Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Loudon Times-Mirror The time is now to push for rail's second phase

The time is now to push for rail's second phase
By Staff

It took nearly 40 years, several billion dollars and more than a few bruised egos, but Metrorail service is finally coming to the Dulles corridor. That point was made official last week when Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, known as MWAA, and U.S. Transportation Department officials finalized a long-awaited deal for $900 million in federal funding.

MWAA, which will manage the 23.2-mile rail extension, is already moving forward on the project's first phase, slated to run from East Falls Church to Reston with four stops in the Tysons Corner area.

Over the next 36 months, Route 7 will be widened to four lanes in each direction and a long, above-ground rail line will split east- and westbound drivers.

If everything goes off without a hitch, trains will begin rolling through Tysons in late 2013.

That's the good news.

Less clear is the timetable for the project's 11.5-mile second phase. Those counting on the "Silver Line" pulling into Dulles Airport by 2020 need the first phase to be delivered on time and within budget.

At the moment, more than a few question marks surround the Reston-to-Loudoun route, which will take at least five years to build, has no set start date and no clear financing plan beyond jacking up fees on the Dulles Toll Road.

We're not suggesting rail won't make it west of Reston in our collective lifetime. It will.

Of more concern at this juncture is the eerie silence we hear whenever rail timelines are discussed in places like Herndon and Ashburn.

The hope here is that rail officials, elected leaders and the local business community will exhibit as much passion, energy and creativity in getting a train to Dulles Airport as they did getting it through Tysons Corner.

Although the rules of this particular game have changed countless times, the original justification for building rail was giving Dulles Airport passengers a transit link to Washington, D.C. It remains one of the few international airports in the world not served by a rail line.

The sooner we can change that, the better.

Washington Post Editorial - March 18

Spot On
Planners should vote to widen Interstate 66.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009; A12

TRAFFIC SNARLS in Northern Virginia are so daunting that it sometimes seems that nothing less than transformational, earth-shifting projects can ease congestion. Yet, for every rail line to Dulles International Airport, there are small-scale fixes that can make life a little better for commuters. Such is the case with a long-stalled project to widen spots of Interstate 66, the perpetually clogged artery that runs through much of Northern Virginia, including Arlington and Fairfax counties. Adding lanes to three noncontiguous segments of the highway inside the Beltway won't turn I-66 into a speedway but could shave crucial minutes off drive times, not to mention generating construction jobs at a crucial time. Regional planners voted recently to delay the plan. They should reverse that decision when they meet today.

Transit advocates and Arlington residents have long opposed any expansion of I-66, a step they consider an affront to smart growth and an enabler of sprawl. When Arlington leaders reluctantly agreed to allow the highway in the 1970s, they extracted a number of concessions, including a pledge to limit the number of lanes. Many Arlington residents see that promise as sacred, but, as Post columnist Marc Fisher reported, then-U.S. Transportation Secretary William Coleman wrote in 1977 that "we cannot guarantee that I-66 will never change." At the time, few could have imagined that road congestion in Northern Virginia would worsen so severely so soon.

Yet, despite excruciating traffic, the project continues to be bogged down in unwieldy bureaucracy and endless studies. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments' Transportation Planning Board approved the project in May 2007, then surprisingly voted to postpone construction last month. The first phase, a 1.5-mile widening of I-66 between Fairfax Drive and Sycamore Street, was set to start next year. Planners say they were unclear about the status of a promised Virginia Department of Transportation study on transportation options in the I-66 corridor. Pierce R. Homer, Virginia's transportation secretary, has said a study is underway and will be completed later in the year.

There is too much momentum behind the expansion of I-66 and too little downside to let the project languish. Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R) and former representative Tom Davis (R) secured about $30 million in federal earmarks for the widening; the money can't be transferred to other projects. Adding lanes to the highway won't require tearing down homes, as the expansion would take place within the current highway footprint. Shoulders would be narrowed at points, but transit officials say there would still be enough room for vehicles to pull over. The sooner construction starts, the more likely the project is to benefit from federal stimulus money. There should be no further delay.

VDOT cuts spur rural safety concerns

By Rachana Dixit from - Charlottesville, VA

Published: March 18, 2009

Proposed reductions in service and road maintenance by the Virginia Department of Transportation have area officials concerned that the move would make rural roads unsafe or inaccessible during bad weather.

A VDOT spokesman, however, said Tuesday that those concerns are unfounded, as the agency has no intention to change its bad-weather operations.

Adapting to a difficult economy and declining transportation revenues, VDOT is proposing to do fewer routine road maintenance measures, such as grading unpaved roads and mowing vegetation. According to the agency’s Web site, that could mean rural roads would be plowed and salted less quickly during snow and ice storms.

