Author: Winstina Hughes

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision is in on the Purple Line

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Thursday the Purple Line will advance, but the two local counties that stand to benefit from the light rail line will be asked to shoulder a much larger burden.

The alignment of the 16-mile Purple Line will not change, nor will the number of stations. But Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, Hogan said, will have to take on a greater percentage of the estimated $2.5 billion-plus price tag. The federal government, he said, must come through with its anticipated $900 million infusion. And tweaks to the project, such as extending the headway between trains from 6 to 7.5 minutes, will further drive down the cost.

Maryland officials say those changes, if accepted, will drive down the state’s investment from more than $700 million to less than $300 million.

“I look forward to further discussions with the Governor over ever

y aspect of the Purple Line – cost, design, construction schedule, and the role Montgomery County will be able to play in making the Purple Line a reality,” Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett said in a statement. “Enabling people to move around the Washington D.C. Metro area is extremely important to our overall quality of life. It is important for us to continue to invest in new businesses that create jobs and grow our tax base. Montgomery County benefits. Prince George’s County benefits. And, the State of Maryland really benefits.”

In the same vein, Baker thanked Hogan for recognizing the “positive impact this project could have on the region and the State of Maryland,” while simultaneously not committing to the new terms.

“Prince George’s County has already committed an extraordinary amount for local governments to contribute toward a state project,” Baker said in a statement. “I will thoroughly review this proposal along with my budget, finance, economic development and transportation advisors to assess what this means for Prince George’s County. In addition, we will work in concert with Montgomery County to analyze whether this new proposal maintains the spirit of the initial plan for the Purple Line and will lead to the outcomes and benefits we have been talking about for years.”

Long a Purple Line skeptic given the anticipated cost, Hogan’s decision to build what supporters deem a critical economic development and smart growth initiative came as something of a surprise, as the governor kicked off his press conference with a new commitment to invest $2 billion roads and bridges — deferred maintenance and new construction.

The list includes $200 million for a new I-495/I-95 interchange at Greenbelt — a project that’s needed to bring the FBI headquarters there — as well as $100 million for congestion reduction efforts on Interstate 270 and $190 million to widen Route 404 on the Eastern Shore from two to four lanes.

“We’re going to touch the daily lives of citizens across our state,” Hogan said.

Maryland must invest in projects that will help the greatest number of people, the governor said, adding he is not opposed to public transportation, only “wasteful boondoggles.” Driving the Purple Line’s cost down was mandatory, he said, but the project itself will be an “economic driver for Maryland.”

“I’ve always said this decision was never about whether public transportation is worthwhile, but about whether it is affordable and makes economic sense,” he said.

Running between Bethesda and New Carrollton, the preferred east-west Purple Line alignment includes 21 stations with stops in Silver Spring, Takoma/Langley Park and College Park. It will serve an estimated 69,000 daily riders by 2040, create thousands of construction jobs and provide easier access and connections between various Metro’s Green and Red lines, MARC and Amtrak.

“I welcome Governor @LarryHogan’s decision to proceed with the #PurpleLine. It is a needed project to improve mobility & the economy,” Montgomery County Council President George Leventhal tweeted shortly after the announcement.

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker has not yet publicly responded to the governor’s announcement, though he is expected to later Thursday. Neither county executive was in Annapolis for the governor’s press conference. And while both have shown unwavering support for the Purple Line, their respective counties are not swimming in extra revenue to throw its way.

Proponents of the transit line say they are concerned about changes to it, including the headway reduction and the decision to not build a second staging area for light rail cars. Still, said the Silver Spring-based Action Committee for Transit, Hogan’s choice is “good news for Marylanders who want more jobs, more travel options and better communities.”

“There is no better transportation and economic development investment for the state of Maryland,” added Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, in a statement. “This project will knit together job centers, expand access to high quality transit to new places, and provide much needed east-west connections in the dense inner suburbs of some of the most important economic parts of the state.”

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Gov. Larry Hogan Gives The Green Light To The Purple Line

Wearing a green cancer awareness pin and a purple tie, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan officially gave the go-ahead for the Purple Line this afternoon.

Hogan—who campaigned hard on his opposition to the light rail line—directed his new administration to study the proposal and find ways to get costs down before deciding on its fate. He announced today that the approval is contingent on the project receiving $900 million in federal funding, several design changes, and increased contributions from Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, which he declined to enumerate. The state would then be responsible for $168 million, he said.

Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn also noted several changes that brings costs from a “Cadillac project” to a “Chevy” one, in his words, though it will have the same alignment and number of stations as proposed. He said that reducing train intervals from every 6 minutes to 7.5 minutes, for example, would reduce the number of cars that have to be purchased and eliminate the need for a second staging area.

