(Updated at 2:15 p.m.) Following a heated debate, last night the Arlington County Board adopted guidelines allowing the county to enter into public-private partnerships for transportation projects like the planned Crystal City streetcar.
The Board spent hours discussing and hearing testimony about the Virginia Public-Private Transportation Act of 1995 (PPTA) before ultimately adopting the guidelines in a 4-1 vote. Board member Libby Garvey was the lone dissenter, raising numerous questions about the PPTA and its safeguards. She reiterated previous statements she made about wishing for more time to examine the implications of adopting the guidelines.
“This is an incredibly complex legal document here and I don’t know that we should be doing it on the fly,” Garvey said.
“We’re not doing it on the fly,” countered Board Chair Mary Hynes. “You’ve had it since November 9. We’ve all spent time on it and have been briefed on it.”
Last week, Garvey brought up a concern regarding Board member Chris Zimmerman’s participation in the PPTA vote, claiming it was a conflict of interest due to his consulting work with AECOM, a large construction, design and transportation conglomerate. Arlington County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac informed the Board there was no conflict of interest, and the three other Board members spoke out on Saturday (December 8) against Garvey’s request for Zimmerman to recuse himself from the vote.
Audrey Clement, who ran for County Board as a Green Party member, spoke to the Board in support of Zimmerman recusing himself.
“The matter before the Board tonight involves no monetary transaction. Nevertheless, Mr. Zimmerman may well have the appearance of a conflict of interest because his employer, or client, will undoubtedly seek a contract in the future,” said Clement. “The guidance to be adopted by the county tonight will be the vehicle by which it secures the county’s business. Therefore, I think Mr. Zimmerman, and I agree with Libby Garvey on this point, ought to recuse himself from tonight’s vote.”
Clement further suggested that the county’s desire to adopt the PPTA indicates it doesn’t have enough other funding to construct the streetcar without help from the private sector.
Current state senator and former Board member Barbara Favola also took to the podium. She congratulated the Board for considering the guidelines.
“I see no reason why you would not pursue this additional tool,” said Favola. “Of course, you have to work at it, you have to make it work for you. You have to remember your job, you have to remember that you are responsible for being transparent. But I have confidence that you will do that.”
Garvey, who has previously expressed reservations regarding the streetcar project, said she believed Monday’s vote brings the county one step closer to implementing the streetcar plan.
“If we vote today we are one vote away from awarding the contract for the streetcar,” Garvey said.
She was reminded that the vote was about adopting guidelines, not making a decision about the streetcar construction.
“I would respectfully disagree with your interpretation, Mrs. Garvey, of what this Board has just talked about,” said Hynes.
Zimmerman largely refrained from participating in the debate, only offering a statement immediately before the vote. He noted his disclosure of his consulting work in order to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, and re-stated the County Attorney’s view on the matter.
“I take very seriously my obligation to maintain the highest ethical standards, to which I have held myself since I took office,” said Zimmerman. “I have been advised in consultation with the County Attorney that I do not have a conflict of interest arising out of my professional work that would require me to make a formal disclosure or would disqualify me from participating in the consideration of the PPTA guidelines now before the Board.”
The guidelines will go into effect on April 1, 2013. Until that time, the county will work on putting in place the necessary processes and resources for considering proposals under the PPTA.
Rosslyn Lights Up Tonight — The 19th annual Light Up Rosslyn night is tonight. The holiday event is taking place from 5:15 to 6:30 p.m. in front of the WJLA building (1100 Wilson Blvd). Local officials will flip a big switch to “light up” the Rosslyn skyline. In addition, there will be musical groups performing and free hot cocoa, chili, cider and cookies. [Rosslyn BID]
Reduction in Blue Line Service Planned — Metro plans to further reduce service on the Blue Line when the Silver Line to Tysons Corner opens. With the Silver Line in operation, perhaps by the end of 2013, Blue Line trains will run every 12 minutes between Franconia-Springfield and Largo, during both peak and off-peak hours. [Washington Post]
More Commuters Are Using Transit – Updated at 10:10 a.m. — There has been a significant jump in the number of Arlington residents using mass transit as their primary means of commuting to work, according to U.S. Census figures. In 2011, 28.4 percent of residents used transit, compared to 23.3 percent in 2000. [Sun Gazette]
Winter is Coming – This week is Winter Preparedness Week. Though the weather might have been warm over the past few days, Arlington’s Office of Emergency Management is advising residents to take steps to prepare for winter weather. [Arlington County]
Flickr pool photo by Ddimick
Arlington County’s Transportation Commission says an all-electric cab fleet is a good idea whose time hasn’t come quite yet. On Thursday the advisory body voted against County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s recommendation that the County Board grant operating licenses to a fleet of 40 electric taxicabs.
