The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette and The Mt. Vernon Voice in the week of October 15, 2014.
U.S. 1 Transit Study: It’s Time to Speak UpLast week, Virginia’s Department of Rail and Public Transit held the last public hearing on the U.S. 1 Multimodal Transit Study. This study will determine the most appropriate road configuration, mode of transit and accompanying land uses for the U.S. 1 corridor for the next 30 years. As the study ends, public input is absolutely critical.In 2012, Senator Toddy Puller and I won approval of $2 million to fund the study. After sixteen months taking input and considering various alternatives, the consultant team is recommending the “Hybrid Option” – (1) a six-lane U.S. 1, (2) a bike-pedestrian path the entire length, (3) a median-dedicated bus rapid transit system from Huntington Metro station to Woodbridge, and (4) a two-stop Yellow Line Metro extension with stops at Beacon Hill and Hybla Valley. The total cost in 2014 dollars would be about $2.4 billion.
However, after considering funding input from the Fairfax County Department of Transportation, the consultants recommended that the project be broken into four phases: In phases I-III, the bus rapid transit system would be constructed between 2024-2035. In phase IV, the Yellow Line extension would be built with service starting in 2040.While I am very excited that they recommended the Hybrid Option, the phasing approach and more specifically, the timing is totally unacceptable. We need projects in the ground as soon as possible.At the Executive Committee Meeting, the schedule was also unacceptable to Mount Vernon Supervisor Gerry Hyland, Senators Toddy Puller and Adam Ebbin and Delegate Mark Sickles. This view was also reiterated at the public hearing and many residents also commented that the Metro extension should be the first priority for funding with the bus rapid transit system coming second.It is a complicated problem. Construction of any project will require funding. There is some transit funding available from the state, but Fairfax County has not dedicated its transit funding more than six years out, and most of the funding scenarios considered also involve significant federal funding, presumably under the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) “New Starts” Program.As of today, New Starts grants base funding on numerous criteria including environmental benefits, local funding commitment and ridership. The U.S. 1 corridor has a long way to go to reach the housing densities traditionally associated with Metro stations such as Arlington’s Clarendon or Courthouse areas. Federal funding availability and criteria has changed over the last decade and could also continue to change – for better or worse.Moreover, our current infrastructure – with or without Metro – is incapable of handling another 120,000 people living on U.S. 1. These plans are dependent upon a new road grid secondary to U.S. 1 (e.g., secondary roads running along the west side of Hybla Valley and Beacon Hill so that U.S. 1 is not the only route between shopping centers).In the next month, we need to complete this study. Now is the critical time for people to weigh in. I have created a page on my website where you can post final comments that I will forward to the consultant team. Please visit and comment at bit.ly/route1comment.The consultant team will consider comments received and make final recommendations in the next 60 days. Then the Executive Committee will vote and forward recommendations to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for their endorsement. Then we focus on implementation. This will include updating the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan as soon as possible to add (1) station locations, (2) a new secondary road grid and (3) increased densities to support high quality transit. In the meantime, we need to work to find funding.It is now time to speak up. I truly believe that extending the Yellow Line to Hybla Valley is a game-changer for U.S. 1 that is key to strong schools and decent shopping and restaurants and to maintaining the high quality of life we all expect in our part of Fairfax County.I look forward to your input and it is an honor to serve as your state delegate. If you have any questions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.