“Governor Hogan’s decision to build the Purple Line is good news for Marylanders,” the Action Committee for Transit Statement said in a release. “We are disappointed, however, that the governor chose to reduce the train frequency and passenger-carrying capacity. In all likelihood, future administrations will have to buy more cars. We ask MNCPPC planners to preserve the land needed for expanded storage and maintenance facilities.”

Coalition for Smarter Growth executive director Stewart Schwartz echoed those fears about how the cost-saving measures would impact the project: “We are concerned about proposed changes to lower the costs, especially the decision to not build the second staging area for light rail cars, which could lead to poorer service,” he said.

It wasn’t an easy decision, Hogan said, adding that bringing the costs down and looking at the benefits in terms of economic development and job creation helped sway his decision. “We spent five months, tons of time and effort to come to the right decision and I think it is the right one.”

He came to the opposite conclusion regarding a proposed light-rail project in Baltimore, nixing the Red Line project as “fatally flawed.”

“We are not opposed to public transportation, but we are opposed to wasteful boondoggles,” he said. The Red Line “needs to be set aside and we will look for other ways to assist Baltimore with their transportation needs.”

Among the things working against that proposal, Rahn said, is the part that calls for major $1 billion tunnel through the heart of the city.

Hogan also announced nearly $2 billion in spending for a slate of new road, bridge, and highway investments, while repeatedly slamming Martin O’Malley’s administration for neglecting them. Those included both projects already in the works as well $848 million for new highway and bridge construction. “These critical investments will finally give our administration the ability to repair and maintain Maryland’s road system, which has suffered from years of chronic underfunding,” Hogan said, emphasizing that the money will go toward projects in every single county in the state.

The conference was Hogan’s first public appearance since announcing a diagnosis of non-Hodgkins lymphoma earlier this week. He gave an update to his condition, saying that a bone marrow test came back negative for cancer, meaning that it is stage 3, to sustained applause.

“The outpouring of support has been incredible. Thousands of people have been reaching out. I can’t thank people enough,” the governor said. He will check into the hospital on Monday for four days of the round-the-clock chemotherapy. “It’s a terrible thing to have this come up, but the good part is the outpouring of friendship and well wishes—from all across the aisle. Some of our little squabbles don’t seem nearly as important.”

Read the complete article here.

Montgomery, Prince George’s officials are relieved by Purple Line decision

Political and business leaders and transit advocates in Maryland’s Washington suburbs mostly exhaled on Thursday after Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced he was willing to let a less costly version of the light-rail Purple Line go forward.

But there was worry, too — especially in Prince George’s County, where political leaders expressed concern about Hogan’s demand that their county and neighboring Montgomery pick up a greater share of the project’s costs.

“It’s really too early to tell what all this means for the Purple Line,” said County Council chairman Mel Franklin (D-Upper Marlboro). “We are pleased the governor gave the project the green light. But the conditions imposed create a great deal of uncertainty.”

“We need to know how much exactly is being asked for,” Franklin said. “We have to determine whether both counties can afford it, and it’s hard to know without knowing how much he wants.”

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker II (D), who earlier this month lost a bitter fight to raise property taxes in order to generate money for public schools, said his county “has already committed an extraordinary amount for a local government” toward the Purple Line.

But he pledged to “thoroughly review” Hogan’s proposal, and to consult with Montgomery officials “to analyze whether this new proposal maintains the spirit of the initial plan.”

In more affluent Montgomery, officials were more sanguine about Hogan’s push for additional local dollars.

“I’m very positive that we can work all of those details out,” said County Executive Isiah Leggett (D). He said the additional money would “almost certainly” come from the county’s capital budget through the sale of general obligation bonds, which would allow the county to spread the financing out over a period of years.

“Could we bond-fund an extra $50 million? Probably,” said Nancy Floreen (D-At Large), vice president of the Montgomery County Council. “We have a very heavy capital program today, but I don’t think it would push us over the brink.”

Floreen said she was happy Hogan had finally made his announcement, after months of deliberations. “It takes a lot of the chest-bashing out of the conversation,” she said. “Now we get down to brass tacks.”

Miti Figueredo, a spokeswoman for the Chevy Chase Land Company, which has led the pro-Purple Line fight for the Montgomery business community, said business leaders have had no conversations with county officials about the possibility of pitching in, just as commercial property owners along part of the Metrorail Silver Line route have done via a special taxing district.

“We’re willing to have conversations about ‘How can we make this happen?’ ” Figueredo said. “I’m confident both counties will step up and make their contributions, because the project is so important to the economies of both counties.”