If such a reduction in maintenance and road treatment were approved, Albemarle County schools’ transportation director said, it could become very difficult or even perilous for students and drivers to get to school during bad weather, forcing the locality to cancel school for more days.

“We would have more snow days and have to go to school longer in June,” Josh Davis said.

Agency spokesman Lou Hatter said the information about bad weather on VDOT’s site is outdated or incorrect, as the agency is not planning to reduce services in emergency response or inclement weather.

“There is no proposal to change that,” he said, referring to standards for snow removal. “The standards will stay the same as what they are.”

According to VDOT’s Web site, secondary paved roads that see average daily traffic of fewer than 750 vehicles would be plowed and opened within 48 hours or once busier roads are complete, whereas currently those secondary roads are plowed and opened within half that time. Additionally, the site states, secondary unpaved roads that see the same amounts of traffic could be closed periodically or for the duration of the winter.

Davis said that in some of Albemarle’s rural districts, more than 20 percent of students live on unpaved roads. Davis also said that more than 50 percent of Albemarle students live in rural areas and that 65 percent to 85 percent of the student populations of some schools live on roads that would not be treated under VDOT’s proposal.

“Our total number of students that are impacted are about at least 70 percent,” Davis said.

Mike Skeens, a member of the Greene County Board of Supervisors, said reducing road treatments during snow or ice storms would most assuredly make it difficult for localities whose populations are largely rural.

“We would never be able to get out to some of these schools,” he said.

Mowing will also be done when there are vehicle safety concerns for a particular location, Hatter said, and done less when it is more for aesthetic value. But Hatter added that routine maintenance on unpaved roads is likely to be reduced with the changes.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Upcoming DATA events - stay tuned for more information!

DATA Board of Directors and Membership Meeting
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
8:00 am
Location TBD

DATA Annual Dinner
Thursday, May 7, 2009
6:00 pm
Location: Hilton Washington Dulles Airport
Speaker: Secretary of Transportation Pierce Homer

TDM Financial Incentives Offered at the State Level

An individual or corporation may claim a credit against the State income tax for the cost of providing commuter benefits to the business entity's employees as provided under An employer can receive a tax credit up to of 50% of a $100 benefit for providing eligible commuter expenses for their employees. The maximum value of the tax credit is $50 per month, per employee. More info on how it works from Maryland Department of Transportation. See Maryland Code: TAX- GENERAL Title 10: Income Tax Subtitle 7. Income Tax Credits Section 10-715. For providing employee commuter benefits and Maryland Code : ENVIRONMENT : Title 2: Ambient Air Quality Control. Subtitle 9. Tax Credits for Employer-Provided Commuter Benefits. Section 2-901. Established. (for rates).

Fundamentals About A Guaranteed Ride Home Program

What is a Guaranteed Ride Home program?
A GRH program is a free or subsidized ride provided to commuters who use alternative commute modes to accommodate their occasional unexpected trips (such as on emergency errands or an unexpected need to work late, removing the concern of being stranded at work without an automobile).

Is offered by a sponsor such as an employer or a third party such as a rideshare service, a TMA, a transit company or an MPO.
The sponsor may pay for taxi rides, contracted car rentals, transit passes or offer company vehicles for participating employees.
Why is a GRH program important?
Improves commuters' security and flexibility to respond to emergencies without relying on their car. GRH makes alternative modes more feasible especially to non-drivers and low-income employees because they avoid unexpected emergency expenses while using alternative commute options that save them money.
It is an effective low cost program. In 1993, COMSIS estimated that GRH typically averages less than $5 per employee per year (1993 dollars) since less than 10% of eligible employees uses GRH. The Warner Center TMA in Los Angeles found that about 1% of the 6,000 eligible rideshare patrons used the service (Park, 1991) and a nationwide survey of eleven GRH programs by KT Analytics found that their average use is about 13 rides per 100 eligible employees per year.
Increases employee satisfaction, commitment and retention. A GRH program shows that the employer cares about their well-being and is willing to provide support services.
Helps achieve TDM objectives by using alternative modes. In a 1992 K.T. Analytics survey, 59% of rideshare and transit patrons considered GRH important in their decision to use alternative modes, and in the 1998 Hunt & McMillan survey, availability of GRH has a value roughly equivalent to subsidized transit fares at a fraction of the cost. In Bellevue, it was found that bus trips increased by 12%, carpool dropped by 2% and vanpool increased by 64% with some notation that most increases came from solo drivers switching.
How can a GRH program be implemented?
By an employer or a third party such as a rideshare service, a TMA, a transit company or an MPO using:
Taxi rides reimbursed by the program sponsor.
Company vehicles of employer.
Car rentals contracted by employers.
Transit passes offered by the program sponsor.
By implementing concrete policy specifications
Who is eligible? The program could cover all employees, or only those who use alternative modes for a specified portion of commuting.
What trips are eligible? The program could cover any trip, or it could be limited to unexpected business appointments or overtime, earlier departure of carpool/vanpool, employee or family member sickness, and other personal emergencies (victim of crime, home fire, plumbing leak etc).
Maximum number of uses allowed. Is it during a certain period, maximum miles within a period, or maximum cost per trip?
Which staff or department is responsible for implementation? Is it the human resources, parking, security, finance, etc?
What are the procedures for using the GRH service? See "typical implementation steps" below.
Pay attention to precautionary measures.
Involve stakeholders such as employees, taxi companies, car-share organizations or other contractors in the planning process.
Tie it closely to your commute options, i.e., design of a GRH program features should be derived from the type of commute options to be implemented.
Consider co-payments, i.e., GRH may be free or it may require a modest co-payment from the service user.
Limit restrictions, i.e., to allow commuters to participate in unplanned non emergency events that can still affect their decision whether or not to drive (it is most effective if requirements are not restricted to "emergency" trips alone).
Anticipate cost variations i.e., Commuter Transportation Services in Los Angeles suggests an estimation between 0.5 and 20 percent of current rideshare patrons ranging from companies allowing rides for overtime, errands or business trips, to companies allowing emergency use only respectively.
What are the typical implementation steps?
Identify and decide on the commute options the company would offer. These include transit, rideshare, bike, walk, skateboard, etc.
Ensure top-level support of the commute options.

