Tag: Arlington

CSG Testimony re Amazon & Affordable Housing

Coalition for Smarter Growth

March 14, 2019

Arlington County Board

Suite #300

2100 Clarendon Blvd

Arlington, VA 22201


Re:  Amazon incentive package and community needs

Dear Chair Dorsey and members of the Board:

The Coalition for Smarter Growth is the leading non-profit in the DC region advocating a network of livable communities – walkable, mixed-income, mixed-use, transit-oriented centers and corridors linked by an expanded transit network including Metrorail, bus, bus rapid transit, light-rail, and street-car as appropriate. Our partnerships span the region’s leading conservation, affordable housing, bicycle/pedestrian, and transit advocacy organizations, as well as progressive architecture, planning and development firms. We are proud that this web of partnerships enabled us to collectively win the first-ever dedicated funding for Metro.

We support Amazon’s decision to locate in Crystal City/Pentagon City. Their decision is a vindication of Arlington’s long-time leadership and implementation of smart growth and transit-oriented development (TOD). It is a vindication as well of our regional advocacy for TOD and of the Council of Governments’ Region Forwardvision and Visualize2045transportation plan commitments to TOD. Amazon is also teaming with one of the region’s most successful transit-oriented developers, JBGSmith, who have a record of good design and placemaking, and recently started a workforce housing fund.

Turning now to the proposed incentives program. We join others in the long-standing concerns about the nationwide use of incentives to attract major corporate entities – particularly given so many socio-economic needs in our communities. But we also recognize that both Arlington and the State of Virginia incentives are performance based. Arlington’s incentives are also being drawn from the growth in revenue from the Transient Occupancy Tax, of which 15% will go to Amazon for performance but the remainder to schools, housing and transportation in Arlington. We are pleased that the state transportation investments are among the most progressive seen in the U.S. in that they are focused on transit, bicycle/pedestrian and safe street design investments.

A new area of concern raised by Megan Rhyne of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government must be addressed – that the proposed agreement includes a provision allowing Amazon “at least two-business days to refute, redact or file a lawsuit when someone seeks records of its interaction with the county” (P. Sullivan, Washington Post, 3/15/19). At CSG we have always placed transparency in government at the core of community planning and engagement and strongly support ever greater transparency in FOIA standards and fewer exemptions. Therefore, this provision which Ms. Rhyne says is unusual, should be removed from the agreement.

While we are supporting the Amazon transit-oriented project, we share the significant concerns about housing affordability in Arlington and the region – an issue which admittedly predates Amazon. While Arlington and Alexandria are pledging $150 million toward affordable housing needs over ten years, our understanding is that these are not new, additional funds. It is good that the Virginia Housing Development Authority will be allocating $15 million per year over five years in low interest loans for affordable housing and added $3 million to the statewide Virginia Housing Trust Fund. But this level of investment is also far short of the need. Since Arlington notes that increased revenues will result from Amazon’s investment and associated development and economic activity, we urge the use of a significant portion of those revenues for affordable housing – to double or more the current annual commitments. We urge the same for Alexandria, Fairfax, and the state.

As for the state commitment to affordable housing, we need to point out the discrepancy between $750 million in incentives for Amazon and $50 million for Micron, while only adding $3 million to the state housing trust fund and the five-year, $15 million per year loan program for Northern Virginia. Similarly, the comparison between the billions we spend on highways and interchanges is stunning when compared to how little we are investing in affordable housing. In fact, housing close to jobs and transit IS a transportation solution, reducing vehicle trips and vehicle miles traveled. Investing in affordable housing in smart growth locations creates far more benefits than do our massive highway expenditures, providing family stability, improved health, improved educational outcomes, improved access to jobs and affordable transportation, and reduced air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, we need both much more public funding support from the state and local governments, but also innovative private sector investment in long-term committed affordable housing for 60 percent of area median income and below.

Beyond funding, we concur with many other groups that we need effective preservation strategies for market-rate affordable housing in our diverse neighborhoods that are potentially impacted by the economic development that will come with Amazon. Arlington, DC, Alexandria and advocates at CSG and the member groups of the Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance have many ideas for effective tools for both preservation and inclusion of affordable housing, and we need a stronger commitment and an accelerated approach to implementation in each jurisdiction with the full participation of local residents.

