(Updated 3:45 p.m.) Three of Arlington’s four members of the Virginia House of Delegates are without an opponent this fall.
Given the lack of locally competitive races in November, when the House’s entire 100 seats are up for grabs, the lawmakers are looking at opportunities to help fellow Democrats to pick up seats elsewhere.
Democratic Dels. Mark Levine and Rip Sullivan — who are unopposed, as is Del. Patrick Hope — say they have their eyes on the statewide races, and have thrown their support behind Democratic nominees Ralph Northam, Justin Fairfax and Mark Herring, who are running for Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General, respectively. Additionally, in the House, local elected officials see real opportunities to make gains.
So instead of having to purely campaign to defend their own seats, they have looked further afield to try and cut into Republicans’ advantage, particularly through fundraising for candidates.
Democrats now have 88 candidates for the House, including incumbents running for re-election. That list includes more women running than men, four LGBT candidates as well as African-Americans and Asian-Americans.
Sullivan, who is the House Democratic Caucus’ campaign chair, launched Project Blue Dominion, a Political Action Committee to help recruit, train and fund candidates across Virginia.
He has sent out regular emails entitled “Flip-a-District Fridays” profiling the new candidates, and the PAC reported to the Virginia Department of Elections that it received $4,296 in contributions through the end of the last filing period on June 30.
“We are very excited about our current position,” Sullivan said. “We have a remarkably diverse group of candidates, some very accomplished candidates. It is the largest group of candidates we’ve had in a long, long time… We are running in parts of the state we haven’t run in in a long time.”
Local businesses will not have to authorize each individual tow from their property after Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) signed a bill ending the would-be practice.
HB 1960 overrides Arlington County’s towing regulations that required a so-called “real-time authorization” of each tow during business hours. The county’s regulations were set to come into effect on July 1.
The bill, introduced by Del. Tim Hugo (R-40), prevents any jurisdiction in Northern Virginia from requiring the authorization, also known as a second signature. The first signature is the contract that authorizes a company to tow from a particular property.
Having previously railed against the requirement, Arlington Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Kate Bates praised McAuliffe’s decision.
Bates said in a statement:
The signing of this important legislation into law is a huge win for the Arlington business community. Arlington businesses rely on being able to provide clear, available parking for customers, employees and visitors in order to stay viable, and HB 1960 empowers and protects these businesses so they can continue to do just that. By removing the ability of local lawmakers to force businesses to adhere to a second authorization towing requirement, this legislation returns the decision-making power about the removal of illegally parked vehicles back where it belong: in the hands of private property owners and business owners.
McAuliffe said in an interview on WTOP this morning that he signed the bill after having conversations with representatives of local chambers of commerce and small businesses.
“I always will come down on the side of the small business community, so I signed the bill,” McAuliffe said.
County Board chair Jay Fisette told ARLnow.com he was “disappointed” at McAuliffe’s decision, after he initially tried to amend the bill. Fisette said the second signature is necessary to prevent predatory towing.
“For us, it’s important because predatory towing has gotten worse over recent years, and an increasing number of people are affected by it,” Fisette said. “There is a better balance that can be struck to reduce the number of tows that occur in the first two minutes that somebody parks in a space.”
Fisette said he hopes the Chamber and county can now work together to find a way to address both parties’ concerns.
One minor change requested by McAuliffe, concerning fines for towing operators in Northern Virginia that will apply each time they make an improper tow or violate certain towing regulations, was made to the final bill by the legislature. The bill also calls for towing operators to notify the local animal control office when a car is towed with a pet inside.
Local Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48) spoke forcefully against the bill on the floor of the House of Delegates during the General Assembly’s reconvened session earlier this month to discuss McAuliffe’s amendments and vetoes.
He said the fact that other localities like Virginia Beach and Stafford County have a second signature provision shows inconsistency. He said the General Assembly should have “left well alone” for jurisdictions to decide.