Tailor the GRH program plans to the commute options selected.
Develop program description based on selected commute options.

Itemize benefits to the employer and related opportunities.

Itemize costs to the employer and related challenges.

Determine the feasibility of offering a GRH program.
Estimate the average cost at $5 for 20% of current rideshare patrons per year.
Identify potential providers and assess their requirements.
Assess employee commute needs and support to use the program.
Ensure top-level support of the GRH program.

Develop program policies and procedures (better anticipate than react).
Involve stakeholders throughout the process.
Specify eligibility such as type of commute, times of commute, employee status etc (also see form at
Determine whether employees will use vouchers or be reimbursed and the approval procedures (balance convenience versus abuse).
Develop appropriate paperwork, e.g. registration forms, ID cards and reimbursement vouchers in triplicate (copies for administrator, employee and service provider).
Allocate resources
Assign an Employee Transportation Coordinator (ETC) who will administer the program and liaison with outside providers, jurisdictions and other related entities.
Make appropriate arrangements with taxis, rental car companies, local transit agency and other relevant service providers.
Manage the Program
Continually promote the program to potential users of alternative modes as a safety net for participants (information of availability versus encouraging to use).
Ensure that the service is fast, reliable and convenient.
Keep records and regularly analyze patterns especially about frequent uses that may address a larger personnel issue (childcare, unplanned overtime, accidents etc).
Monitor the program against abuse by employees or service providers.
Keep stakeholders informed especially management and service providers.
What are some of the GRH challenges?
Possible high costs. For taxis, company car or rentals especially for programs serving commuters working late or overtime. However, experience indicates that employer costs are usually low, especially for programs offering emergency service during the workday only, and it is a very cost effective way to reduce automobile commuting. In general, taxis are cost effective for short trips while auto rentals are preferable for longer trips.

Liability exposure. In case of accidents and late arrivals to appointments but this need to be specified in policies and sign up forms. In many states, worker compensation laws only recognize where an employee is carrying out employment duties.

Qualified Transportation Fringe Benefit Rates for 2009 - Update

Qualified Transportation Fringe Benefit Rates for 2009 - Update

Employers may provide workers with up to $230 per month in tax-free transit and vanpool benefits in 2009. Effective March 2009, as part of the stimulus bill, the monthly limitation under Section 132(f)(2)(A) Qualified Transportation Fringe Benefits regarding the aggregate fringe benefit exclusion amount for vanpools (commuter highway vehicles) and transit passes was increased from $120 to $230 per month. The monthly limitation under Section 132(f)(2)(B) regarding the fringe benefit exclusion amount for qualified parking is $230. Commuters can receive both the transit and parking benefits (i.e., up to $460 per month). Employers can allow employees to use pretax dollars to pay for transit passes, vanpool fares and parking.

Beginning in 2009, employees can be reimbursed up to $20 per month for biking to work. The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (P.L. 110 343), added qualified bicycle commuting reimbursements to the types of qualified transportation fringe benefits. The benefit can not be combined with those other qualified transportation fringe benefits.

Friday, March 6, 2009

What is Slugging?

