County Seeks Federal Funds for Transportation Projects — County officials are expected to apply for three grants for non-vehicular transportation projects. The $1 million in grant money would cover a bicycle and pedestrian connection between Four Mile Run Trail and Potomac Yard, improvements at Ashlawn Elementary School, and street and sidewalk improvements along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor. [Sun Gazette]
Man Hospitalized After Fall at Airport — A man has been hospitalized after falling from a roadway at Reagan National Airport on Tuesday. He apparently climbed over the protective barrier near the ticketing level roadway and fell to the arrivals roadway below. [Washington Post]
Study: Arlington Could Cut Back on Parking Spaces – Researchers with the Arlington County Commuter Services’ Mobility Lab conducted a study of residents in 16 high rise towers to monitor their commuting habits. One of the significant findings is that residents are often choosing to walk, bike or use public transportation instead of driving, even if they own cars. A land use expert says the findings suggest that Arlington has more parking spaces than it needs, and can cut back on parking requirements for new developments. [WAMU]
No Anchor Tenant Yet for Ballston Development — All the pieces are in place for constructing a new development at 4040 Wilson Blvd in Ballston, except that there still isn’t an anchor tenant for the building. Developer Shooshan is waiting to sign such a tenant before commencing construction. The final building in the Liberty Center complex will have 20 floors and more than 426,000 square feet of space. [GlobeSt]
The county will tap into the $3 million Economic Stability Fund it established to lessen the sequestration’s impact on the community. The County Board voted on Saturday to send $39,000 from the fund to the Department of Human Services for its Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) program.
The Board voted to tap into the fund for the first time after learning of cuts to federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funding, which would trickle down to the local level. The Virginia Department of Social Services informed the county its contribution would be reduced by $39,000 in FY 2014 due to cuts in the state HPRP funding, which originates at HUD.
“This is the first time the County has had to tap into its sequestration fund, but unfortunately, we are quite certain it will not be the last,” said Arlington County Board Chairman J. Walter Tejada. “Across the nation, communities are feeling the impact of sequestration. These indiscriminate cuts are affecting the lives of real people, in large and small ways, and that impact is only going to grow as time goes on. In this instance, we are able to use the special funds to continue important safety net services for some of our most vulnerable individuals and families.”
HPRP has been in existence since 2009 and receives funding through a combination of $249,000 of state money to support case management, and $200,000 of local money to support housing-related financial assistance. Four non-profits provide case management services: Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network, Doorways for Women and Families, the Arlington Alexandria Coalition for the Homeless and Volunteers of America-Chesapeake.
Individuals and families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless can qualify for short term financial assistance from HPRP. Participating families are limited to $1,200 for homelessness prevention and $3,000 for rapid re-housing. Participants also receive case management services such as guidance for developing household budgets and maintaining their housing.
So far, county staff has not identified any other sequester cuts that would require a dip into the reserve fund. Although the state has experienced some cuts it hasn’t yet passed those on to localities.
Arlington County is preparing to complete the long-awaited reconstruction of Long Bridge Drive, but first the County Board needs to approve a request for an additional $750,000 for the project.
The transformation of the former Old Jefferson Davis Highway involves converting approximately 2,750 feet of pockmarked roadway — from 12th Street S. to just south of Boundary Channel Drive — into what’s described as a safe, efficient multimodal transportation corridor. Improvements include bicycle lanes, sidewalks, bus shelters, landscaped medians, new gutters and a drainage system.
Despite the fact that Long Bridge Park opened in November 2011, Long Bridge Drive remains a major construction zone.
A county staff report points to trouble with utility companies as the cause for delays. A few years ago the utilities were informed of the need to move utility lines into a common duct bank, mostly at their own expenses. The duct bank was deemed necessary in order to make room for a storm drainage system because no such system had previously existed there. Utility work began in September 2010 and didn’t wrap up until spring of this year.
The county’s contractor, Donohoe Construction Company, has had to stop and re-start work on the storm drainage system a number of times while waiting for the other parties involved to complete their portions of the project. The county staff report says the utility companies caused further delays by making placement errors during installation of the duct, requiring adjustments.
The additional $750,000 in funding is necessary, according to the staff report, “due to the increased time to complete the road reconstruction and due to the County’s mitigation measures to resolve conflicts from incorrect utility installations and lastly,
due to cost escalation caused by the delays and the increased time to complete the roadway.”
If the County Board approves the funding at its meeting on Saturday (July 13), it will bring the cost of the road construction portion of Donohoe’s contract to about $7.5 million. (Factoring in various costs associated with construction of the park itself, Donohoe’s total contract award will be $27.8 million.)
County staff recommends the Board approve the funding request.
(Updated at 4:45 p.m.) County Board members spent a portion of Tuesday’s meeting expressing distaste with Governor McDonnell’s proposed transportation plan, namely the idea of eliminating Virginia’s gas tax.
The proposal would do away with the 17.5 cents per gallon gas tax, but would increase the state’s sales tax from five percent to 5.8 percent. The plan also would increase vehicle registration fees and add a yearly $100 charge for drivers with alternative fuel cars. McDonnell said that would raise about $3.1 billion over five years to fund road, transit and rail projects across the state.
County Board member Jay Fisette said that while it’s good to have some sort of proposal on the table in order to start a conversation about transportation funding, this plan is not the answer. He further stated that the plan was offered to the General Assembly at the last minute, without adequate time to review and understand it.
“Many people see this as a vehicle on which to find a better compromise or a more functional proposal,” he said. “This is hugely important to Arlington, to Northern Virginia and to the future of this state. I’m willing to give kudos for starting a conversation, but if this passed it would be a big mistake in the form it was proposed by the governor.”