“My big concern with this bill is I don’t quite understand why having granted this authority to localities over a decade ago, Northern Virginia is being now carved out and this authority to pass ordinances like the one Arlington did is being stripped away in some localities but not others,” he told ARLnow.com. “There are other localities that do use this authority and apparently it works well without any hue and cry and uproar.”
Progress on an undeveloped parcel of land in Potomac Yard may not happen for another three years after a recent County Board vote and Virginia General Assembly bill that passed this year.
At its meeting Tuesday, the Board allowed Lidl US, the owner of Land Bay C in Potomac Yard, to withdraw its application to extend the life of its final plan for the site by three years.
The site plan was originally approved in 2007, to include four buildings over an underground parking garage. It includes more than 1 million square feet of office space, 41,000 square feet of retail space and a half-acre park known as North Plaza.
Lidl looked to withdraw its extension after Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) signed HB 1697 into law. The bill automatically extends certain approvals from July 1, 2017 to July 1, 2020 on projects designed to help Virginia recovery from the 2008 housing crisis.
Lidl originally applied for a three-year extension on the site plan last November, before the bill had been debated and passed in Richmond.
The plan is valid until 2020 thanks to the bill’s passage, and at the meeting there was no discussion on a timeline for the project. Representatives with Lidl US did not respond to a request for comment. If construction does not begin before the site plan’s 2020 deadline, the applicant would either need to withdraw the plan or file for another extension.
During the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting, local resident Jim Hurysz noted the surrounding community’s concerns about the uncertainty surrounding much of the development at Potomac Yard.
Hurysz noted Alexandria City Council’s worries about a lack of open space in North Potomac Yard during its own planning process, as well as an expected influx of traffic when the Virginia Department of Transportation extends the HOT Lanes on Interstate 395.
The Virginia House of Delegates last week voted down Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s (D) plan to gut a towing bill that targets Northern Virginia. The bill now goes back to McAuliffe.
McAuliffe’s amendment to HB 1960 would have removed language preventing jurisdictions in Northern Virginia from requiring a “second signature” to authorize a tow from a commercial property. The second signature comes at the moment of the tow; the first signature is the contract that authorizes a company to tow from a particular property.
Included in the County Board’s package was a controversial provision requiring businesses to authorize individual tows. That provision brought objections from the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and others in the business community.
McAuliffe had tried to lessen the impact of the General Assembly’s towing bill by adding suggested language requiring the second signature. But Fairfax and Prince William counties Del. Timothy Hugo (R-40) said at the House’s reconvened session April 5 that requiring a second signature is not practical.
Hugo, the bill’s chief patron, said needing a second signature would prevent the likes of churches, restaurants and apartment complexes from quickly removing illegally parked cars.
“What this amendment would allow, is it would require every time the tower wants to tow that illegally parked car, they’ve got to find the preacher, the restaurant manager, the president of the homeowners’ association, they’ve got to find a second signature for that tow,” Hugo said during the debate.
Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48), a member of Arlington’s House delegation, said it was unfair that Northern Virginia be singled out in the bill while the likes of Stafford County and Virginia Beach can require a second signature.
“The question here is why should we single out one locality or one portion of the state to be treated differently from every other portion of the state,” Sullivan said. “There’s no justification that I’ve heard for doing so.”
Debate brought some testy exchanges on the House floor during the one-day session where lawmakers debated McAuliffe’s vetoes and proposed amendments to other passed legislation. Del. Patrick Hope (D-47) echoed Sullivan’s sentiment, asking why the bill only applies to Northern Virginia if it “is such a good idea,” and why it thus could not apply statewide.
“If the gentleman wants to put that bill in next year, he’s more than welcome to do so,” Hugo said in response.
Then Del. Mark Levine (D-45) questioned why Virginia Beach is able to keep prohibiting predatory towing but Arlington County cannot, and he said that McAuliffe’s amendment would make one towing standard apply across the commonwealth.
Hugo said the amendment would only affect Northern Virginia, then House Speaker Bill Howell (R-28) ended debate.