What is Slugging? Borrowed from

Slugging is a term used to describe a unique form of commuting found in the Washington, DC area sometimes referred to as "Instant Carpooling" or "Casual Carpooling". It's unique because people commuting into the city stop to pickup other passengers even though they are total strangers! However, slugging is a very organized system with its own set of rules, proper etiquette, and specific pickup and drop-off locations. It has thousands of vehicles at its disposal, moves thousands of commuters daily, and the best part, it’s FREE! Not only is it free, but it gets people to and from work faster than the typical bus, metro, or train. I think you'll find that it is the most efficient, cost-effective form of commuting in the nation.

How the Slugging Works
The system of slugging is quite simple. A car needing additional passengers to meet the required 3- person high occupancy vehicle (HOV) minimum pulls up to one of the known slug lines. The driver usually positions the car so that the slugs are on the passenger side. The driver either displays a sign with the destination or simply lowers the passenger window, to call out the destination, such as "Pentagon," "L’Enfant Plaza," or "14th & New York." The slugs first in line for that particular destination then hop into the car, normally confirming the destination, and off they go.

No money is exchanged because of the mutual benefit: the car driver needs riders just as much as the slugs need a ride. Each party needs the other in order to survive. Normally, there is no conversation unless initiated by the driver; usually the only words exchanged are "Thank you" as the driver drops off the slugs at the destination.

There doesn’t need to be any discussion about the destination , such as giving directions, because the drop-off points are generally understood. "Rosslyn" means the Metro station in Rosslyn, not at some other point along the way. The "Pentagon" means the curb along Fern Street, not the North Parking Lot. However, there are a few places where the destination drop-off point is not understood; in these cases, the slug must state where he or she wishes to be dropped off. For example, at "Tackett’s Mill," the driver usually asks "New or Old Lot?" because the driver will take you to either. And there is Crystal City, where drivers drop off slugs anywhere between 12th Street and 23rd streets. Later in the book these exceptions are explained in greater detail.

When Did Slugging Begin Anyway?

It’s hard to believe that slugging has been around in the Northern Virginia and Washington, DC, area for 36 years! That’s right; slugging debuted in about 1971 when the first HOV lanes were constructed. Of course, the exact date is uncertain because there really aren’t any official government records that have studied slugging from its infancy. The best source of information has been individual interviews (I interviewed a man who started slugging back in 1982—that’s 20 years of slugging!). The next source has been the numerous newspaper articles written on the subject over the past few years. I’m sure that whatever I determine as the "origin" of slugging, somebody will have a brother-in-law with a Ph.D. in ‘Slug-ology" with undeniable proof that slugging starting years prior….okay, fine.

Here is an portion of an email I received in November 2004 from a fellow slug which suggests that slugging was working in 1979. "I'd just like to compliment you on your very interesting web site. I worked in Washington DC as a college student in the late 1970's and I would like to confirm your claim that slugging began prior to the 1989 study. During the summer of 1979, I commuted by bus from my sister's house in Annandale to Naval Research Lab. This trip required riding into downtown DC and catching a cross-town in the morning, then the reverse in the afternoon. On a few occasions I slugged the last leg of the trip home in the afternoon. There was an informal slug line in front of the FBI bldg, which took riders down the Shirley Hwy corridor to various endpoints. When I worked in DC from 1981 to 1985, there were indeed firmly established slug lines at the locations you mention on Keene Mill Road, as well as further out close to George Mason where there was a park&ride. I was in a regular carpool at this time and sometimes our driver picked up a slug or two when a regular rider was absent so that we could still get into the HOV lanes. Sincerely, Mary Ann"

How Slugging Began
Slugging can trace its roots back to the Arab oil embargo of the 1970’s. During this era, gas prices soared, as it became apparent that the United States was dependent on foreign oil. In an attempt to reduce its dependence, the United States adopted a number of measures to curb gasoline consumption. Speed limits were reduced from 65+ m.p.h. to 55 m.p.h., car manufacturers were told to make cars more efficient, and high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes were constructed. These lanes were for vehicles with more than three occupants. The benefit for the government was twofold: reduced gasoline consumption as well as some environmental benefits.

The Shirley Highway
When the HOV lanes on Shirley Highway (I95) opened in 1971, the first slug lines began to emerged. With these high occupancy lanes being strictly enforced, drivers had to abide by the HOV-4 rule (later changed to HOV-3) or pay stiff fines.

When a driver did not have enough passengers for the HOV, he would pull up to a line of commuters waiting for the bus and offer a ride to anybody in the line. Faced with waiting in the summer heat or winter cold for a bus that could be late or full to capacity, some commuters began opting for the car. Soon word began to spread as drivers found an easy solution to meeting the HOV requirements, and bus riders found a faster, cheaper alternative to the bus. I’m sure it took some time for the word to spread, but soon enough people knew which bus stops catered to the offers of free rides.