While the commission was supportive of the idea of more environmentally-friendly cabs in Arlington, it expressed doubts that the proposal — from Arlington-based startup EV Taxicabs — was feasible.
The company is proposing a taxi fleet of Nissan Leaf electric vehicles, each equipped with 4G WiFi hotspots and iPads for passenger use, plus a network of publicly-accessible electric vehicle chargers around Arlington. A commission member said it’s a good idea in theory, but in practice electric cabs — which would have a range of 60 to 105 miles on a single charge — could present a problem for passengers and drivers.
“The range offered by the Nissan Leaf simply doesn’t seem to be enough to effectively use it as a taxi… especially when you factor in runs to Dulles Airport, etc.” commission member Chris Slatt told ARLnow.com. “It’s one thing if your drivers has to stop for 3 minutes to put gas in their cab because you asked to be taken on a very long trip — it is quite another if your driver has to drive 5 miles across town and charge for 30 minutes for that same reason.”
Slatt said the commission was also “unconvinced” that EV Taxicabs could install electric vehicle chargers at apartment buildings, where many cab drivers live. Such chargers would allow drivers to charge their cabs overnight. The company also proposed installing fast “Level 3″ chargers, but Nissan warns that fast charging could reduce the life of the car batteries to just a year or two — an expensive proposition for cab drivers, who would likely have to foot the bill for the replacement battery.
“EVs simply can’t match hybrids or standard cabs at this point when it comes to ‘getting people to their destination’ which is the whole point of a taxi,” Slatt said. “Hopefully by the next time taxi certificates come around EVs will have matured to the point where our existing companies will be moving to them without us even needing to bring in a new company.”
In place of the electric cabs, Slatt said the commission recommended awarding additional operating licenses to EnviroCab, an all-hybrid cab company which currently has 50 licenses in Arlington, and to Friendly Cab, which has 27 traditional cabs and 7 hybrid cabs. The additional licenses would allow Friendly to begin dispatch service and would allow EnviroCab to reduce wait times during peak taxi demand period, Slatt said.
(EnviroCab recently announced plans to add one all-electric cab to its existing hybrid fleet.)
The County Board is set to consider the recommendations of Donnellan and the Transportation Commission at its Nov. 17 meeting.
School Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy announced the new policy, devised after an independent study of the system last fall, in a letter to parents in July. APS sent parents another letter on Aug. 1 urging them to update their addresses.
From the July letter:
With the start of the school year this fall, we will be moving forward with the plans that the Office of Transportation has outlined. One of the first steps underway includes the implementation of bus-routing software to help us plan routes that are more efficient so we can maximize the capacity of our bus fleet.
The second step that is critical to this plan is to serve students who are eligible to receive bus transportation services. As outlined in School Board policy, elementary school students who live more than one mile from school and secondary school students who live more than 1 1/2 miles from school will receive bus transportation.
In early August, principals will be sending families of students who are eligible for transportation services a letter that will include their child’s bus stop and route. This addresses a critical safety concern for students who ride buses and allows us to better communicate and serve families when we may experience a delay or other changes in service.
The distance rules are not a change to the transportation policy, APS spokesperson Linda Erdos said. Students who live within the mile or 1.5-mile radius who would have to cross large roadways or highways to get to school will still be allowed to take the bus.
