on top of or near a uranium mine,would be truly frightening. Can any waste storage system or mining operation withstand that kind of powerful storm?


I've posted a map of old Northern Virginia uranium lease sites (places where companies received leases to mine, leases that have now expired) to the right (click on it to enlarge). You will see that several sites are near the Occoquan River which feeds the Occoquan Resevoir, the major drinking water source for most of Fairfax County. Mining a material that could permanently destroy the Occoquan River and impair the drinking water for millions is a non-starter for me. It is unacceptable to me to subject anyone else to that kind of risk.

Where do I stand right now? In fairness, I would like to see the various studies to be completed this year, but based on what I know so far, I am skeptical of lifting the ban. I've told that to the Virginia Uranium people. If I had to vote today, I would vote no.

However, I do owe the proponents and the opponents an opportunity to make their case. I have little to no experience with mining. I'm learning as much as I can right now to make an educated decision. I hope you will share your views with me by posting up comments here or emailing me at scottsurovell@gmail.com.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

New Census Data Highlights Virginia Changes

The Weldon-Cooper Center at the University of Virginia continues to put out some of the best scholarly information regarding changing demographic changes in Virginia.

Earlier this week, they issued a paper with a discussion of Virginia's changes relative to other states in the country entitled A Decade of Change in Virginia's Population. Here are some bottom lines.

  • Virginia is the only state in the nation where natural population growth and net in-migration contributed equal shares to population growth.
The article cites some examples like Michigan where more people fled than were born leading to population decline or states like Florida where 80% of its growth was from in-state migration.

  • Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Road accounted for 80% of population growth in Virginia and Northern Virginia accounted for more than 1/2 of the state's population growth.
Fairfax County, Loudoun County and Prince William County accounted for 40% of Virginia's population growth. In Richmond, most growth came from New Kent, Caroline, Goochland, Powhatan, and Chesterfield Counties. Richmond also gained population for the first time in 40 years. Hampton Roads grew only 5.7% affected by its five cities that had significant net out-migration. Accomack County and Danville led the list of population loss losing 13% and 11% of their population.

  • A growing number of localities are experiencing population loss and 55 localities had more deaths than births.
As younger population flees, only older population remains, and birth rates stall reinforcing losses. Rural areas of Virginia are poised for even more losses.

  • Hispanic population doubled to 7.9% of Virginia and Asian population increased 70% to 5.5% of Virginia.
There are some interesting side notes to this. First, hispanic population declined in only two localities (you'd never guess) - Arlington and Buchanan Counties. Northern Virginia has 60% of Virginia's hispanics. Hispanic populations are poised for more growth due to the populations lower average age. Asian population is clustered in urban areas and unlike hispanic population in academic centers - it is absent from rural areas.
Thirty-two localities have under-18 populations that are majority-minority. Virginia is poised to become more diverse.

  • White population is down to 69% of Virginia's population - the same percentage it was 100 years ago when blacks constituted 31% of the state.
People often forget about Virginia's past history by viewing it through a more recent frame of reference, but after Reconstruction, Virginia was only 59% white.
The article reinforces that Virginia's urban and suburban areas will continue to lead the state in job growth and population growth. Virginia will continue to become more diverse even without significant net in-state migration.

Our failure to uncork economic development problems in the rural parts of Virginia have them poised poised for even more long-term population declines. This translates to a myriad of different consequences in terms of education, transportation, poverty, crime,and health care - virtually everything we do in Richmond. So long as these trends are ignored and certain groups in Richmond continue to rally against them, we will not be properly maximizing our collective future.
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