It is believed that slugging began with people waiting at bus stops on their way to the Pentagon (which was—and still—is a major transportation hub).

The Very First Slug Line
According to a study by the Urban Institute in 1989, slugging existed in only one location in Springfield, VA. That doesn’t mean slugging began in 1989, only that when the study was conducted, formal slug lines already existed. Since I have interviewed people who have slugged from the Springfield area since 1982, we know that slugging predates the Urban Institute study with evidence that slugging began in the early 1970’s.

Nevertheless, the Urban Institute did recognize that a "formal" slug line was in operation at a place known as "Bob’s," which referred to a line adjacent to Bob’s Big Boy restaurant at the intersection of Bland Street and Old Keene Mill Road in Springfield. As it turned out, Bob’s had all the ingredients normally needed for a slug line: parking, a bus stop (or other mass transit), and easy access to the HOV. Because the Pentagon was—and still is—a major commuter hub, Bob’s line had the Pentagon as its only destination.

Today, some 20 years later, Bob’s has undergone a number of changes. The Big Boy restaurant has been replaced by Shoney’s, and the slug line no longer services the Pentagon but has been replaced with two lines: one for L’Enfant Plaza and the other for the Memorial Bridge area. Furthermore, the lines themselves have moved across the street next to Long John Silver’s.

So, if Bob’s is next to Long John Silver’s, why is it still called "Bob’s"? Either out of respect for tradition, or simply because the name just stuck, the name "Bob’s" has endured the test of time.

Where Did the Word "Slug" Come From?
The term "slug" itself did not derive from the word that means mollusk, as some people think. Instead, the term appears to have originated from bus drivers as a derogatory term.

The story goes like this. Bus drivers had always been warned to be aware of counterfeit coins (also known as slugs) from people trying to pass off this fake money in the coin collection tray.

When slugging was in its infancy, commuters stood at the bus stops, waiting for a driver to pick them up. Bus drivers, thinking these people were waiting for the bus would stop to pick up the passengers only to be waved off, frustrating many of the drivers. As this event became more and more frequent, bus drivers began recognizing the real bus riders from the fakes. Because the people weren’t really waiting for the bus, drivers began to simply call them "slugs." This definition seems to make sense because these people weren’t real bus riders or even real car poolers in the usual sense of the word. They were, just as the name implies, counterfeit riders or slugs. Hence, the term was born.

Over time, the less-attractive term "slug" has had many contenders, such as "instant car pooler," "hitchhike commuter," and "casual car pooler," but tradition has continued to outlive the newer, more politically correct terms.

10 Steps to Riding Your Bike to Work

10 Steps to Riding Your Bike to Work (borrowed from the Sacramento Transportation Management Association)

1. Gear up. Get your bike checked out and tuned up if it's been awhile since you've ridden it.
2. Select a route. Try the bike map online or consult a detailed map or Thomas Guide.
3. Take a short cut. Pedal as far as the bus or rail stop, then store your bike or take it on board.
4. Consider a bike buddy. It can often be safer to ride as a pair, and it's more fun. Apply online for a list of cyclists that live and work near you.
5. Do a test run. In your car, drive the bike route and look for things like wide lanes, bike lanes and traffic flow.
6. Learn the rules of the road. A bicycle is a vehicle and you should follow the rules.
7. Put safety first. Buy a helmet approved for bicycling and wear it.
8. Assess your fitness level. If you haven't had much exercise lately, you might want to check with your physician before you ride.
9. Talk to your employer. Your company may offer benefits, showers, changing facilities, bike storage for cyclists.
10. Bike to work! Bicycling takes about the same amount of time as driving a car to work if you live within 10 miles of work.

Without Funds, Road & Infrastructure Projects Idle Across Northern Virginia

Written by Dean Edwards - Falls Church News Press
Thursday, 05 March 2009 13:06

Construction of long-awaited improvements at the Gallows Road-Lee Highway juncture and the Arlington Boulevard (Rt. 50) pedestrian bridge remained on hold this week as county and state officials work to resolve critical issues impeding the projects' completion.

Due to fiscal slashing to the state infrastructure budget in Richmond that cut $38 million to enlarge the Gallows Road-Lee Highway intersection, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has stalled the project indefinitely.

Despite a lack of funding for road construction, site workers have continued to move utility lines - gas, electric and water - in anticipation of the road improvement. "The tech team is making great strides," said Bud Siegel, a Northern Virginia VDOT manager, and are on track for scheduled completion by 2011.