The vouchers will be a way for bus drivers to become accustomed to the students on their routes, Erdos said, providing for what APS hopes is a safer, more efficient system with an expected 900 more students and the same amount of buses.
“We have had problems in the past when students who live in the walk zone walk outside the walk zone and get on the bus,” Erdos said. “Our priority is to add classroom teachers to teach children, not more buses. More important, the new system will let us know every student who is on a bus route. If something happened, this will let us know who’s on that bus.”
Students within the “walk zone” are being encouraged to walk or bike to school. Still, one parent thinks the new system will actually increase the number of students from inside the walk zone who drive or who hitch a ride to school, which could cause traffic and safety issues.
“I applaud Dr. Murphy on working to reform the bus system,” wrote Donaldson Run blogger Robert Cannon. “But creating a voucher system, and refusing to transport students who live just less than 1.5 miles from school is only going to make things worse.”
Kaine Coming to Arlington — Former Virginia governor and current U.S. Senate candidate Tim Kaine (D) will be in Arlington this afternoon. Kaine is scheduled to have an economic discussion with local Latino business and community leaders at 4:00 p.m. The closed event is taking place at The Salsa Room (2619 Columbia Pike).
Cancer Charity Event This Weekend — The second annual Erica Paul Fabulous event will be held at the Clarendon Ballroom (3185 Wilson Blvd) on Saturday. The fundraiser runs from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. and benefits the Chris4Life Colon Cancer Foundation. The ‘Fabulous’ event also celebrates the life of Erica Paul, who died last year, at the age of 29, from metastatic colon cancer. [Clarendon Nights]
Ham Operators to Have a ‘Field Day’ — Arlington County will host its annual “Field Day” exercise for amateur radio operators this weekend. The exercise, held at Minor Hill Park (3400 N. Powhatan Street), is described as part of a nationwide event “during which thousands of Hams across the United States and Canada will operate portable radios and antennas to contact each other, simulating emergency conditions.” [Arlington County]
HOT Lanes Suit Costs County Transportation Funds –Virginia is contributing more than $16.5 million to Arlington’s road maintenance and construction budget for fiscal year 2013, which starts on July 1. But that figure is $100,000 less than it otherwise could have been. The Commonwealth Transportation Board has stripped $100,000 from Arlington’s allocation as retribution for the county’s costly lawsuit against the proposed I-395 HOT lanes project. The money will be used to help pay the legal bills of a former state transportation official who was sued by Arlington as part of its fight against the project. [Sun Gazette]
Arlington lost its long-held vote on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Board this month, as an appointed representative of the state government was granted voting power on the Board in place of Arlington’s representative.
Now the Arlington representative, County Board Chair Mary Hynes, is limited to “alternate” status on the Metro Board. In response, Hynes released a statement expressing disappointment but also noting that the county “does still have a voice at Metro.”
For the first time since Metro was formed in the 1960s, Arlington does not have a principal voting seat on the Board of Directors for the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA). The seat that was previously Arlington’s is now filled by a Commonwealth of Virginia representative.
Of course we’re disappointed.
Arlington does still have a voice at Metro. As an alternate WMATA Board member, I continue to serve as a voting member of all Metro committees, where, under WMATA Board rules, all of the Board’s important work is performed. While the exact composition of the committees — Governance, Finance & Administration, Customer Service and Operations, Safety and Security , Planning, and Audits — has yet to be determined, the WMATA Board has agreed that all Board members will continue to be welcome at all Committee meetings. I pledge to you that I will continue to vigorously represent Arlington’s interests and ensure that our viewpoints are heard.
It’s also fair to say that we’re concerned about the role the Commonwealth will play in continuing strong support for WMATA‘s – and our region’s – future.
The eight principal voting members of the Board of Directors hold our region’s future in their hands. It is a funding and governance responsibility Arlington has taken very seriously for more than 35 years. No one in the region disputes that Arlington has nurtured a spirit of regionalism in its approach to critical challenges, even as we’ve been a leader in fully utilizing the tremendous opportunities that regional transit investment provides to local communities. It’s also fair to say that, to date, the Commonwealth of Virginia has had a far less keen interest in supporting vital transit services than have the founding Virginia WMATA jurisdictions – Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax.