Turning back to transportation, and Amazon’s role, we are pleased that Amazon has achieved about a 50% mode share for non-auto commutes in Seattle and has promised that they want to do even better here. We recommend a goal of 65% non-auto mode share. To achieve this, we recommend that Amazon provide transit passes to all employees, and that they minimize on-site parking (as they have discussed) — and price it OR offer equal non-parking benefits to any employee who might be eligible for or offered a parking space but wishes to take transit, walk or bike to work. Include secure bicycle parking, along with showers and lockers for bike commuters.

In addition, the state, Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, and local jurisdictions should add other projects to the package of transportation investments including:

  • Connecting Metroway through Alexandria to Fairfax’ Embark Richmond Highway BRT
  • Accelerating the Long Bridge rail project and building the separated bike bridge
  • In the I-395 Corridor provide TOD node-to-node bus rapid transit connections between Fort Belvoir, Springfield, Landmark, Mark Center, Shirlington, Pentagon City/Crystal City and Pentagon (and a Kingstown to Van Dorn to Landmark connection).
  • Expansion of Capital Bikeshare
  • Expansion of dedicated bike lane infrastructure

In conclusion, we support Amazon’s location decision, but we urge you to fix the FOIA issue, to advance these additional transportation projects in partnership with other jurisdictions, AND commit to increasing funding for affordable housing, adopting new tools for preservation and inclusion, and including the community in the development of these strategies and programs.

Thank you.

Stewart Schwartz

Executive Director

RELEASE: Smart growth advocates support plans for HOT lanes and transit on I-66 inside the Beltway as a good idea

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                     
September 11, 2015                                                                                      

Stewart Schwartz, CSG, 703-599-6437

NORTHERN VIRGINIA – Coalition for Smarter Growth Executive Director Stewart Schwartz said today that the Virginia Department of Transportation’s package of solutions for I-66 inside the Beltway – including rush hour tolling – is the most efficient and cost-effective way for Northern Virginia resident to improve traffic and provide more reliable commutes on one of the region’s major arteries.

Noting the concerns heard from some outer-jurisdiction legislators in Virginia, Schwartz also said that the proposed toll prices are fair and even cheaper in comparison with the total cost of other transportation options in the region, such as parking at an end-of-the line Metro station and riding in to DC or driving on the newly opened 495 HOT lanes.

“We believe that the package of solutions proposed by VDOT is the most cost-effective and efficient approach to addressing I-66 congestion as soon as possible, and for maximizing the number of people who can commute through the corridor during rush hour, while also guaranteeing a much more reliable trip for everyone,” said Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

VDOT’s package of solutions to growing congestion on I-66 inside the Beltway is based on variable tolling in both directions for single-occupant vehicles during the morning and evening rush hour periods. Two-person carpools would travel for free, and when I-66 converts to three-person carpools, they would travel free. Outside of rush hours, the highway would be free for all users.

The toll revenue would be publicly owned and used for transit, road and other improvements in the corridor, benefiting all users including drivers. Preliminary estimates by VDOT indicate a peak toll during the most congested times of $8 to $9 inbound in the morning/outbound in the evening, and $1 to $3 outbound in the morning/inbound in the evening.

“We’ve checked comparable pricing for Metro in the corridor and the peak tolls on the privately controlled 495 and 95 HOT lanes,” said Schwartz. “We found that the potential highest tolls on I-66 inside the Beltway are competitive and reasonable. They’re also a much better deal that the public is receiving with the 495 and 95 HOT lanes, because public ownership allows us to invest the revenues in express buses and other transit services that will further improve conditions for those who drive.”

Toll and Metro Comparisons:

  • VDOT estimate of peak toll on I-66 inside the Beltway: $9.00 (.94 cents per mile for 9.6 miles)
  • Metro from Vienna to Metro Center: $10.30 (includes parking $4.85 + Metrorail peak fare $5.45)
  • Metro from W. Falls Church to Metro Center: $8.95 (includes parking $4.85 + Metrorail peak fare $4.10)
  • I-495 HOT lanes, “maximum dynamic toll” to date: $15.05 ($1.08 per mile for 14 miles; equates to $10.37 on I-66)
  • I-95 HOT lanes, “maximum dynamic toll” to date: $20.90 (.72 cents per mile for 29 miles; equates to $6.91 on I-66) 

Sources: 1) WMATA and 2) Transurban data from March Quarter 2015 .Transurban’s quarterly report includes   the “maximum dynamic toll” for that period. To get the numbers above, we have assumed the “maximum dynamic toll” was applied to a vehicle traveling the entire length of the respective HOT lanes.