So far, VDOT has invested more than $82 million in designing and clearing the proposed expansion area, removing a dozen restaurants and retail stores that had lined one of Northern Virginia's busiest traffic corridors. Siegel said that the state is still looking to award a $12 million contract to move a major water main, as well.

Siegel added that VDOT was juggling Gallows Road concerns with nearby hot lanes on Interstate 495 to reduce stress on the traffic pattern along the Gallows Road-Lee Highway intersection.

Gallows Road's project manager, Arif Rahman, also remained "optimistic" that "most likely, the funding will eventually come" to complete the road," but could not offer any new projections as to when that funding may arrive.

For county officials, the outlook for the Gallows Road project looks grim, said Providence Supervisor Linda Smyth, who oversees the Merrifield area surrounding the project.

Smyth described the fiscal and infrastructure situations as "really chaotic."

"VDOT took away funding for 2010 and 2011 thinking it'd be eligible for stimulus funding," Smyth said. "The last word we've received from [Virginia Secretary of Transportation] Pierce Homer is: no, it's not," because it is not sufficiently "shovel ready."

Smyth added that the Fairfax County Board had "raised the issue that it'd be great if the project does get stimulus funding," noting that the state had already slated to cut infrastructure spending. "But there was no contingency," said Smyth.

Of the project's proposed completion date by 2013, Smyth said she was "afraid that it's not going to have a happy landing."

About five miles east, near the juncture of Arlington Boulevard (Rt. 50) and Leesburg Pike (Rt. 7), the widely anticipated pedestrian bridge over Rt. 50, which was slated for completion in July 2008, effectively idled while 93 percent complete, according to VDOT's latest project update.

The remaining work is a steel truss that will undergird the concrete walkway across the busy Arlington Boulevard, said Siegel, calling the issue of the steel truss "unanticipated."

"Typically we don't have these problems," Siegel said, adding that VDOT has been working with the contractor to repair the stress cracks caused by differential expansion in the steel truss. "We spent some time on how do we repair the steel truss, do we work with the contractor. These sorts of issues take time."

Siegel estimated that the pedestrian bridge should be completed by sometime this spring.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Virginia’s stimulus portion will fund a range of projects

By Olympia Meola

Published: March 5, 2009

From school funding, to city buses, to health care for the homeless, traces are appearing of where federal stimulus aid will trickle in to Virginia.

Overall, the state is expected to get $4.8 billion from the stimulus, according to a state budget summary provided to Virginia lawmakers. Legislators used about $1.5 billion to help ease a $3.7 billion shortfall in the two-year, $77 billion budget.

Virginia school districts will receive $365 million of the $1.5 billion in stimulus funds for direct aid to K-12 education in fiscal 2010. Those funds, which the state is allocating through its own funding formula, will help localities counter deep proposed cuts.

For example, Dinwiddie County schools, facing a budget shortfall of $2.6 million, will get an estimated $1.89 million in stimulus funds for direct aid to public education, according to the state budget summary.

Dinwiddie Superintendent Charles Maranzano Jr., awaiting further details, spoke cautiously yesterday. But he said stimulus funds are dollars well spent if they prevent drastic cuts.

"We can breathe a sigh of relief if we don't have to cut 60 positions," Maranzano said.

School districts also are expected to get enhanced funding for federal programs, such as Title 1.

On Monday, Sens. Mark R. Warner and Jim Webb announced that Virginia is getting $5.76 million from the federal stimulus package for five health clinics, including two in Richmond: the Daily Planet and Vernon J. Harris East End Community Health Center.

And yesterday, the GRTC Transit System said it expects to receive about $11 million in stimulus funds to complete the design of a downtown transfer center and to buy new paratransit vans.

GRTC says it plans to use about $9 million of the $11 million to complete design and engineering work for the transfer center in the train shed behind Main Street Station in Shockoe Bottom. Construction is expected to begin in spring 2010.

"The purpose of the transfer center is to further enhance GRTC's services by creating a centrally located, user-friendly and accessible facility for our passengers, reduce private-vehicle traffic on the streets of downtown, contribute to the economic growth of downtown, and help sustain the environmental benefit to the community by reducing the amount of carbon emissions released into the air we breathe," said John M. Lewis, chief executive officer of GRTC.

The remaining $2 million is to be used to buy 38 replacement paratransit vans used to aid disabled passengers.

The Daily Planet, which provides services to the homeless population or those at risk of homelessness, expects to get about $700,000 for a new service location.

The organization had been applying for grant money to no avail when word came down that it would receive stimulus funding, said Maureen Neal, director of development and external affairs for the Daily Planet. Its board plans to meet this week to begin planning for the new project and its needs, including staff.

"In that regard, it is creating jobs in addition to providing the necessary health care to people that have lost their jobs or have lost their benefits," she said.

