How Much Have We Lost?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Weekly Column: Route 1 Version 2.0 - An Introduction

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, The Mt. Vernon Voice and Patch in the week of October 21, 2013.
Route 1 Version 2.0 - An Introduction

In my first campaign in 2009 and since, the message I hear from Mount Vernon-area voters is clear -- the number one issue in our community is traffic and attracting high-quality economic development to U.S. 1.  People would like to have nearby a good restaurant, an interesting bookstore and quality department stores, for example.

While our local government officials have worked hard to generate redevelopment in our area, their ability to attract high-quality development is limited by the lack of infrastructure necessary to move high numbers of people in, out and through the U.S. 1 corridor. Since my first election, turning this around has been high on my list of priorities.

Evaluating  Alternatives

Last week, the Commonwealth of Virginia held its first public meeting to discuss what’s called the U.S. 1 Multimodal Alternatives Analysis Study.  This study will lay the groundwork for the next 40 years of life in our area. The design of U.S. 1 and the selected mode of transit will determine the quality of schools, the value of homes, the volume of traffic, the quality of our environment, and our quality of life. Everyone who cares about the future of our community should pay attention and participate in this analysis.

The study is  funded by a $2 million budget amendment secured by Senator Toddy Puller and me in the 2013 General Assembly session. It is being managed by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transit.

The question I hear the most is, why do we need to study U.S. 1 again? The answer: it is legally required.

U.S. 1 is part of the National Highway System and making any improvements to U.S.1  requires Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) approval. The FHWA will not approve any improvements unless the changes have been adequately analyzed and determined to meet various usage, cost and effectiveness metrics.

The study area extends from the Occoquan River on the county’s southern border to the Alexandria city line. Prince William County and the city of Alexandria are participating as well.

Why do we need this study?  First, a tsunami of people and jobs are coming to our community. Second, major economic redevelopment is on hold because no one knows what kind of transit or road configuration will exist on U.S. 1 30 years from now.

Fort Belvoir is at the heart of the study. Today, Fort Belvoir employs more people than the Pentagon. Over 70,000 cars go through its gates daily. Fort Belvoir's only transit is two bus lines which means that virtually everyone commutes by car. The $1 billion Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, PX and other facilities generate thousands of daily trips. The U.S. Army Museum is scheduled to open near U.S. 1 and the Fairfax County Parkway intersection and bring half a million visitors a  year. The next round of base realignments, known as BRAC, and probably more  development are just several years away.

On top of that, the U.S. 1 corridor between Woodlawn and Alexandria is projected to add 20,000 jobs and over 44,000 people within one-half a mile of U.S. 1 over the next 30 years. That area currently has about 110,000 residents.

The study will evaluate a range of possible improvements or combination of improvements. These include road widening, extending the Metro subway Yellow Line, light rail, monorail, bus rapid transit, bicycle and pedestrian enhancements and doing nothing.
I believe that a Yellow Line Metro extension to Lorton is the best alternative, but the study professionals will evaluate that against other options.

Over the coming weeks, I am will write  a series of  articles describing how the choices we make today will affect our schools, traffic, the environment and economic development. I will also explain why I believe  extending the Yellow Line to Lorton is the best approach for our community.

I look forward to your feedback and participation in this process.  It is an honor to serve as your state delegate.

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