VDOT’s Proposal for I-66 inside the Beltway

  • High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes will operate in both directions, but only be in effect during peak hours (am/pm). Carpools will not pay tolls. HOV2 will convert to HOV3 when the HOT lanes are opened outside the Beltway.
  • Unlike other northern Virginia HOT lane projects, the I-66 inside the Beltway HOT lanes will be publicly-owned. So, instead of net toll revenues going to private profits, they will fund transit to move more people, more quickly, further reducing congestion.
  • Transit investments could include Metro railcars for 8-car trains, and buses on I-66, Route 50 and Route 29.
  • Investments could also be made in pedestrian and bicycle connections to transit stations and work destinations.
  • Road widening from the Beltway to Ballston, but not beyond, could be considered in the future, but not before determining whether the HOT, HOV, and transit package have done the trick.

The Coalition for Smarter Growth supports the proposal for these additional reasons:

  • The package of HOT, HOV, and transit can be implemented much faster, and at much less cost than widening.
  • The alternative of road widening, particularly through the narrow I-66 corridor between Ballston and the Roosevelt Bridge, would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and result in years of traffic delays during construction, if it were even feasible.
  • Unlike widening, this solution will not impact homes, neighborhoods, parks, and the heavily used commuter bike trail.
  • Unlike widening, which would simply attract more cars that in turn would crowd connecting streets from Constitution Avenue out to the Beltway, this package would provide funding to expand and encourage more transit use and carpooling.
  • While some have worried the tolls might divert cars to other corridors, the option to pay a toll for a faster single-occupant trip on I-66 could instead shift cars back to I-66 (i.e. those who use parallel roads during rush hour today because I-66 is both congested and currently limited to carpoolers in at least one direction).

“The VDOT proposal is a creative and fair approach that will maximize benefits for all commuters in the most cost effective and efficient manner. We are confident that if it is looked at objectively, it is the best approach for I-66 inside-the-Beltway, providing congestion relief much sooner and at far less cost than widening, moving far more people and doing so much more reliably,” concluded Schwartz.

About the Coalition for Smarter Growth
The Coalition for Smarter Growth is the leading organization in the Washington DC region dedicated to making the case for smart growth. Its mission is to promote walkable, inclusive and transit-oriented communities, and the land use and transportation policies and investments needed to make those communities flourish.  Learn more at smartergrowth.net.

Please note: this version corrects an error in an earlier version which had reversed the toll amounts for I-495 and I-95. That error has been corrected.



Virginia officials consider HOT Lanes on I-66 through Arlington

It will also be the way the state attacks traffic congestion on I-66 from the Beltway west to Haymarket, as The Washington Post first reported. But adding lane capacity to 66 inside the Beltway has always been a tougher sell because of the opposition of Arlington County.

Officials to consider road widening, HOT lanes through Arlington portion of I-66

The state’s plans for an environmental assessment come as transportation officials are also moving forward on improvements outside the Beltway — plans that include building new high-occupancy toll roads in place of HOV lanes, creating space for rail and implementing other traffic-calming measures.

Virginia to study HOT lanes inside the Beltway

While HOT lanes in the peak hour merit study along with HOV in both directions and transit, HOT lanes may still lead to too many cars trying to fight their way into D.C. or the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor. The focus should be on moving the most people at the peak hour, and transit offers the best opportunity to do that

Guest Commentary: The Fairfax-Arlington streetcar – What’s next?

Boiled down to its basics, our region and each locality stand between two options –continue auto-dependent growth and try to expand highways and arterial roads to support that growth, or invest to a much greater extent in transit and transit-oriented communities with a focus on redevelopment of commercial corridors

Vihstadt victory could signal sea change in Arlington politics

The shockwaves around the re-election of John Vihstadt to the Arlington County Board last night continue to reverberate today, with many around Arlington wondering if the county is about to undergo a major policy shift.

“The streetcar is dead,” local political blogger and strategist Ben Tribbett told ARLnow.com last night at the Democrats’ election party in Crystal City. “The voters spoke so overwhelmingly tonight. There’s absolutely no way that [County Board members] Mary [Hynes] and Walter [Tejada] can win re-election if they’re running as pro-streetcar candidates next year. The voters have spoken on this now. It’s over.”

The growing chorus that the majority of the County Board — Chair Jay Fisette, as well as Hynes and Tejada — are out of touch with the voters was bolstered by Vihstadt’s margin of victory. The Republican-endorsed independent won 55.76 percent of the vote to Democrat Alan Howze’s 43.8 percent — less than his margin of victory in the April special election but still a big surprise to many who follow Arlington politics, who haven’t seen a non-Democrat win a County Board general election since 1983.