This month, the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission – the body which appoints WMATA Board members — unanimously passed a resolution PDF file I co-authored that calls on WMATA Board members to actively work together for the good of the agency, our local jurisdictions and our region. I am heartened by this agreement. The resolution also called on the Commonwealth to “provide sustainable and dedicated revenues to support WMATA, in order to ensure the safety and reliability of the Metro system and the economic sustainability of our region.”
Clearly, Metro is an invaluable asset in the region. And Arlington will continue to invest in Metro. Our Metro system is the largest urban transit system in the United States without dedicated funding. We will continue to advocate for long-term, dedicated funding for the system, which is essential to ensure the long-term sustainability of WMATA. It is our hope that, as the Commonwealth assumes 50% of Virginia’s voting power on WMATA, the Governor and General Assembly will rise to meet the enormous, unavoidable challenge of vigorously supporting transit so that Northern Virginia can remain one of the Commonwealth’s strong economic engines – a role it has played for many decades.
While Arlington is losing some influence on the Metro Board, it is gaining some influence on another regional transportation body. County Board member Jay Fisette was just elected chairman of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission.
“NVTC plays a vital role in coordinating and managing transit in Northern Virginia,” Fisette said in a statement. “I look forward to working with my colleagues from throughout the region to protect and improve the existing transit systems, and to ensure that we are meeting the growing demands of this region.”
State Change Could Cost Arlington Millions — A proposed change in the way Virginia determines how much localities are reimbursed for road maintenance could cost Arlington $9.2 million per year if approved. [Sun Gazette]
Bikeshare Expansion Approved, Sort Of — The Arlington County Board voted on Saturday to use $1.2 million in state funds to build about 30 new Capital Bikeshare stations along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor. Installation of the stations (and nearly 200 new bikes) is expected to wrap up in the summer of 2012. The action isn’t official yet, though. Due to an administrative error, the Board will have to reconsider the item at their Tuesday evening meeting. [Arlington County]
Board Talks Libraries at Meeting — Facing public comments in favor of restoring pre-recession hours at Arlington Public Library branches, the County Board on Saturday reiterated their support for the library. At the same time, members said that they must balance other budget priorities before restoring hours. [Sun Gazette]
Remembering Queen City — Former residents of an African-American enclave in Arlington known as Queen City recently recounted their experiences living there. Queen City was leveled in the mid-1940s t0 make way for the transportation infrastructure necessary for the new Pentagon complex. Many displaced residents settled in the Arlington View or Green Valley neighborhoods. [Patch]
Happy Birthday, Mr. President — Last night’s Arlington County Democratic Committee meeting included a special birthday tribute to President Barack Obama, who turns 50 today. ACDC members sang a rendition of “happy birthday” and then chowed down on slices of birthday cake.
Suspect Eludes Cops, Helicopter — A man suspected of an unspecified crime in another jurisdiction fled from Arlington police just after 10:00 last night. The man took off on foot during a traffic stop on the 1700 block of N. Quebec Street, just north of W-L High School. Police set up a perimeter, called in K-9 units and requested assistance from the U.S. Park Police Eagle 1 helicopter, in an effort to find the man. The search was called off around 11:30, but all was not lost — police were able to nab the three other suspects in the vehicle.
Stolen iPhone Dealers Busted in Pentagon City — Two cellular phone kiosks in the Pentagon City mall have been busted by Metro Transit Police for allegedly selling stolen iPhones. The illegality was discovered while police were investigating “the theft of a large number of electronics equipment from Metro riders in early 2010.” [Washington Examiner]
Arlington’s Low Transportation Costs — Rent and real estate costs in Arlington may be high, but the average cost of transportation is relatively low. According to a new study, transportation (car and transit expenses combined) costs Arlington residents about $975 per month. The regional average is $1,246. “Transportation costs in Arlington County are significantly lower than the regional average due to high levels of transit connectivity and job access,” the report says. [Center for Neighborhood Technology, DCist]
Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance has released a statement blaming Arlington for the loss of transit improvement funds that would have been generated by the HOT lanes. A key factor in scrapping the HOT lanes project was Arlington County’s lawsuit against the state. The county questioned turning over the project to a foreign company, said the project was poorly designed and said the plan could cause more traffic congestion.