With piling job losses and the oft-accompanying loss of health insurance, the organization is seeing about 44 new patients a month, Neal said. The organization last year saw about 5,500 individuals over about 20,000 patient visits.

In tough times, some people "have to decide between health and paying rent," Neal said. "We want to keep them in the home."

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama announced the release of $27 billion nationally in stimulus funds for infrastructure, which will include $694 million to maintain existing Virginia roads and bridges. The Virginia aid is not yet targeted specifically.

Everything you want to know about ZIP CAR.

You can Click HERE to be taken to the Frequently Asked Questions page regarding Zip Car.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Va. Assembly Wraps; Kaine Cuts Losses

Governor's Agenda Largely Unrealized Despite Budget, Smoking Ban Successes

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 1, 2009; C01

RICHMOND -- Gov. Timothy M. Kaine oversaw the conclusion of his final General Assembly session last night, virtually assuring he will leave office without fulfilling his most conspicuous campaign promise: to resolve Virginia's transportation mess.

Facing the worst economic crisis in generations and stiff resistance from Republican lawmakers who felt burned by past efforts at compromise, the commonwealth's 70th governor discovered that the ambitious agenda he laid out to voters in 2005 would remain largely beyond his reach.

As the gavel fell Saturday night on the 2009 legislative session, he acknowledged leaving his efforts to address vexing traffic issues unfinished and his pledge to fund pre-kindergarten programs statewide unresolved. But Kaine, ever upbeat, said he found other ways to deliver for voters, including Saturday's accord on revisions to the state's $77 billion budget and last month's decision to impose a statewide ban on smoking in restaurants and bars.

"There are things I wanted to do that I will not get done, and then there are things I have gotten done that I would have never imagined in my wildest dreams," Kaine said in an interview. "It's been a weird three years."

The House and Senate adjourned about 8:45 p.m., signaling to Kaine that they had completed their work. The close of this year's session marks the start of a 10-month transition for Kaine from elected chief executive to full-time chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

During a rare moment of self-reflection, Kaine said Wednesday night that he thinks he's done a "pretty good job" as governor of the nation's 12th-largest state.

"You know, I would have gotten more done had I had more money to deal with it," Kaine said. "But, you know, in some ways . . . it might be better to have a friend when times are tough than when times are good."

Some of Kaine's greatest accomplishments were the product of his ferocious appetite for elective politics, which has resulted in dramatic Democratic gains in traditionally conservative Virginia.

Senate Minority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City) said Kaine "will be remembered as the Democratic governor who married into a Republican family and converted them to Democrats."

During his tenure, Kaine has built a reputation for being an unflappable administrator, a quiet promoter of Northern Virginia's increasingly liberal take on social issues and a calming presence after of the Virginia Tech massacre.

But Kaine's governorship has been badly marred by the slumping economy and housing market, forcing him to cut several billion dollars out of his final budget. Kaine has also been at the center of unprecedented partisan division in Richmond, in part a byproduct of Virginia's new status as a swing state in presidential politics.

His plan to offer universal taxpayer-funded pre-kindergarten fell victim to a drop in state revenue, although he noted that he pushed last year to pump an additional $25 million into the program. "We have set it up so the battle over pre-K is not over," Kaine said.

When it came to his biggest legislative priority -- a tax increase to build more roads -- legislators said Kaine showed a surprising inability to broker a deal.

After failing to get a transportation agreement in 2006, GOP leaders fashioned their own proposal in 2007 that relied on regional taxing authorities instead of Kaine's plan for a statewide solution. Kaine reluctantly signed on to the legislative plan, but the Supreme Court ruled that regional authorities did not have the power to raise taxes.

Kaine came back with a proposal to use higher taxes on vehicle purchases, but not even Democrats endorsed it.

William D. Lecos, president of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, said Kaine deserves credit for trying to overcome Republican resistance. But Kaine shares the blame, he said, for continued gridlock on highways in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.

"I think the governor could have used his bully pulpit as the leader of the Democratic Party to come up with a plan to at least carry in the General Assembly from his side of the aisle," Lecos said.

Republicans say Kaine's failure largely came down to a blunt partisan approach that was a departure from that of his predecessor, Mark R. Warner (D).

"With Kaine, I never felt a warm, fuzzy feeling where he wanted everyone to take off their political hats," said House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem).

The partisanship in Richmond emerged as an obstacle during Kaine's first weeks in office. Republicans refused to confirm Daniel LeBlanc, the former head of the Virginia AFL-CIO, to be Kaine's secretary of the commonwealth. Griffith said GOP legislators, who were worried LeBlanc would work to overturn the state's right to work laws, saw the appointment as a sign that Kaine "was going to run roughshod" over them.