“How petty that Republicans would try to pass a law overruling a predatory towing local ordinance in Democratic Northern Virginia while allowing the exact same predatory-towing ordinance in Republican Virginia Beach,” Levine wrote in an email to supporters.
The House rejected McAuliffe’s amendment by a 67-33 vote. The governor now must either sign or veto the bill.
Update on New Hotel Near Rosslyn — A new Homewood Suites hotel being built near Rosslyn recently celebrated its “topping out.” The 11-story hotel, which replaced the former Colony House Furniture store, is expected to be completed by early 2018. [Commercial Property Executive]
Gov. Recommends Changes to Towing Bill — Gov. Terry McAuliffe has sent a trespass towing bill back to the General Assembly with significant recommended changes. The bill in its current form would raise towing fees in Northern Virginia and prohibit Arlington from enacting its new “second signature” requirement on tows during business hours. [InsideNova]
Hospitality Workers Lauded — The Arlington Chamber of Commerce held its 13th annual Hospitality Awards on Tuesday. From a press release: “One winner, Fayssal Samaka of the The Ritz-Carlton, Pentagon City once checked in a family at the hotel, when he overheard that the father was recovering from cancer. Samaka arranged for the family to stay in the Presidential Suite and even booked them a tour. A few months later, the family informed the general manager that the father had passed away, and because the last trip they took together as a family was at The Ritz-Carlton, they would come back every year on vacation.” [Arlington Chamber of Commerce]
Project Explores Arlington Communities — A just-submitted doctoral dissertation examines “the processes of community development, suburbanization, and segregation that Arlingtonians, black and white, used to create lasting communities that met their own needs and reflected their own preferences.” The project’s exhibits include the local history of government housing during World War II, Arlington’s historically black communities, and the history of the American Nazi Party in the county. [Built By the People Themselves]
Flickr pool photo by Lisa Novak
The lawsuit against 64 people who spoke in opposition to Nova Armory, the Lyon Park gun store, helped provide the impetus for a state bill to protect protesters from similar court action.
House Bill 1941, introduced by southwest Virginia Del. Terry Kilgore (R-1) and co-patroned by local Del. Mark Levine (D-45), provides immunity from a lawsuit to anyone who speaks out on a matter of public concern, unless they knowingly make false statements. Defendants in so-called “strategic lawsuits against public participation” could be awarded reasonable attorney fees and costs under the bill.
It passed unanimously in both the House of Delegates and the state Senate, and awaits the signature of Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D).
Levine said the desire to protest goes beyond party politics, and the new bill protects the First Amendment rights of those across the political spectrum.
“This is not a partisan issue,” he wrote in a message to supporters. “Liberals will want to protest gun stores, just like conservatives will want to protest affordable health care. But people should have a right to state their opinions and protest without fearing a lawsuit.”
Levine had initially proposed a bill of his own related to the subject, House Bill 2446, with sanctions against plaintiffs who “bring an action to deter someone from exercising his constitutional rights.” That bill was tabled in the House Committee for Courts and Justice. Levine then signed onto HB1941 as chief co-patron.
Nova Armory sued opponents who spoke out against its opening, including Arlington County’s seven state representatives, who signed a letter to landlord Katya Varley on General Assembly letterhead expressing their objections.
Nova Armory alleged in its lawsuit that the owner and landlord were harassed, and that death threats were mailed to Lauren Pratte, the store’s 16-year-old “owner-in-training.”
In a press release last March threatening such action, Pratte said ownership were concerned about the infringement on their civil rights by their state representatives.
“We’ve given up on fact-checking all their false statements,” Pratte said at the time. “Instead we’ve told our lawyers to concentrate on any actions in which we are deprived of our civil liberties by these so-called public servants — they’ll regret any abuse of their authority.”
But one day before the lawsuit was due to be heard in Arlington County Circuit Court, the Washington Post reported the store filed a notice to drop the suit.
“I am delighted — though not surprised — to learn that Nova Armory nonsuited its lawsuit today,” Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48), another defendant, said in a statement to the Post. “From the very beginning it was clear that this lawsuit had no basis in law or fact.”
