Tag: stewart schwartz

Fairfax board votes to move forward on Seven Corners redevelopment

After hours of discussion and debate Tuesday that stretched toward midnight, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted 8-1, with one member absent, to move forward with an ambitious redevelopment plan for the traffic-choked Seven Corners area.

The plan would create three villages and add several thousand homes to the area, along with restaurants, shops and a street grid that could draw local traffic away from the confusing Seven Corners intersection.

The board argued over affordable housing and density before the vote on proposed changes to county planning guidelines, changes that would allow the redevelopment to take place.

“I do not think that there is value in deferring this any longer,” said Supervisor Penelope A. Gross (D-Mason), who represents the area and was referring to a nearly three-year-long community discussion marked by intense debate.

Residents of the neighborhoods of single-family homes that surround Seven Corners have opposed some aspects of the plan, saying it would lead to increased density and worsen traffic in the area, home to the Seven Corners Shopping Center.

This month, the county’s Planning Commission adopted an amended version of the original plan in an attempt to address community concerns. Although the revised plan reduced the number of new houses and apartments by several hundred units — bringing the total closer to 5,000 — it still generated worries.

During the hearing, about 40 people lined up inside the Fairfax County Government Center to express both support and concerns about the plan.

“Density, particularly residential density, must not be so high that the accompanying people overwhelm the support-services system, particularly schools and transportation,” James Kilbourne, president of the Lake Barcroft homeowners association, said to applause.

County officials say the plan’s latest version makes several compromises in response to community concerns, including worries about school crowding that would result from adding more residents.

The site of the former Willston Elementary School would also feature a second building that would house a day-care center, social services for school families and the multicultural center, Gross said.

“That is going to be many years in the future, because there is no money right now,” Gross said, referring to the idea of a new “urban-style school” inside a high-rise building. “But we are committed.”

Gross said the overall redevelopment plan is an attempt to bring new life to an area of Fairfax that has become worn in the years since the Seven Corners Shopping Center was a regional draw in the 1950s and 1960s. She called it a road map for what the county will look like in the next 50 years.

“We need to make sure that whole area is ready for all the newcomers who are going to be coming here,” Gross said. “We need to make sure that the community that is being developed is what they would like to live in.”

Urban-planning groups say the kind of walkable, transit-friendly communities envisioned for Seven Corners are needed in aging suburbs that have become homes to mostly vacant office buildings and discount stores with little commercial traffic.

“The future of Fairfax lies in these aging commercial corridors,” said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. “It certainly can be a win-win and enhance Fairfax’s competitiveness.”

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Fairfax board to vote on Seven Corners plan that has sparked heated debate

Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors is expected to vote Tuesday on whether to move forward with an ambitious redevelopment plan for the traffic-choked Seven Corners area.

The plan to create three villages in the area would add several thousand new homes to the neighborhood, along with restaurants and shops and a new grid of streets that could draw local traffic away from the confusing Seven Corners intersection that is often backed up with cars and trucks.

Tuesday’s vote would addresses changes to county planning guidelines for Seven Corners that would allow the redevelopment to happen.

Residents from the neighborhoods of single-family homes that surround Seven Corners have opposed some aspects of the plan, arguing that it would bring in too much density and worsen traffic in the area, which is home to the Seven Corners Shopping Center.

Earlier this month, the county planning commission passed an amended version of the original plan that attempted to address community concerns. Though the plan’s new version reduced by several hundred units the overall number of new homes and apartments to be created – bringing the total closer to 5,000 — it still faces some opposition.

“It’s trending in the right direction, but if you talk to people and say it’s 5,000 units . . . in the Seven Corners area, they go: Whoa,” said Marty Machowsky, a local homeowner who who plans to testify during a public hearing scheduled Tuesday before the vote.

“How many total people does that mean and how many more cars will that generate?” Machowsky said. “We can hardly get through the Seven Corners area on a Saturday now.”

