Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Weekly Column: Route 1 Version 2.0: Improving Our Schools

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, The Mt. Vernon Voice and Patch in the week of October 28, 2013.
Route 1 Version 2.0: Improving Our Schools
This is my second article on the U.S. 1 Multimodal Alternative Analysis Study, our transit choices and why extending the Metro subway Yellow Line is the best choice.
There is no question the Yellow Line would bring big changes to our community. The question is whether these changes would be beneficial. Extending the Yellow Line to Fort Belvoir would improve our area schools for two reasons.   First, the redevelopment required to support a Metro extension would alter our housing mix. Second, redevelopment would also generate increased tax revenue and other funds for local infrastructure.   
When the Virginia Board of Education announced accreditation results based on recent student testing two weeks ago, 13 Fairfax County schools received a warning. (One of the schools is designed to help learning disabled children.)  Even though the 44th District has only 7% of the county’s population, half of the county’s warned schools were in the 44th District: Bucknell, Hybla Valley, Mount Vernon Woods and Woodlawn Elementary Schools and Mount Vernon High School.

There are many reasons.  Studies show that standardized test scores highly correlate with family income and if you align the school districts with census blocks, these schools have a high concentration of some of the lowest-income census tracks in Northern Virginia.

Children do not choose their family. We owe every child the best education we can provide. Educated children become productive citizens which benefits everyone.  Struggling schools also affect everyone including property values, as realtors will attest.

Turning around these schools requires a multi-faceted approach, starting with quality pre-schools. There are over 2,000 children in the U.S. 1 Corridor on waiting lists for Head Start and subsidized childcare. There are at least 15 preschools between the Potomac River and Route 1, but zero between Route 1 and Huntley Meadows Park. In the short term, Fairfax County and Virginia must fully facilitate Head Start, the Virginia Preschool Initiative and subsidized childcare.

Over the long-term, we need to focus on changing U.S. 1 development patterns and to diversify our area housing mix. Arlington County and Fairfax County have redeveloped the Orange Line Corridor without destroying low-and-moderate-income neighborhoods and created walkable communities with restaurants, shopping and high quality retail yards away from existing single family homes. The housing mix has diversified while preserving existing populations.

We can do this in our own community while preserving historically-significant neighborhoods and affordable housing and maintaining our sense of place.

The cheapest transit solution would be more bus connections. While improving bus service might bring some short-term efficiency gains, more buses will not help Route 1 win the competition for the growing families that are now moving to Arlington, Ashburn, Leesburg, Reston or Herndon.  However, extending the Yellow Line will bring the kind of focused redevelopment necessary to make Beacon Hill, Hybla Valley and Woodlawn attractive places for everyone to live, work, and shop that more buses cannot.

Density will also affect property tax revenue.  Fifty percent of our local government budget goes to our schools and smarter development can mean more real estate tax revenue generated per square foot of land and less demand for higher taxes on your home.

Redevelopment also creates what is called “proffer revenue” –  funds that the Board of Supervisors can require developers to pay to help fund new infrastructure needed supporting new development.  Other parts of the County have more synthetic turf fields because they were developed after the proffer laws were enacted. Because proffer revenue typically stays in the Supervisor district it is generated, redeveloping U.S. 1 will bring new funds for our parks and schools.

In sum, our schools need more than short-term fixes. The long-term game changer for our schools and U.S. 1 is extending the Yellow Line.

As we continue to move through the U.S. 1 Multimodal Alternatives Analysis, it is very important that our community provide feedback not just for the transit options, but also the amount of density that our community will accept. If the community opposes the kind of density that has brought Town Centers to Arlington, Reston, or Fairfax Corner, then our development will only support more buses and continued struggles with our schools.    
Next week I will discuss how the study will affect traffic and commuting. It is an honor to serve as your delegate.

1 comment:

  1. I have been reading your posts on the route 1 corridor and extending the Yellow line. Even though I do not live in the route 1 area, I still find this to be an important issue that deserves regional attention. Any money that is not put into investing in a yellow line extension is money down the rat hole. Of course you can have more buses but, is that going to generate new commercial or residential development? Route 1 has the potential of being redeveloped in the vein of the Orange Line's Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, and it should. However that is simply not going to happen with buses. Before the metro extended to Ballston, the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor consisted of used car dealerships and blighted properties, and now, 30 years later it has become a prime example of good land use and meticulous planning. I think the real issue now is how to undertake and finance such an expansion. Of course there will have to be federal funding involved, but maybe its possible to create a tax district for the Route 1 area. Or maybe implement something like a five cent gas tax for Route 1, just to get things started.