At the monthly meeting of the Arlington County Democratic Committee earlier this month, Levine said the bill has a broader mission beyond this one lawsuit. Instead, he said, it protects anyone who wishes to exercise their First Amendment rights.
“If you want to go out and protest, you are free to go out and protest,” he said. “They can’t sue you.”
Restaurants Closed for ‘Day Without Immigrants’ — A number of restaurants in Arlington will be closed for the pro-immigration “Day Without Immigrants” strike. Among the expected closures: Jaleo, Busboys and Poets, Pupatella, Capitol City Brewing, Circa and Sweetgreen. [Washingtonian, Twitter, Facebook]
New Photos of Bank Robbery Suspect — The Arlington County Police Department has released additional photos of the suspect in last Friday’s Navy Federal Credit Union bank robbery in Ballston. [Twitter]
Arlington Rapist Charged in D.C. Case — Ronald Berton, who was convicted of raping a woman in Lyon Village in 2010, “has been charged with kidnapping and raping a woman in Northwest Washington in 2007, according to police and court documents.” Berton is only serving 10 years in prison for his Arlington rape conviction, after the initial conviction was overturned and he was retried for the crime. [Washington Post]
Resolution Commending Wardian — A joint resolution in the Virginia General Assembly commends superhuman Arlington marathoner Michael Wardian for his World Marathon Challenge record, which he set last month. [Virginia Legislative Information System]
Facilities Committee Goes on a Ride — Last Saturday morning, Arlington officials and the county’s Joint Facilities Advisory Committee boarded an ART bus and went on a tour of sites that “could help the County Government and Arlington Public Schools resolve pressing capital facilities needs.” [Arlington County]
Nearby: More Potomac Paddling — “The National Park Service said it plans to expand public access for kayaking and rowing on the Potomac River in the District of Columbia’s Georgetown neighborhood,” according to the Associated Press. “The agency said in a statement this week it has approved a plan for the phased development of 42,000 square feet of facilities near the confluence of Rock Creek, the Potomac River and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park.” [WTOP]
Norovirus Outbreak at School — More than 80 students at Oakridge Elementary in south Arlington are out sick as a result of a suspected norovirus outbreak. The virus causes symptoms like “stomach aches, fever, vomiting and, in some cases, diarrhea.” [NBC Washington]
Sign Controversy at Yorktown — Some conservatives are upset that teachers at Yorktown High School are being allowed to hang “politically suggestive” signs in their classrooms. The signs read: “Patriots Know: Facts are not political. Diversity strengthens us. Science is real. Women’s rights are human rights. Justice is for all. We’re all immigrants. Kindness is everything.” [Daily Caller]
Yorktown Lacrosse Star Nears 200 Goals — Yorktown senior lacrosse star Laura Crawford is nearing the 200-goal mark for high school career. Crawford, a three-time team MVP, has committed to Penn. [Washington Post]
Female UAE Hockey Player Visits Caps — Fatima Al Ali, a hockey player and coach from United Arab Emirates, has been visiting with the Washington Capitals this week as part of the NHL’s “Hockey Is For Everyone month.” The visit has included taking the ice at the Caps practice facility in Ballston and dropping the puck at last night’s game at Verizon Center. [Fox 5, Al-Arabiya]
Levine, Favola Advance Rape Kit Bill — Updated at 9:40 a.m. — Legislation sponsored by Del. Mark Levine and state Sen. Barbara Favola, which Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol helped to craft, has passed unanimously in the Virginia House of Delegates. The bill calls for police to keep rape kits for a longer period of time even if the victim is not ready to prosecute. [WVTF]
MMA Studio Gives Parents a Night Off — A mixed martial arts gym is not a place that one would usually think of as a babysitting venue, but that’s precisely what Pentagon MMA on Columbia Pike will be Saturday night. The business is hosting a “parents’ night out” event for Valentine’s Day, letting mom or dad “enjoy a worry-free evening with your special someone this Valentine’s Day while your child enjoys a night of structured activities in a supervised environment.” [Pentagon MMA]