County officials say the plan’s latest version makes several compromises in response to community concerns. Among them are worries about school overcrowding that would result from adding more residents.

County executive Edward L. Long and Fairfax schools superintendent Karen Garza have agreed to work toward building a new school on the site of a former elementary school in the area that is now home to a multicultural center serving low-income immigrants who live nearby, officials said.

The site of the former Willston Elementary School would also feature a second building that would house a day care, social services for school families and the multicultural center, said Supervisor Penelope A. Gross (D-Mason,) who represents the area.

“That is going to be many years in the future because there is no money right now,” Gross said, about the idea of a new “urban-style school” inside a high-rise building. “But we are committed.”

Gross said the overall redevelopment plan is an attempt to bring new life to an area of Fairfax County that has been worn down since the Seven Corners mall was a regional draw for shoppers during the 1950s and ‘60s. She called it a road map for what Fairfax County will look like in the next 50 years.

“We need to make that whole area is ready for all the newcomers who are going to be coming here,” Gross said. “We need to make sure that the community that is being developed is what they would like to live in.”

Urban planning groups say the kind of walkable, transit-friendly communities envisioned for Seven Corners are needed in aging suburbs that have become homes to mostly vacant office buildings and discount stores with little commercial traffic.

“The future of Fairfax lies in these aging commercial corridors,” said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smart Growth. “It certainly can be a win-win and enhance Fairfax’s competitiveness.”

Michelle Krocker, who heads the Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance, said there aren’t enough guarantees in the plan to keep lower-income families from being pushed out, which could have long-term repercussions for the Washington region.

“If there’s no place for them to live affordably, we potentially lose them as employees in the area or they move far out into the hinterlands,” Krocker said. “And, then they’d have to commute in, and that’s problematic for everybody.”

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How an international market explains Virginia’s changing demographics

One recent afternoon, Hye No and his wife were wheeling a shopping cart to their car at New Grand Mart in Midlothian, a Richmond suburb. They had just finished buying groceries at an international food supermarket that opened May 8, featuring aisles stocked with Asian and Hispanic specialties. “They have any type of fish there, and it’s fresh,” says No, who emigrated from South Korea to the town of Chester in 1984.

The Nos may represent a quiet but crucial change underway in Virginia. Over time, richer, better-educated minorities are emerging as economic opportunities have spread from Northern Virginia to other areas, mostly metropolitan suburbs. As lucrative jobs attract them, the political nature of the state will change as well.

A recent study shows just how opportunity is improving in Virginia for diverse groups. The Center for Opportunity Urbanism surveyed 52 cities and ranked people of African American, Asian and Hispanic descent in such categories as income, homeownership and population and income growth.

The Washington area, including Northern Virginia, comes out fairly well in the tally. The surprise is that Richmond and Virginia Beach-Norfolk consistently come in with strong rankings. Overall, in best-city ratings for African Americans, the District came in No. 3 and Virginia Beach-Norfolk was No. 6. For Asians, Richmond was No. 2 and the District was No. 3. For Hispanics, the District came in No. 5 and Virginia Beach-Norfolk was No. 6.

Richmond and Virginia Beach-Norfolk also scored well for minorities in homeownership rates, income and population growth. Other big winners were Atlanta and Raleigh, N.C.

This is not to say that the problems of minority poverty are over — far from it. Inner-city and mostly African American parts of Richmond have poverty rates of 26 percent, among the highest in the state. Inner suburbs are drawing poorer families.

Report authors Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox do have a distinct point of view. Houston developers fund their center, which pushes a view that Houston’s limited zoning and affordability have built a minority-friendly job oasis that should be emulated elsewhere.

Author and demographer Kotkin told me that economic growth in the South and parts of the West has long outpaced that in the Far West and Northeast. News coverage of racially tinged police shootings clouds economic progress made by minorities who are leaving high-expense cities such as New York for the South and Southwest. “Many of the places that worry about racial inequality are the places where it is the worst,” he says.