The Chevy Chase Land Company owns land at what will be a future Purple Line station on Connecticut Avenue, in Chevy Chase Lake.

Many of those who had feared Hogan would cancel the project altogether said there was time to worry about the specifics later.

“I’m just happy it’s been approved,” said Jim Estepp, president of the Prince George’s Business Roundtable, a group of chief executives, chief financial officers and chief operating officers who run businesses in the county.

“It’s not unusual for these burdens to fall on local jurisdictions. . . . Going forward, people are going to now be looking at the details.”

Although opponents of the rail line, including environmentalists, threatened legal challenges, transit advocates applauded Hogan’s decision.

“We’re thrilled,” said Purple Line Now executive director Christine Scott. “I think what we’ve heard here is that the governor gets it. Jobs and connecting the counties are key, and he understands that, so we’re tickled.”

At the same time, Scott added that she’s anxious to hear how the counties feel about their expected contributions. “I think we need to know more – the extent of what the governor is asking and how much they were prepared for,” she said.

Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, said the state should pay more.

“Given that the state and the federal government will often pay 100 percent of a highway project, it would be fairer for the state to put more money into the Purple Line than he’s proposing,” he said.

Montgomery council member Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda), chairman of the council’s transportation and environment committee, said he was confident that Hogan’s ask was “not a showstopper.”

“We can’t lose this project based on the numbers we’re talking about here,” Berliner said.

He also gave a shout-out to Hogan, who had criticized the Purple Line proposal harshly as a candidate but promised to keep an open mind and learn more about it once taking office.

“He came a long way with respect to this project. He really he was not a believer and over time he came to appreciate how important it was to fulfilling his fundamental objective, which is more jobs and a stronger economy.”

Katherine Shaver contributed to this report.

Read original article here.

The Purple Line Will Happen, But It’ll Cost the Suburbs More

Governor Larry Hogan surprised suburban transit advocates Thursday in announcing that his administration will go forward with the planned Purple Line light rail between New Carrollton and Bethesda, but that does not mean advocates for the project can breath easily. While Hogan’s election last November sparked fears that the Annapolis Republican would make good on his campaign’s skepticism of the project and kill it outright, he threw a new twist into the long-anticipated railway’s fate by drastically reducing the state government’s contribution.

Maryland’s coffers will only put in $168 million on the 16-mile Purple Line instead of a possible $700 million. The project, which was first proposed in 1994 as an expansion of Metro, is estimated to cost $2.45 billion to build. The Federal Transit Administration is in for $900 million, leaving the remainder of the costs to Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. Each county previously pledged to spend $110 million on the project, with Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett later saying he could potentially contribute another $50 million. But that still leaves the Purple Line nearly $1 billion short of its total funding.

Hogan, who on Monday disclosed he is being treated for non-Hodgkins lymphoma, made the Purple Line announcement during a press conference touting $1.97 billion in road and bridge construction projects across the state, including the widening of Interstate 270 and other arterial highways. But committing additional funds to roadway projects—for which the benefitting communities will not have to pay extra—leaves less for mass transit. While the Purple Line got a reprieve, Hogan canceled a $2.9 billion planned Red Line in Baltimore.

While the Purple Line is still in planning stages, the cuts today will impact its final design. Instead of six-minute headways when it opens, trains will run every seven-and-a-half minutes; there may only be enough money for one rail yard; and the project might lose a wall protecting nearby communities from the rumble of trains. Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn says the Purple Line, as originally envisioned, was “a Cadillac project, not a Chevy project.”

“He talked a lot about cost effectiveness, but a lot of the road projects on the list may not be that beneficial to economic development as the Purple Line,” says David Alpert, editor of the pro-development website Greater Greater Washington. “It is unfair that he didn’t say, ‘I reached out to Garrett County to say that if you want this road you’re going to come up with your own tax money.’ He sees it as saying the state money should go to roads and not transit.”

The number of vehicle miles traveled per capital in Maryland peaked in 2005 at 10,888, according to a 2013 study by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. The Maryland Department of Transportation under former Governor Martin O’Malley estimated that the Purple Line would average 74,000 riders daily by 2040. By comparision, the Intercounty Connector highway, which runs between Gaithersburg and Laurel, was found to carry an average of 50,000 cars per day, well below initial projections.

Kelly Blynn of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, a nonprofit organization that advocates for increased mass-transit spending, is relieved to see the Purple Line survive, but chafes that its presumed state funding is being mosly hacked off.

“It’s very much a double standard, especially in light of the governor’s decision on the Red Line to spend all this money on roads and bridges,” she says.

Even with funding more uncertain than ever, though, Purple Line backers are relieved the project did not share the Baltimore Red Line’s fate.