New Clarendon Cafe Has ‘Oatmeal Program’ — Baba, the new Balkan-themed cafe in the basement of Ambar in Clarendon, has an “oatmeal program,” says its owner. Baba will serve La Colombe coffee, two types of “fancy oatmeal,” as well as oatmeal packages for takeout. [Washingtonian]
School Board Wants to Lift Pay Cap — It’s unclear why the Virginia General Assembly capped the pay of Arlington School Board members at $25,000, but the School Board is hopeful that a measure making its way through the legislature will pass, allowing members to raise their salaries in 2021. [InsideNova]
Accenture Acquires Part of Endgame — Consulting and professional services firm Accenture has acquired the federal government services business of Arlington-based startup Endgame for an undisclosed sum. [WTOP]
Longtime Arlington Teacher Dies — Margaret (Peggy) Huddleston, a Washington-Lee grad and longtime W-L teacher and guidance counselor, has died at the age of 92. [Falls Church News-Press]
Delays Likely at DCA — Between high winds in the D.C. area, and flight cancellations and delays due to the snowstorm in the Northeast, there may be significant impacts on flights at Reagan National Airport today. [Twitter]
Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman
Dems Choose Caucus for County Board Race — If there are multiple contenders for this year’s Arlington County Board race, Democrats will hold a party caucus, rather than a primary, to choose the nominee. Incumbent County Board member Jay Fisette has not yet announced whether he will seek reelection. [InsideNova]
Arlington Has Region’s Shortest Commute — Arlington residents have the D.C. region’s shortest average commute: 28.1 minutes. That’s even shorter than the commute of those who live in the District. Driving, meanwhile, is declining regionwide as a commuting method; in Arlington, 60.2 percent of commuters drive, down from 61.3 percent six years prior. [WTOP]
WHS Students Learning to Spot ‘Fake News’ — Wakefield High School is “using the expertise of journalists from mainstream news organizations” to teach students “how to recognize the red flags of inaccurate information.” The methods, taught via an online tool, are supposed to help students differentiate real news from sponsored content and “fake news.” [WJLA]
Del. Lopez Figures into Tall Tale Told on House Floor — Last week Del. Matt Fariss, a Republican from Campbell County, Va., gave an epic speech on the floor of the House of Delegates. The story told by Fariss was intended to colorfully illustrate why a bill that would fine the owner of a dog found running loose on someone’s property, if the landowner had previously asked that the dog stay off the property, would not be in the best interests of rural Virginians. The tale involved a number of Virginia officials of note, including Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Arlington’s own Del. Alfonso Lopez. [Facebook]
It’s Groundhog Day — Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow today, suggesting that we’re in for six more weeks of winter. The meteorological scolds at the Capital Weather Gang, however, think the prognosticating groundhog is wrong and that spring may arrive early. [Capital Weather Gang, Accuweather]
More Details on Nestlé Deal — Landing Nestlé is a huge win for Arlington County, for Rosslyn and for 1812 N. Moore Street owner Monday Properties, which stuck to its plan of keeping the skyscraper’s top floors empty as it awaited a big tenant. As part of the deal, Monday will put the company’s logo on two sides of the building, will nix a restaurant space to build a separate entrance for Nestlé’ employees, and will “more than double the size of the building’s wellness center to include space for spinning, yoga and pilates.” [Washington Business Journal]
Towing Bill Fails in Senate — A legislative effort to sandbag Arlington with state-mandated towing regulations that are friendlier to towing companies has failed in the state Senate. But a similar bill is still alive in the House of Delegates. [InsideNova]
Library Tells Story of Stratford Desegregation — Arlington Public Library is launching “a unique online exhibition and searchable database – built from thousands of photos, documents and recordings – surrounding the legal and moral battles that culminated with four courageous African American students taking their seats on Feb. 2, 1959 at Arlington’s Stratford Junior High School.” Dubbed “Project DAPS,” the collection will debut Feb. 25. [Arlington County, Project DAPS]