I don’t buy the argument that easy-zoning suburbs are the way to go, but I have to admit that parts of the report ring true. In suburban and mostly white Chesterfield County, Va., where I live, a recent report shows that Asian families were only $1,000 short of matching the Caucasian median annual household income of about $75,000. African Americans were not far behind at about $60,000. Hispanics made the lowest at about $46,000.

What’s driving the growth? Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington, says federal spending in Northern Virginia is fueling much of it. “You are going to see economic advantages expand as jobs move out to other parts of the state,” he says.

The spread is uneven. Hamilton Lombard, a research specialist at the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia, says he hasn’t seen much data suggesting big income gains for African Americans and Hispanics. Stewart Schwartz, head of the D.C.-based Coalition for Smarter Growth, faults Kotkin for ignoring problems of public transit and walkability. “Who wants to drive miles to a suburban office park?” he says.

However they play out, better job opportunities for minorities will affect traditional state politics. Challenged will be older ideas held mostly by whites about Virginia’s exceptionalism and pecking order. Diverse groups might recharge their sense of identity and push back against xenophobia.

Farnsworth says he’s already seeing a new form of estrangement. Older, rural and mostly white areas are becoming increasingly Republican as other, more urban areas enjoy the strong economic growth that’s attracting “more educated and more driven” diverse groups, he says.

New Grand Mart is a prime example of the business bustle. Scott Kim, a manager, told me that his company, which has stores in Alexandria, Falls Church and Langley Park, studied the Richmond market thoroughly. Foreign food outlets had been mostly mom-and-pop stores in strip malls despite growing pent-up demand. As his cash registers jingle, he says he is “amazed” at the diversity of the Richmond area.

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Dulles International Airport Challenges

A demand for change at Dulles Airport.

Washington Dulles International Airport, located in Fairfax and Loudoun Counties in Virginia, was once surrounded by farmland. An image of the Dulles Airport decorates the seal for the Town of Herndon. Yet Dulles airport is fighting an image problem. Virginia political and business leaders are trying to reverse passenger declines at Dulles Airport, as more passengers travel through Reagan National Airport.

#In 2005, 27 million passengers flew through Dulles; in 2014, the number was 21.6 million. In comparison, 17.8 million passengers flew through Reagan National Airport in 2005. By 2014, that number of Reagan passengers had become 20.8 million. Three times in 15 years, Congress has lifted the 1,250-mile perimeter and added new flight slots at National.

#Some travelers have said Dulles Airport is difficult to navigate through. It has also been getting a bad reputation for luggage issues. Dulles had 1,086 total claims, out of which 331 were approved or settled for a total of $67,952.16 between 2010 and 2014. A USA Today investigation found the TSA is taking a hit for damaged bags, paying out $3-million in claims for lost, broken or stolen items.

#TSA PAID OUT 7.6 claims per million passengers at Washington Dulles International, about two and a half times the number of losses paid at nearby Reagan National and nearly four times more than the airport ranked with fewest complaints among the 30 busiest Airports in America, Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

#In the meantime, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) is trying to increase revenue while more passengers are using Reagan National. Dulles is expensive for airlines. Most large airlines fly a “hub-and-spoke” network where they fly almost entirely to and from their hubs. Without a United hub, there are no flights to smaller eastern cities from Dulles, since United depends on connecting passengers to fill them.

#United CEO Jeff Smisek said United is reluctant to expand at Dulles because it is more expensive than other airports. Airports have to be self-sufficient and pay for their facilities and operations through revenue they earn inside the airport (like restaurants, concessions) and fees airlines pay. When an airport wants to build new facilities, it must take on debt that raises the costs for the airlines.