“If he wanted to kill it, he could have said ‘I’m killing it,’” says Alpert.

Read the complete article here.

Praise — and concern— for Hogan’s Purple Line plan

Gov. Larry Hogan’s announcement that the state would move forward with the Purple Line is receiving both praise and criticism.

The Republican governor said Thursday afternoon that the state would move forward with a “more cost-effective” version of the Purple Line, a light-rail project that would connect Bethesda in Montgomery County to New Carrollton in Prince George’s. His plan: scale back the state’s share of the project to $168 million from the original share of $700 million, and have Montgomery and Prince George’s counties pay more.

Supporters of the project in the two counties where the 16-mile light-rail line is viewed as a potential boost to economic development said they welcomed the governor’s plan to move the project forward but voiced concerns about the proposed changes to lower the costs, which some smart-growth advocates worried could lead to poorer transit service.

Hogan also announced nearly $2 billion in funding for highways and bridges. And in a blow to rail advocates, Hogan killed the $2.9 billion Red Line light-rail project for Baltimore.

[Hogan: Maryland will move forward on Purple Line, with counties’ help]

The Coalition for Smarter Growth, a big supporter of the rail project, called Hogan’s plan “business-friendly” Executive director Stewart Schwartz questioned the governor’s investments on road construction:

There is no better transportation and economic development investment for the State of Maryland. This project will knit together job centers, expand access to high quality transit to new places, and provide much needed east-west connections in the dense inner suburbs of some of the most important economic parts of the state.

We are concerned about proposed changes to lower the costs, especially the decision to not build the second staging area for light rail cars, which could lead to poorer service. We are reviewing the proposals and will reach out to the state and local agencies to ensure that Purple Line performance won’t be significantly degraded.

We also are deeply concerned about the Governor’s opposition to the Red Line, especially in light of his decision to increase spending on new highway construction by close to a billion dollars. Marylanders and residents in the Baltimore region deserve better transportation choices than just the same old policies of the past. We will work closely with allies throughout the state to determine positive ways to move forward from this setback.”

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) said he is “heartened” by the governor’s decision:

I look forward to further discussions with the Governor over every aspect of the Purple Line – cost, design, construction schedule, and the role Montgomery County will be able to play in making the Purple Line a reality.

Enabling people to move around the Washington D.C. Metro area is extremely important to our overall quality of life. It is important for us to continue to invest in new businesses that create jobs and grow our tax base. Montgomery County benefits. Prince George’s County benefits. And, the State of Maryland really benefits.

Montgomery County Council President George L. Leventhal (D-At Large), welcomed the announcement, but added the governor’s version of the project presents some challenges:

The proposal to reduce some aspects of the project, and to put more of a financial burden on Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, will create substantial challenges, but every aspect of working toward the creation of the Purple Line has had its share of challenges, and in every case, we have found solutions. We will put some more creative thought and energy into this challenge, and we will again find solutions. When a project is this important to future generations of your residents, that is what must be done.”

AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Lon Anderson applauded Hogan’s move to proceed with the project, saying it could bring relief to the Washington metro region, one of the most congested areas in the nation.

In Maryland and in the Washington, D.C. metro area, we have been very hypocritical about funding mass transit, so this is an opportunity to make a significant transportation upgrade and put more money where our collective mouths have been. Budget is the truest expression of policy. The Purple Line will redound to the benefit of suburban Marylanders and to the residents, commuters and businesses in Prince George’s County and Montgomery County. Transportation, including mass transit, is the backbone of the economic well-being of our nation, state, and region.”

For those of us who seek and support sustainable transportation solutions, that includes mass transit, moving ahead with the Purple Line project is a great victory for a region bedeviled by the worst congestion in the entire nation.

Meanwhile, in Baltimore, officials reacted with disappointment to Hogan’s decision to table the Red Line, a light rail project in Baltimore City. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D) said she was “disheartened”:

“I am disheartened that Governor Hogan has chosen to ignore the needs of Baltimore City residents by cancelling current plans for the Red Line. Although the Governor has promised to support economic growth in Baltimore, he cancelled a project that would have expanded economic development, created thousands of jobs, increased access to thousands more, and offered residents better health care, childcare, and educational opportunities. I remain committed to working with my partners in government, the business community, and all our community partners to fight for transit opportunities for Baltimore’s residents.”

Baltimoreans also took to Twitter to blast Hogan for killing the Red Line. Hogan’s people tweeted a map showing how his transportation project would help every county in Maryland. The map, Baltimoreans noted, did not include Charm City. The Hogan tweet was apparently deleted, but images continued to circulate online Thursday evening.

Read complete article here.