NVTA says Arlington, not other communities which supported the HOT lanes proposal, should have to pay for future transit improvements. The group suggests dipping into the $60 million earmarked for Arlington highways and transit in the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Six-Year Improvement Plan. NTVA also put forth the idea of stripping funds from the county’s proposed streetcar line, which would run along Columbia Pike and Crystal Drive.
Arlington County withdrew its lawsuit in February, days after VDOT announced it would no longer pursue HOT lanes on the Arlington and Alexandria portions of I-395.
The agency says construction on the new bridge will begin this summer and will wrap up in fall 2012 — a bit later than originally anticipated. The entire 100-foot-long bridge deck will be replaced with pre-cast concrete panels, and will be 27 feet wider than the existing bridge. The extra width will be used to install a 10-foot wide sidewalk, a 17-foot wide shared-use path and a new northbound turn lane. There will also be new traffic signals, “decorative wrought-iron picket fencing” and LED lighting.
On Thursday, June 2, at 7:00 p.m., VDOT will hold a ‘pardon our dust’ meeting for community members at Thomas Jefferson Middle School (125 S. Old Glebe Road).
The agency says traffic impacts for Glebe Road drivers should be minimal, with virtually no impacts during the day and lane closures at night. There will, however, be “intermittent detours” on Route 50 beginning in August. Traffic will be diverted to George Mason Drive and Washington Boulevard during the detours, which will be announced in advanced.
The Glebe Road bridge over Route 50 carries about 35,000 vehicles a day, according to VDOT. There have been several reported incidents of concrete chunks falling from the bridge over the past two years.
Arlington Independent Media’s Voice Box current affairs program will take on transportation issues tonight with guests Gabe Klein, the former director of DDOT, and Robert Thompson, also known as “Dr. Gridlock,” the Washington Post’s traffic guru.
Klein and Thompson will discuss “transportation issues in and around the D.C. metro area” and will answer viewer questions. The program will air live on Comcast channel 69 and Verizon FiOS chanel 38, starting at 7:30 p.m.
The public is invited to attend the taping. AIM asks that audience members arrive by 7:15 p.m. at their studios at 2701-C Wilson Boulevard.
If you can’t catch it live, Voice Box will re-air Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 6:30 p.m. and Saturday at 10:00 p.m.
Two years after concrete began falling from the “structurally deficient” Glebe Road/Route 50 bridge, VDOT expects to advertise its plan to replace the crumbling overpass next week.
The bridge has raised concerns recently as chunks of concrete began falling anew. On Friday, rush hour traffic was snarled when a chunk of concrete fell from the bridge onto a westbound lane of Route 50 around 4:30 p.m. Police shut down the bridge and one lane of Glebe Road for more than an hour as a result.
The falling concrete actually left a hole in the roadway from which one could look down and see the highway below, according to Arlington County Director of Transportation Dennis Leach. Over the weekend, VDOT patched up the part of the bridge from which the concrete fell.
VDOT will be installing a protective shield “as soon as possible” to make sure more debris doesn’t fall on Route 50, according to agency spokeswoman Jennifer McCord. The shield will either be a protective netting or some sort of wooden structure, she said.
McCord says VDOT expects to advertise a long-delayed plan to replace the bridge next week. The agency will expedite the bidding process so that work on the new bridge can begin as soon as this summer and be complete by August 2012, officials said.
The $6 million project will completely replace the bridge deck while widening it by 27 feet. The increased width will allow for a 17-foot shared use path on one side, a 10-foot sidewalk on the other and five travel lanes in between, including a new northbound turn lane. The bridge will feature “wrought-iron picket fencing, gateway pillars and decorative LED lighting,” according to McCord.