Howze won just 13 of Arlington’s 52 precincts. By comparison, Democrat Sen. Mark Warner won the majority of votes in every one of Arlington’s precincts, and took 70.59 percent of Arlington ballots.

It’s that result that led Arlington County Democratic Committee President Kip Malinosky to determine that Vihstadt’s victory was not from a lack of Democratic voter turnout, but rather the issues and candidates themselves.

“At this point, I’m not prepared to say what the message [voters sent] was, I’d like to look deep into it and hear a lot more,” he told ARLnow.com last night. “Arlington is a wonderful place to live, it’s well-governed, low crime, low unemployment rate. But people are obviously unsatisfied about something, so we’re going to have to do better.”

County Board member Libby Garvey, a Democrat, threw her support behind Vihstadt before the April special election to replace Chris Zimmerman, and was forced to resign from the ACDC executive committee for it. Last night, she experienced a mix of elation and relief at Vihstadt’s home in Tara-Leeway Heights, realizing her efforts had been validated by tens of thousands of Arlington voters.

“This is a mandate,” she said emphatically. “I think our colleagues on the Board have gotten out of touch with what people want, including Democrats. It’s just really a wonderful validation of what we’ve been saying and what we’ve been thinking. I think the people of Arlington are taking back control of their county and that’s a good thing.”

Tribbett agreed, taking it a step further. He said Howze shouldn’t take the blame for the loss; instead, it’s on the Board’s own lack of trust with voters and on the local Democratic leadership.

“It’s on the County Board 100 percent,” Tribbett said.

“This is the problem with Arlington Democrats. They spent the time after they lost the special election, and here’s the arrogant response: ‘When we get more voters, they’ll just take our sample ballot, and they won’t know the issues, so they’ll vote for our candidate,’” he continued. “Their plan is to hope that people aren’t informed? Well, this is one of the most educated electorates in the country, and they just told them basically to eff themselves with that kind of strategy, to rely on them being misinformed. Gimme a break. They ought to be embarrassed.”

While Tribbett believes the Columbia Pike streetcar to be a political impossibility at this point, groups that support it say the election shouldn’t be seen as a referendum on the streetcar.

“It would be reading too much into Arlington voters’ intentions to ascribe the election of John Vihstadt to a full term on the Arlington Board over Alan Howze primarily to the debate over the Columbia Pike streetcar,” said the Coalition for Smarter Growth, in a press release this afternoon. “Streetcar opponents linked the price tag of the streetcar to general concerns over government spending and the state of the economy… [but] we are confident that the streetcar will continue to stand up to scrutiny and prove to be the best investment for the Columbia Pike Corridor.”

Tejada said he hopes the Board can “work together in a respectful manner” and “find as much common ground as possible.” He deflected questions about the future of the streetcar and concerns over his and Hynes’ ability to win re-election in 2015. Instead, Tejada championed the achievement of agreeing on the streetcar plan without sacrificing any affordable housing on Columbia Pike.

Tejada also obliquely referred to Garvey and Vihstadt’s rhetoric as “divisive,” saying many of the Board’s critics are “condensing” the issues into “sound bites.” He said he looked forward to “continue to inform details to the community, particularly factual information that it took quite a long time to get to.”

“I think this is a crossroads moment in time for Arlington,” Tejada said. “We need to decide whether we’re going to become a timid and stagnant community or are we going to continue to be bold and innovative and craft difficult strategic policies that will sustain us in the future in all parts of the county.”

Read the original article here.

Arlington cancels Columbia Pike streetcar project

“Arlington’s proven smart growth track record had given us confidence in their analysis and ability to create a great transit corridor. The streetcar’s ridership capacity was integral to the plan to use density bonuses to preserve thousands of units of affordable housing.”

With streetcar dead, Arlington ponders: What’s next?

Whatever happens on Columbia Pike, both sides agree that it needs to happen soon. In the next 30 years, county leaders say, 65 percent of Arlington’s population growth will be along Columbia Pike and Route One — the two areas where the streetcar lines have now been cancelled.

Arlington County Board cancels streetcar; Fisette cites “political realities”

The proposed streetcar would have run a 7.4 mile path between Fairfax County and Arlington, much of it along Columbia Pike in Arlington. The route was estimated to cost between $250 million and $400 million.

“The Coalition of Smarter Growth is disappointed by the Arlington Board’s decision,” said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the group, in a statement following the announcement, “but far more so by the deeply negative and frequently inaccurate campaign against the streetcar.”