Transportation overhaul: New scoring system for project funding nearly set

The Commonwealth Transportation Board is slated to vote Wednesday on the key details of a new scoring system that will be used to decide what new road projects get funding around the state.

The board is expected to weight various scoring categories in the formula, which will be used to judge all future projects. Projects expected to reduce congestion will score high in Hampton Roads, particularly if a change that the Virginia Department of Transportation has suggested wins board approval.

When the scoring criteria were rolled out in March, the plan was to figure 35 percent of a project’s score in Hampton Roads based on congestion mitigation. The new recommendation is 45 percent.

Board members said they’re not sure whether the change has the votes to pass Wednesday, and two said they’d prefer a compromise of 40 percent. That, they said, would allow increases to at least one other category that they believe has a longer-term effect on congestion relief than the congestion mitigation category itself.

The basics of the new scoring system were laid out last year in House Bill 2, which called for an overhaul of the state’s road-funding process. Supporters on both sides of the aisle, including Gov. Terry McAuliffe, said they wanted to replace an often political process with something more objective and transparent.

Projects will be scored, those scores will be posted online, and if the Commonwealth Transportation Board deviates from those scores when it picks projects, people will notice, supporters said.

There are six scoring categories: Congestion mitigation, economic development, accessibility, safety, environmental quality and land use. VDOT was tasked with deciding how much to weight each category.

Weightings will differ around the state. In rural areas, safety improvement projects will score better. In Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia, congestion mitigation will reign supreme.

But environmental and smart growth advocates said Tuesday that just because a project scores well on mitigation, as opposed to accessibility and land use, doesn’t mean it will have the biggest long-term effect on traffic. Adding lanes addresses issues in the short term, but can discourage people from car pooling, taking mass transit and scheduling travel at off-peak times, said Stewart Schwartz, executive director at the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

Accessibility scores, on the other hand, judge how much a project helps people get to and from work, and it includes a transit component. Land use is based on how transportation projects support efficient development.

Accessibility shrunk in importance by 15 percentage points to increase congestion mitigation’s effect in Hampton Roads, and to up land use’s by 5 points. Marty Williams, a former Newport News city councilman and Peninsula state senator who sits now on the state transportation board, said he’d like to see accessibility bumped back up about 5 points before the formula is finalized.

Both Williams and John Malbon, who represents Hampton Roads on the CTB, said they’d be comfortable with congestion mitigation at 40 percent. They noted that the old system – the one in place before House Bill 2 – probably put congestion mitigation at about 80 percent, though projects weren’t formally scored that way.

Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne said Tuesday that there was some push, from legislators and others, to crank congestion mitigation up as high as 70 percent. Local officials were more likely to prefer the 35 percent VDOT originally suggested, he said.

“I don’t think anybody is really happy with it (at 45 percent),” Layne said. “Which probably means we pushed it about as far as we could.”

Camelia Ravanbakht, who, as interim executive director of the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization, is heavily involved in suggesting projects for funding, said she was surprised Tuesday to hear about the increase proposal. Her group didn’t request the change, and she said it’s too early to know how it would affect specific projects planned in the region.

“I wish I did (know),” she said. “It’s very project-specific. You cannot really generalize it.”

Nick Donohue, the deputy transportation secretary who spearheaded the lengthy process that led to these weighting formula recommendations, told board members Tuesday that there will be some trial and error in the coming years. The state will probably want to tweak the formula “at least every few rounds.”

Local officials will submit projects for funding, but the project-by-project scoring will be done by the state. Donohue said that process hasn’t been set, but will be in the coming months. It’s possible that multiple teams will score projects so that at least some of the projects scored in each round are reviewed by separate teams, he said.

Fain can be reached by phone at 757-525-1759.

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VDOT Plan to Add Tolls to I-66 Gets Tough Reception

The plans developed for a 25-year upgrade of Interstate 66 inside the Beltway by the Virginia Department of Transportation were presented at a heavily-attended public meeting at the Henderson Middle School in Falls Church Tuesday night, and left the audience more than a little unsettled, based on the comments and grumblings from many there.

The plans include the introduction of tolls for all vehicles carrying less than three passengers during rush hours in the morning and the evening, and going both ways.

The presentation faced a lot of angry criticism from the public that spoke up Tuesday night, including from Falls Church Vice Mayor David Snyder, who, even though he welcomed the audience on behalf of the City, issued a statement that exemplified the sharp criticism that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and other planning officials were subjected to.