The Fairfax Republican who is threatening to quash a bill identified as one of Arlington’s top legislative priorities in Richmond has proposed several amendments to this year’s state budget bill that are sure to give Arlington officials reason to worry.
Del. Tim Hugo, the chair of the Virginia House Republican Caucus, is threatening to table a bill that would renew Arlington’s half-percent hotel tax surcharge, unless Arlington officials head to Richmond to explain the county’s controversial lawsuit against High Occupancy Toll lanes on I-395. So far, it does not appear that any members of the county board will be taking Hugo up on his offer.
But Hugo’s HOT lanes antagonism doesn’t stop there. He’s also proposing three Arlington-related amendments to the state budget bill, HB 1500. The amendments would deny state funding to the Columbia Pike streetcar project, require an audit of Arlington roads maintained with state funds, and would potentially cut off millions in state transportation funds to the region in the event that the HOT lanes project is canceled due to opposition from an individual jurisdiction (i.e. Arlington).
Would those amendments actually make it into the budget bill?
“It’s possible,” said Ben Tribbett, who runs the Not Larry Sabato Virginia politics blog, noting Hugo’s senior position as Republican Caucus chair. We have not been able to reach Del. Hugo for comment.
See the text of the amendments after the jump.
Photo via timhugo.com
New Library Catalog System Coming Mid-February — Arlington Public Libraries will be rolling out a new online catalog system that includes a feature that sends you a text message when a book you had on hold becomes available. The system should launch mid-February. [Library Blog]
Penrose Square Ramps Up Marketing — The new Penrose Square apartments on Columbia Pike have a slick new web site. The site markets the apartments as “urban apartment homes” in a “LEED-influenced” building.” Residents are expected to start moving in in May. [Pike Wire]
Arlington Receives Homeless Prevention Grant – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has awarded $1.28 million in grant funding to Arlington for homeless assistance programs. The county is looking for a potential location for a permanent homeless shelter to replace its current emergency winter shelter in Courthouse. [Sun Gazette]
New Va. Dem Chair Moran Blasts Transportation Plan — New Virginia Democratic party chair Brian Moran is critical of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s (R) plan to borrow billions to spend on transportation projects. “It’s frankly money we do not have,” he said on WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi Show. “Arlington is a wonderful place to live and work,” Moran added, after co-host Tom Sherwood jokingly suggested that the governor “obliterate Arlington and make a big interchange.” [Greater Greater Washington]
Flickr pool photo by Philliefan99
According to a new study, auto commuters in Washington and Chicago spend about 70 hours — nearly three whole days — of extra time in the car thanks to traffic. We beat out the famously congested Los Angeles area, where commuters only spend 63 extra hours in the car each year.
Washington also ranked #1 for “fuel wasted per peak auto commuter” and #2 for “commuter stress” and “cost of delay per peak hour auto commuter” (at $1,555 per year).
In the wake of the study’s release, the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, a group that supports additional spending on highway capacity and other transportation projects, issued a snarky press release “congratulating” the region for the distinction.
“Persistence pays off!” the Alliance proclaimed. “Years of state fiscal neglect and local opposition to planner’s priorities have finally moved the Commonwealth’s economic engine, Northern Virginia, to the top of the congestion-delay heap.”
The news comes less than two weeks after Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) announced plans to roll out billions in additional transportation spending.
Researchers with the Texas Transportation Institute, which conducted the study, came up with a number of general strategies to help alleviate traffic congestion, including:
- “Get as much use as possible out of the transportation system we have.”
- “Add roadway and public transportation capacity in the places where it is needed most.”
- “Change our patterns, employing ideas like ridesharing and flexible work times to avoid traditional ‘rush hours.’”
- “Provide more choices, such as alternate routes, telecommuting and toll lanes for faster and more reliable trips.”
- “Diversify land development patterns, to make walking, biking and mass transit more practical.”
- “Adopt realistic expectations, recognizing for instance that large urban areas are going to be congested, but they don’t have to stay that way all day long.”