Monday, March 26, 2018

Weekly Column: Embark Ushers in a New Phase for U.S. 1

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Connection, The Prince William Times, and the Potomac and Stafford Locals in the week of March 26, 2018.
Embark Ushers in a New Phase for U.S. 1
Last week, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the Embark Route 1 comprehensive plan revision, a step that lays the groundwork for development over the next 30-40 years for the seven miles of U.S. 1 between the Huntington Metro Station and Fort Belvoir.  This plan, reflecting several years of community input, has significant implications for both Fairfax and Prince William Counties.
When I was elected to the House of Delegates in 2009, efforts to reach consensus for a Fairfax County, U.S. 1 road design had frozen during work on the U.S. 1 Centerline Study, issued by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) in January, 2010 after a 15-year process.  Prince William County was planning a series of U.S. 1 redesigns while Fairfax County’s decision-making had stalled after disputes arose about incorporating transit into redesigns and right-of-way impacts.  Then-Congressman Jim Moran had secured $180 million to expand U.S. 1 to six lanes in Fort Belvoir, but that expansion would create a bottleneck at Jeff Todd Way.
After consulting VDOT experts, then-Virginia Senator Toddy Puller and I introduced legislation requiring Virginia's Department of Rail and Public Transit (DRPT) to conduct a new study focused on Fairfax County’s segment of U.S. 1.  Governor Bob McDonnell and Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation at the time, Sean Connaughton, had Mt. Vernon roots, were sympathetic and helped free up $2 million in state funds.  Senator Puller partnered with Prince William Senator Chuck Colgan who put $2 million in the state budget and the Route 1 Multimodal Alternative Analysis was born.
Between 2011 and 2014, officials held numerous public meetings and at their conclusion, the consultants recommended that U.S. 1 be widened to a consistent six lanes incorporating sidewalks and multi-use paths along the entire 14-mile stretch.  Transit was the hard part. 
I adamantly insisted that a Yellow Line Metro Subway extension be incorporated.  The consultants determined that a Metro extension was feasible to Hybla Valley, but to create an environment to support such a large investment and obtain federal funding, the County would have to boost commercial and employment density.  The consultants also recommended constructing bus rapid transit (BRT) from the Huntington Metro station to Woodbridge to facilitate the growth necessary to support Metro.
The study’s executive committee approved these recommendations in October, 2014 and the Board of Supervisors adopted the study’s conclusions in early 2015.  Then the County initiated the Embark Route 1 process for phases I and II through Fort Belvoir, a process needed to incorporate these recommendations into the County’s Comprehensive Plan. This is what the Board of Supervisors adopted last week. 
The Embark plan will bring a new street grid to facilitate parcel interconnectivity and keep cars, bikes and people off U.S. 1 and create thousands of new jobs.  Projects will “daylight” long-buried creeks, getting them out of sewer pipes and coupled with modern storm water control facilities, become community assets.  Sustainable development approaches will reduce individual energy consumption.  Similar to the Arlington Metro Corridor, this project will take cars off the roads.
For residents in Woodbridge, Phase III will connect bus rapid transit to the Woodbridge VRE, expand the Occoquan River bridge to six lanes, improve the commute into Fort Belvoir, facilitate better access to Metro and generate more jobs.  Phase IV will extend Metro.
I am proud that many people worked together to get this done, but now the hard work begins.  Thus far, we have only identified a fraction of the $2.1 billion necessary to implement this plan.  The 2013 Virginia transportation tax increases will help.  Federal transit grants are expected to cover about half of the cost, but Fairfax County must rewrite its affordable housing ordinance to facilitate no net loss of affordable housing in our corridor - a federal requirement to receive $1 billion in federal transit grants.
U.S. 1 is central to the quality of life for all the people of eastern Fairfax and Prince William Counties. Its future affects jobs, housing, retail, our environment and everyone’s property values.  Embark Route 1 is the next step to make our community the best place to live in Northern Virginia.
It is an honor to serve as your state senator.  Email me at scottsurovell@gmail.com if you have any feedback.

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