Snyder criticized the “lack of clarity and assurance” in the proposals, including “whether people will actually pay the tolls on avoid them and further clog already congested roads such as Route 7 and 29…The only long-term solutions lie in alternatives to more lanes to serve single occupancy vehicles.”
Others assailed what they called “a money grab” and “holding Falls Church and Fairfax hostage to tolls.” Whereas the comprehensive plan is not slated to be completed until 2040, the tolling will come in the first phase set to go by 2017, according to the planners Tuesday.
The overall purpose of the plan, officially called the “I-66 Multimodal Project,” is three-fold: to move more people, “enhance connectivity” between travel modes, and to provide new travel options.
Its benefits, according to VDOT and its partner in this project, the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT), are to “move more people and enhance connectivity in the I-66 corridor, provide congestion relief and new travel choices, manage demand and ensure congestion-free travel, provide a seamless connection to nearly 40 miles of express lanes in the region, create a ‘carpool culture’ on I-66 by providing free, faster, more reliable trips for HOV-3, van pools and buses, and provide support for multimodal improvements in the corridor or on surrounding roadways that benefit mobility on I-66.”
It is not related to another plan which calls for the widening of I-66 west of the Beltway, although they interface and of course are on the same highway.
The more specific data many citizens demanded Tuesday night will be forthcoming in the fall, insisted VDOT officials. The studies of various components of the plan for more precise numbers will be coming over the next months.
Snyder’s concern for the spill-over effect onto side roads, like Routes 7 and 29 that criss-cross the City of Falls Church, was expressed at a Falls Church City Council work session Monday night, and was the concern of a number of those who spoke Tuesday.

However, in comments e-mailed to the News-Press following Tuesday’s meeting, Stewart Schwartz of the Coalition for Smarter Growth wrote, “We are generally supportive of the VDOT proposal. It is a viable alternative to widening which would do more harm to homes, neighborhoods, parks, schools and the highly utilized commuter bike trail.”

He added that “peak hour congestion pricing in both directions will ensure the road works effectively and with HOV and expanded transit could carry far more people per hour,” and would “certainly help to address the current severe congestion in the ‘reverse commute’ direction.”

Pending more data, he added, the “diversion of traffic…might turn out to be no more than the diversions prompted by the current traffic congestion on I-66,” and “is counterbalanced by the fact that currently single occupancy vehicles are barred from I-66 for the peak hours and have been using parallel roads. With the option to pay for a free moving facility as compared to navigating local arterials with stoplights, the toll option could help local streets.”

Robert Puentes, a planner and former member of the Falls Church Planning Commission, wrote online at that “The VDOT plan is the right one to deal with the intractable problems in the I-66 corridor. There’s a long way to go to refine the proposal and the devil’s in the details but the general plan is a good one.”

In an anonymous response to Puentes on, a commenter complained that “reverse commuters face no restrictions now and in fact some have considered this in establishing their places or residence.”

He argued, “We need a comprehensive and robust mass transit solution to the traffic quagmire…We could focus on making Northern Virginia a showplace for light rail and bus networks designed so that people actually could use them instead of cars.”

Read the original article here.

Testimony on partial offsite Inclusionary Zoning and affordable housing benefit in the Highline development project

We are enthusiastic about this project because it takes full advantage of the site’s proximity to Metro and bus lines, employment, services and burgeoning new commercial districts. I will spend the rest of my time discussing our qualified support for the proposed partial off-site compliance for Inclusionary Zoning regulations (IZ), and an affordable housing proffer.

Riders ‘Take Five’ – for a 3-hour tour

In recent years, the River City Saunter has showcased local redevelopment and revitalization initiatives in communities ranging from Shockoe Bottom and Jackson Ward to the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor – with an eye toward highlighting success stories as well as challenges related to sprawl, affordable housing and regional transportation.

But at the 7th annual Saunter, eastern Henrico County’s much-celebrated historic and scenic byway was the star of the show – while sharing a bit of the spotlight with its equally historic and scenic supporting star, the James River.

Sponsored by the Partnership for Smarter Growth (PSG), the May 9 tour of Route 5 drew approximately 80 participants, who set out from Main Street Station in twin buses for a three-hour trip through Varina.

Among Henrico officials joining the tour were Varina Supervisor Tyrone E. Nelson and County Manager John A. Vithoulkas. Leighton Powell of Scenic Virginia provided the narration on one bus, while Stewart Schwartz of the Coalition for Smarter Growth (and PSG) acted as tour guide on the other.

One of the first points of interest along the route was the property of Virginia Lipford, a passenger on the bus who recently won an award from Henrico’s Historic Preservation Advisory Committee for establishing a conservation easement on her almost-ten-acre site.

Lipford was the first to take advantage of a new partnership between the Capital Region Land Conservancy and the Henricopolis Soil & Water Conservation District, in which the organizations co-hold conservation easements so that small-acreage land owners can preserve their properties and protect them from subdivision just as large-acreage owners can.