#In January of 2015 Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe unveiled new, large versions of the “Welcome to Virginia” signs at Dulles Airport. In April, a seminar was held at the Sterling AOL Campus, titled Dulles Matters. The event was sponsored by the Committee for Dulles. Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, said although Dulles is a key regional asset, the public must be sure leaders are making the smartest choices when it comes to spending taxpayer money.

#A study commissioned by the MWAA showed Dulles generated more than $1.2 billion a year in tax revenue and nearly $10 billion in labor income. More than 19,000 people work at Dulles, but nearly 250,000 jobs are tied to the airport. MWAA operates National and Dulles. “We need to rally and put Dulles and this region onto a positive growth path,” said Keith Meurlin, president of the Washington Airports Task Force and former Washington Dulles International Airport manager.

#Phase 2 of Metro’s new Silver Line will include a station at Dulles, and construction may be complete by 2020. The MWAA may amend its ground transportation policy to allow Uber, Lyft and similar services access to airport property at National and Dulles. The Maryland Aviation Administration, which oversees BWI, studied practices at other airports to develop a “comprehensive review” of its ground transportation service, and plans to update regulations in coming months, officials said.

#Traditional cabs pay a $3-per-fare fee to operate at National, unless it’s a prearranged trip, and they must wait in line to be dispatched. Uber and Lyft drivers can pull up to the curb to collect passengers. “They are popular with a certain segment of the population,” said John Massoud, vice president of M&R Taxi Company, Inc., trading as Arlington Blue Top Cab, which has provided taxi service to Northern Virginia since 1984. A locally owned family business, M&R Taxi Company, Inc. has potential taxi drivers go through a detailed screening process including a drug test, training and an exam. “Only then we do allow someone to drive a Washington Flyer taxi,” said Massoud. Although taxi companies have few worries for the Metro Silver Line, they have expressed specific concerns regarding rider services such as Uber.

#DULLES AIRPORT has been reviewing three potential sites for hotel development including a 2.6-acre site used as employee parking at the east end of the terminal. The other two sites include: a 5.6-acre site behind a daily garage facing the main terminal, near the future Metro station; and a 13.7-acre lakefront site near the existing Dulles Airport Marriott hotel, which has a lease to operate at Dulles through 2027. On-airport hotels have been popular for travelers who have early flights.

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As Part Of Multibillion-Dollar Package For Roads, Hogan Says ‘Yes’ To Purple Line

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced a major shift in state transportation spending to prioritize the maintenance and expansion of roads and bridges over investment in mass transit projects.

While unveiling plans to spend $2 billion on roads — including $845 million on entirely new projects — at an Annapolis news conference on Thursday, the governor finally revealed his highly-anticipated decisions for two light rail proposals.

Hogan gave conditional approval to the $2.4 billion Purple Line in the D.C. suburbs but axed the $2.9 billion Red Line in Baltimore. The latter project’s plan to build a $1 billion tunnel was labeled a “fatal flaw.”

Roads are “top priority”

“I’ve made it very clear that building, maintaining, and fixing Maryland’s roads and bridges is our top transportation priority and it is a top priority of our administration,” the Republican governor said.

“In January, our administration inherited a state infrastructure that for years had been severely underfunded. The previous administration slashed funding for local road improvements by up to 96 percent,” said Hogan, whose statewide road building plans mark a clean break from that recent past.

The governor called for $1.3 billion to be added to the $625 million already in the Maryland Department of Transportation’s construction budget for a slew of road and bridge jobs — from widening congested corridors such as Rt. 404 and studying congestion relief on I-270 to repaving 2,000 miles of state highways and “fixing every single structurally deficient bridge in the state.”

Purple Line survives — for now

Since taking office Hogan has called the 16-mile light rail line from Bethesda to New Carrollton too expensive, ordering the four contractor teams competing for the construction bid to shave hundreds of millions from the its growing price tag.