Fisette believes eliminating the gas tax would incentivize driving and reduce the use of public transit.
“While it sounds good to eliminate a tax, they would be adding others. This is a user fee. There is a gas tax in every state in the United States. We would be the first to decouple the incentive to drive with the cost of driving,” said Fisette. “You’re still looking at a fee to ride transit, but you’re going to remove the gas fee for driving and spread that cost among everyone who buys something in Virginia. That doesn’t seem fair to people who choose to use transit.”
Several Board members worried that the proposal wouldn’t actually raise the additional money McDonnell says it will, but simply moves it over from a different area.
“It shifts money from the general fund, which has been the basic source of funds for education, human services and public safety, and shifts those to transportation,” said Fisette. “So it’s robbing the basic source of funds for the rest of our needs to pay for transportation.”
Board member Mary Hynes echoed Fisette’s concern.
“We can talk about how poorly they’ve spent the money they have, but the reality of what the governor has proposed is it’s mostly smoke and mirrors,” she said. “It’s taking away with one hand and putting it in another place. The actual new money that’s involved in any near term frame is very small.”
Both Fisette and Hynes pointed out that nearly one-third of the proposed funds ($1 billion) would not be immediately available because it’s tied to pending legislation in Congress regarding internet sales tax revenue.
The transportation plan’s perceived dilution of local government’s authority and an increased role for state government proved to be another recurring topic of discussion. Board member Chris Zimmerman called it a “blatant power grab.”
“This is getting very frustrating to a lot of people in local government, that the administration has been not only not helpful in providing more funding, but essentially is continually distracting the conversation with these efforts to shift power away from people who have to pay the bills,” said Zimmerman.
A legislative committee approved the governor’s proposal today, and it’s expected to go before the full House and Senate in the Virginia General Assembly next week. The General Assembly is currently about halfway through its short 45 day session.
On Saturday (November 17), the County Board took time at its meeting to discuss Arlington’s legislative priorities for the 2013 General Assembly session. During that discussion it quickly became clear the Board members fear significant cuts in the amount of funding the county receives from the state.
Board members are preparing to take a hit, although it’s unclear how serious the situation will be until legislators at the federal and state levels figure out their own financial issues.
In its legislative priorities package, the Board is requesting the restoration of state funds for Arlington, which have been cut in recent years to balance the state’s budget. A county staff report indicates that between fiscal year (FY) 2008 and FY 2013, the state cut $7.2 million in funding to Arlington.
The Board is also making a big push for more state funding for transportation, and requested around $1 billion annually for maintenance and continued operations on roads and the transit infrastructure. Board member Jay Fisette said state funding for transportation over the next three years is “disastrous.”
“We in Arlington and every local government in Virginia, we keep saying it, it sounds like we’re beating a dead horse, but the reality is that is the context in which we do all this work. That’s the context in which the manager has to balance a budget,” Fisette said. “Support from the state level has decreased substantially.”
Board member Libby Garvey shared Fisette’s concern.
“One of the things that I keep hearing, and it’s starting to sink in more and more, I think we all understand the fact that the federal government cuts things to the states, states cut things and it all falls down to the localities to have to do more and more,” she said. “As it gets tighter and tighter and we’re going to be raising taxes and cutting services, which it looks like we’re going to have to do, there’s going to be a lot of push-back from the public.”
County Manager Barbara Donnellan confirmed that the amount of funding coming into Arlington has slipped.
“The degradation [of funding] over the years has been significant,” Donnellan said. “The good news is we don’t have a ton of money from the state and the feds. The bad news is even what you have is still a significant hit if it goes away.”
A county press release offered the following highlights of the legislative priorities package:
- Fully restore state aid to localities funding – Between FY 2008 and FY 2013, the state cut $7.2 million in funding to critical services in the County to help balance the state’s budget. Cuts in state aid have reduced funding to the Public Library, the Courts, the police department, the Dept. of Human Services, the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office, the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office and other services.
- Increase transportation funding with new, permanent and reliable sources — There is a critical need for increased funding for transit capital, operations and maintenance. Arlington joins jurisdictions along the I-95 and I-64 corridors in supporting a substantial increase in dedicated funding for roads and transit from new, sustainable sources. Arlington will advocate for at least $1 billion annually to support maintenance and continued operations of Virginia’s existing road and transit infrastructure.
- Require on-line travel companies to collect and remit all state sales and local transient occupancy taxes — Currently on-line travel companies, such as Expedia, Orbitz or Hotel.com, buy rooms from hotels, then resell them at a higher rate. They are remitting taxes to the state and localities at the wholesale rate they have paid the hotels,not the retail rate that they sold on-line. Arlington County, and other localities, are urging the General Assembly to adopt language that would require these on-line travel companies to pay the full amount of sales and use taxes to the state and local governments and Transient Occupancy Taxes to the localities.
- Ensure that the state provide adequate resources to support individuals leaving Virginia Training Centers under the Justice Dept. settlement — Arlington expects to need to provide for 23 individuals with severe mental and physical disabilities who will be discharged from the Northern Virginia Training Center External link by June 30, 2015.
- Housing – Support additional funds for the state Housing Trust Fund that was established in the 2012 budget with one-time money.
- Immigration – Oppose any state mandates to localities requiring local law enforcement officers to evaluate the immigration status of individuals.
The board will vote on the final version of its legislative package at its December 8 meeting, after hearing from the public. Arlington residents are invited to read the details of the proposed legislative priorities package online and offer feedback until Friday, November 30.
The General Assembly session begins on January 9, 2013, and runs until February 23, 2013.