Living within sight of the James River, and just off Route 5, Lipford has set an important precedent in a county that loses hundreds of acres of green space and farmland each year, according to tour participant and Varina neighbor Nicole Anderson-Ellis of the Henricopolis Soil and Water Conservation District.

Considering that Virginia’s number one industry is agriculture, and the number two industry is tourism, said Anderson-Ellis, those acres are resources the county cannot afford to lose.

As Leighton pointed out that the Varina District contains 48 percent of Henrico’s land, but only 20 percent of its population, Lipford also drew laughter with a droll observation.

“Yeah, but we can be real loud,” she said of her Varina neighbors.

Nicole Anderson-Ellis points to photos of Napa, Tuscany and Route 5 as part of a guessing game at the Malvern Hill stop on the Saunter.

‘A Civil War playground’
At Fort Harrison, the first stop on the tour, riders disembarked to hear from speakers such as David Ruth, superintendent of the Richmond National Battlefield Park, and Neil Luther, director of Henrico Recreation and Parks.

Pointing out a number of the fort’s more distinctive features, such as its listening wells and earthworks, Ruth cited it as an example of some of the strongest Confederate defense lines during the Civil War – as well as a sterling example of attractions that boost the region’s battlefield tourism and generate an estimated $11 million in economic impact.

Among the more successful recent events cited by Luther was the September reenactment of the Battle of the New Market Heights, which marked the 150th anniversary of the battle. In preparation for the weekend, Henrico Recreation and Parks built a replica fort and Union and Confederate campgrounds that became the focal point for a gathering of more than one thousand re-enactors.

“We basically created a Civil War playground,” Luther said of the event, which generated a figure approaching $1 million in economic impact in one weekend alone.

Not surprisingly, he added, Henrico officials are exploring the possibility of future reenactments. Not only are there abundant heritage sites in Henrico, he explained, but heritage tourists are especially desirable, because they tend to favor books and collectibles and thus spend more than the average traveler.

At the next stop, Deep Bottom Park, riders gathered on the banks of the James to hear from speakers such as Nathan Burrell, superintendent of the James River Park System. Burrell touted the role of the James River and its parks and other recreational assets in the revitalization of Richmond and the reversal of the city’s “downward spiral” of a decade or two ago.

But although the city may enjoy the more visible economic benefit of renewed population growth, Burrell said, it’s imperative that residents of the area view the river as a regional asset — and its stewardship as a regional responsibility.

In spite of the park’s location primarily within city limits, he emphasized, a majority of the visitors – 60 percent – come from surrounding localities.

‘Celebrate these assets’
Along the route, bus riders enjoyed views of another regional asset: newly-completed portions of the Virginia Capital Trail for cyclists and pedestrians. Due for completion this fall, the under-construction portions will soon join with finished sections in Richmond, Charles City County and Jamestown to form an unbroken link between the modern capital and the original capital of Virginia.

Luther mentioned that he and his family are among the Capital Trail fans excitedly anticipating its completion, having already ridden the entire 52-mile length several times.

The final stop of the day, hosted by Meade and Randy Welch at historic Malvern Hill, included refreshments and a guessing game created by Nicole Anderson-Ellis.

A founding member of the Route 5 Corridor Coalition, Anderson-Ellis said the group recently initiated a “Take 5” campaign to induce more visitors to travel the scenic byway. She got the idea for the guessing game, she said, while browsing tourism brochures for Tuscany and the Napa Valley, which featured rustic and pastoral scenes almost interchangeable with those along Route 5.

And she was not at all surprised, as she announced following the guessing game, that most of the tour participants were unable to distinguish the scenic photos of Italy and California from those taken along the Virginia route.

As speakers wrapped up their remarks at Malvern Hill, Stewart Schwartz commented that when he and his wife moved to Richmond a few years ago, he was “stunned” to find scenery like Route 5’s within only a few miles of the city.

“Having seen these landscapes today,” Schwartz said, “we want you to contemplate . . . and to celebrate these assets. You don’t have this in Northern Virginia, or in Washington, D.C.

“And your free tour today,” he added, “is a lot cheaper than that trip to Napa or Tuscany!”

Read the original article here.

AS I SEE IT: In Princeton, think small for affordable housing

On Sunday, May 17, Princeton’s Community Democratic Organization (PCDO) hosted a symposium on what many residents feel is Princeton’s central issue: how to keep — or, depending on your perspective, how to make — Princeton affordable.

What are some of the barriers to affordability in Princeton? Our property taxes, for one thing. We learned, from estimates prepared by Councilman Patrick Simon, that the 2015 property tax on an average Princeton home, which is assessed at just over $800,000, will probably be just under $17,700.