On Thursday, the governor announced his intention to reduce the state’s upfront commitment for construction by $500 million by 1) running trains less frequently (every 7.5 minutes instead of 6 minutes) and making other unspecified changes to the Purple Line’s scope, 2) asking the private sector firm that wins the long-term concession to front more cash, and 3) squeezing more money out of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

“Under our more efficient and more cost effective version of the Purple Line, the state’s share of the project will be $168 million, a fraction of the original proposal,” Hogan said. “By reducing this cost, we free up hundreds of millions of dollars for other important projects across Maryland.”

The Purple Line’s route and number of stations will not be changed, said Maryland Secretary of Transportation Pete Rahn.

Will counties show Hogan the money?

Montgomery County executive Ike Leggett has said his county is tapped out, but released a statement following Hogan’s news conference indicating a willingness to work with state officials.

“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,” Leggett said.

“Prince George’s County has already committed an extraordinary amount for local governments to contribute toward a state project. I will thoroughly review this proposal along with my budget, finance, economic development, and transportation advisers to assess what this means for Prince George’s County,” said the county executive Rushern Baker in a post-news conference statement.

Transit advocates cautiously praised the project’s conditional approval but were concerned ongoing negotiations over price could further delay a project whose construction was scheduled to begin this year, buttressed by the promise of $900 million in federal aid.

“This is a big lift for Montgomery and Prince George’s County,” said Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, a group that opposes highway projects in favor of public transit.

“It is our hope that it doesn’t cause protracted negotiations. It is our hope that the governor is willing to give a little and put more state dollars back into the project, but the key is to not lose the federal funding,” Schwartz said.

Sec. Rahn indicated the state will be ready to make a decision on which contractor team submitted the most effective design changes in the next four to five months, essentially ruling out construction until 2016.

I-270 set for congestion study

There may be no group happier about the idea of spending $2 billion on roads and bridges than AAA Mid-Atlantic, one of the most vocal critics of former Governor Martin O’Malley.

“Governor Hogan hit a grand slam,” said AAA’s Lon Anderson, who echoed Hogan’s criticism that the O’Malley administration siphoned money from the state transportation trust fund for wasteful purposes. “I look at it as a rebalancing. Each administration comes in and sets priorities. The O’Malley administration came in and made transit its focus.”

Anderson said the Maryland Department of Transportation intends to use $100 million to study congestion relief on I-270 similar to how Virginia plans to transform I-66: use existing or additional lane capacity to manage congestion through tolls, HOV restrictions, or boosting bus transit.

“They want to make this a showcase for how technology can help better manage traffic,” Anderson said. “They are going to ask contractors and seek ideas and bids about what they would do on a certain budget to make 270 work better.”

The $100 million will fund a test program called “Innovative Congestion Reduction Strategies.”

A mix of roads and rails

Transit advocates reacted negatively to Hogan’s frugal approach to the Purple and Red Lines on the same day he threw $2 billion at highways, but transportation policy experts said the governor faces a difficult balance in such a diverse state.

“The governor has made it clear he has a priority to fix the roads throughout the state,” said Paul Lewis, director of policy and finance at the Eno Center for Transportation, a D.C. research group.

The suggestion that any project — highway or transit — will reduce congestion is dubious, Lewis said.

“If you look at the projections over the next 25 years, the region is supposed to grow by a million people and that will lead to congestion. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments estimates there will be another 400,000 drivers on the road by 2040,” Lewis said.

“Congestion is going to increase regardless of whether the Purple Line is built. It is more of an economic tool that will help shape new patterns of development in the region. It is an accessibility project that helps diversify the transportation mix to provide options for people,” Lewis said.

In fact, the economic development benefits of the Purple Line were key selling points when local officials relentlessly lobbied Hogan in recent months.

“In a growing region you need to have a diversified transportation network. Most people do get around by the roads but that is not just single occupancy vehicles, It’s also transit buses and carpoolers. Transit is part of that mix,” said Lewis, who said the Eno Center evaluates all projects together rather than separating out highway investments from transit.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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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