What followed was an unusually large number of legislative setbacks. Instead of pursuing issues he knew would pass, Kaine pushed measures that appeared designed to test Republicans in the General Assembly.

Last year, Kaine took on gun rights advocates by proposing background checks on weapons purchased at gun shows. He failed. This year, he wanted to double the cigarette tax. The bill didn't get out of a Senate committee. Kaine also pushed for the early release of certain nonviolent inmates, a cost-saving measure that GOP lawmakers saw as an affront to the state's tough-on-crime reputation.

But the governor said that when the final chapter is written he will be known for making sure Virginians -- and the core services they rely on -- escaped the worse of the economic downturn. Any account of his legacy would include the $800 million in funds he set aside to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay and the effort to start forming a comprehensive policy on renewable energy.

Kaine noted that he also has preserved more than 300,000 acres of open space and expects to hit his goal of protecting 400,000 acres by January -- an area the size of Virginia's Eastern Shore. On transportation, Kaine pointed to movement on construction of HOT lanes, and he helped break a bureaucratic logjam so Metro can be extended to Dulles International Airport.

Now, he is preparing to sign into law the new smoking ban, a milestone for a state that built its economy on the tobacco leaf and remains home to the world's largest cigarette manufacturer. During his 2005 campaign, Kaine never discussed wanting to ban smoking in restaurants. But, he said Wednesday, the political dynamics in the state changed, enabling him to launch what he called a "little quixotic campaign against smoking."

Somewhat to Kaine's surprise, Republican House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) agreed to a compromise on the issue.

"I don't mind going out there and just running the draw play up the middle on every play and hoping I break through for a touchdown sometimes," Kaine said.

Dulles Metrorail Project Overview

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) will construct a 23-mile extension of the existing Metrorail system, which will be operated by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority from East Falls Church to Washington Dulles International Airport west to Ashburn.

The extension will serve Tysons Corner, Virginia's largest employment center, and the Reston Herndon area, the state's second largest employment concentration. And, it will provide a one-seat ride from Dulles International Airport to downtown Washington.

Phase 1 and 2

The project will include 11 new stations. It will be built in two phases. Phase 1 will run from East Falls Church to Wiehle Avenue on the eastern edge of Reston. It will include four stations in Tysons Corner-Tysons east, Tysons Central 123, Tysons Central 7 and Tysons West. Construction will begin in March of 2009 and it will be completed in 2013.

Phase 2 will run from Wiehle Avenue to Ashburn in eastern Loudoun County. A construction date has not been set for the extension that will serve Reston Town Center, Herndon, Dulles Airport, Route 606 and Ashburn.

The purpose of Dulles Metrorail is to provide high-quality, high-capacity transit service in the Dulles Corridor. New Metrorail service in the corridor will result in travel time savings between the corridor and downtown D.C., expand the reach of the existing regional rail system, offer a viable alternative to automobile travel and support future transit-oriented development along the corridor.

FTA Decision - Final Design Phase

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has propelled the project into its "Final Design" Phase after many years of study and preparations. The project team is now working with the FTA to obtain a $900 million Full Funding Grant agreement in early 2009.

In the Fall of 2008 the FTA transferred $159 million to the project to be used for:

Right-of-way acquisitions
Reimbursement of third party preliminary engineering costs
Final design work
Project administration
Maintenance of traffic programs
Engineering and design of rail cars
The FTA has also released $14 million to be used for site preparation work for a 2,100 foot tunnel that will be built under the intersection of Route 7 and 123, the highest natural point in Fairfax County.


MWAA and Dulles Transit Partners in March 2008 signed an updated $1.6 billion fixed-price contract to build the project, keeping the costs of the project to $2.6 billion.

Utility Reconstruction

Today, the construction team is involved in the relocation of 21 different utilities in the Tysons Corner area to prepare for project construction next spring. That work is being done primarily in the busy Route 7 corridor between Route 123 and the Dulles Toll Road.

Early Decisions

A Draft Environmental Impact Statement (Draft EIS) for the project was completed in June 2002. This Draft EIS evaluated several alternatives, including three Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) options, a combined BRT/Metrorail alternative and a full Metrorail extension. Public hearings on the Draft EIS were held in July 2002. Based on extensive public comments and input from local jurisdictions, the full extension of Metrorail was recommended as preferred option or Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA).

This Dulles Metrorail project was approved by the WMATA Board of Directors in November 2002 and the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) in December 2002. The Project was also endorsed by the Fairfax County, Loudoun County and MWAA Boards.

Following these approvals, a Final EIS was published in December 2004 and the FTA issued its Record of Decision approving the environmental process in March 2005.

Click HERE to go to the Dulles Metrorail Project Website.