Where will that money go? Some 48 percent of our property taxes will go to the schools, 22 percent to the municipality, and 30 percent to the county. Startlingly, 50 percent of the county’s budget is spent on corrections. If everyone in Mercer County behaved themselves, in other words, our taxes would drop by 15 percent.

Our taxes could drop even more depending on the outcome of a lawsuit brought by attorney Bruce Afran on behalf of local taxpayers who challenge Princeton University’s tax-exempt, nonprofit status. At the May 17 meeting, Mr. Afran stressed that the university has done nothing illegal or immoral. But the university shares profits with many of its science faculty and undertakes other commercial activities. It cannot be deemed a nonprofit according to New Jersey law. The university has agreed to non-binding mediation in the case.

Meanwhile, the May 17 meeting addressed not just legally defined affordable housing but what some Princetonians call “housing that’s affordable.” By “housing that’s affordable,” I mean me and maybe you, or anyone who’s ever wondered whether they can afford to stay in Princeton.

How can Princeton — or any town — supply enough housing that’s affordable for middle- and low-income residents? Let me discuss rental housing, but similar arguments would apply to housing for sale rather than for rent.

According to Cheryl Cort, policy director for Coalition for Smarter Growth in Washington, D.C., conservatives and liberals offer different solutions to providing rental housing that’s affordable. Republicans argue that zoning and other building regulations constrict supply and drive up costs, so we should eliminate regulations. Then the free market will build housing for both high- and low-income households.

The argument that market supply-and-demand applies to housing is partly correct, Ms. Cort writes: “If there’s not enough housing on the market to meet demand, higher-income people will bid up prices and out-compete lower-income people.” This is already happening in Princeton.

And, yes, regulations do increase development costs and risks. Projects may be denied, delayed, or decreased. Developers need to make a return for investors. Housing won’t get built if the return isn’t high enough.

Ms. Cort calculates (these figures are from March 2015) that the baseline cost of building a one-bedroom apartment in D.C. requires a rental of “$2,000 a month to meet the level of return [an investor] demands.” Your income must be about $38 per hour, or $80,000 annually, for $2,000 to be only 30 percent of monthly income, which is the generally-recommended level of spending on housing. People who earn $15 an hour, or $32,000 a year, the new minimum wage in some states, can afford only $800 apartments.

One “solution” is for lower-income people to live in older housing, and this is what usually happens — except in places like Greenwich Village, Hodge Road, or Georgetown.

Meanwhile, Democrats, who argue correctly that new development mostly provides high-end housing, may oppose any new market-rate development. Perhaps they mistakenly ignore the law of supply and demand because they remember when local governments could supply below-market-rate or public housing. Those days are largely gone — although, as Bruce Afran implied, they may come again for Princeton.

Nevertheless, another, modest way to increase rental housing that’s affordable is by means of Accessory Dwelling Units, or ADUs.

ADUs — sometimes called granny flats or in-law apartments — are smaller, secondary dwellings on the same lot as a primary dwelling. They offer shelter, bathrooms, and cooking facilities. ADUs may be completely new construction, like a new addition or a garden cottage. Or they might be existing garages, basements, or attics converted into living space, maybe just by adding a hotplate and a microwave.

ADUs offer new housing units while respecting the look and scale of single-dwelling neighborhoods. They can be added to cottages or mansions. They use existing housing and infrastructure more efficiently, providing smaller housing for today’s smaller households (in Princeton, think retirees or the university’s post-docs). They free up larger apartments for families with children. And — most important — in return for some amount of investment, they offer the homeowner income. That is, they let two families find housing that’s affordable.

Our zoning should not only permit but actually encourage them. In particular, zoning should relax the parking requirement for new dwelling units since many young Princeton residents rely on bicycles or buses. ADUs should be allowed to homeowners as of right, and lot-size requirements should also be relaxed.

As I’ve written in this space before, my favorite kind of ADUs are tiny houses — as in “Tiny House Movement” — structures built like houses but perhaps only 250 or even 150 square feet, the size of a very small trailer. In fact, tiny houses are often built on wheels so they’re movable. If you could build a tiny house for $15,000, you could probably recoup your cost with one year’s rental. Here’s how easily zoning could encourage housing that’s affordable: make it legal to park tiny houses in Princeton’s driveways.

But let me mention that it’s already legal in Princeton to rent as many as two rooms in your home to two people per room, without adding extra kitchens or bathrooms. Rooms with shared facilities seem to rent for $750 to 1,000 monthly in Princeton. If you’re seriously worrying whether you can continue living in Princeton, please consider this option. We don’t want to lose you! 

Read original article here.