Catholic Diocese Launches New Website — The Catholic Diocese of Arlington has launched a new website. The new bishop, Bishop Michael Burbidge introduced the redesigned website in a video. [Catholic Diocese of Arlington, YouTube]
Arlington Men’s Club Turns 10 — Arlington has a “secretive and haphazardly organized” group called the Men’s Development Club. The club, formed 10 years ago, is basically an excuse for dads to get out of the house and drink beer with other dads. [Falls Church News-Press]
Photo courtesy Alexis Fedoroff
Va. Officials on Immigration Order — President Donald Trump’s executive order barring those from seven Muslim nations from entering the U.S. has caught the ire of Arlington’s Democratic congressional representatives and state officials. Sen. Tim Kaine said that he was “appalled by the cruelty” of the order, Kaine and Sen. Mark Warner have “demanded answers” from the Dept. of Homeland Security, Gov. Terry McAuliffe is “outraged and disappointed,” and Rep. Don Beyer joined four other local congressmen at Dulles International Airport to try to speak to Customs and Border Protection officials who were detaining a number of travelers.
County Board Changes Airbnb Regs — Renters will now no longer be barred by the county from renting their home on Airbnb and other online services. The Arlington County Board approved the change to their recent-passed ordinance unanimously at its Saturday meeting. [Arlington County]
Bill: No Food = No Liquor — A bill that has passed the Virginia state senate would prohibit restaurants from serving liquor while the kitchen is closed and no longer serving food. The bill clarifies a 1971 law that was intended to do the same but was “interpreted liberally by some.” [Style Weekly]
County Acquires Land for Fire Station Project — The Arlington County Board has approved the $800,000 purchase of a home on N. Culpeper Street for the construction of a new, expanded Fire Station No. 8. The property is the final acquisition necessary to build a temporary fire station for use while the new station is constructed. [Arlington County]
The House of Delegates bill, HB 1960, was proposed by Del. Tim Hugo, a Prince William and Fairfax County Republican. It would modify Virginia’s existing towing law with a number of provisions that would only apply to Northern Virginia jurisdictions in the state’s “Planning District 8,” which includes Arlington.
Among the proposed Northern Virginia-specific changes:
- Raise the base towing fee to $150 and the maximum towing fee to $200.
- Prohibit Arlington’s new “real time authorization” requirement, which requires businesses to authorize each individual tow.
- Require that the chair of a local towing advisory board be a licensed towing operator. Currently, the chair of Arlington’s towing advisory committee is a local citizen.
An Arlington County fact sheet about the bill states that it “would unnecessarily restrict the ability of local governments to provide protections to vehicle owners in the taking of their property without their consent.”
“I would describe it as a very consumer unfriendly bill,” County Board Vice Chair Katie Cristol told ARLnow.com. “It raises tow rates for the second year in a row with no fair market assessment to justify that.”
Cristol is encouraging residents to reach out to their local delegates and state senators to encourage them to work to defeat the bill.
“We think it’s a bad deal for our community and we hope people will let their state legislators know that they think so too,” she said.
On a statewide basis, the bill would require tow truck drivers to notify animal control when they tow a vehicle “that is occupied by an unattended companion animal.” It also establishes a $100 fine for towing operators that violate state towing regulations, to be paid to Virginia’s Literary Fund, and prohibits the appointment of anyone other than towing operators, law enforcement representatives and a single member of the general public to a towing advisory board.
Arlington County’s delegation to the Virginia General Assembly will hold its annual public hearing to discuss with residents the legislative priorities for the new General Assembly session that begins on January 11.
The public hearing will be held on Thursday, January 5, in the Arlington County Board Room (2100 Clarendon Blvd., #300) from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Citizens can sign up on the night of the hearing to address the legislators. Each speaker will have up to three minutes.
“The direct participation of an active citizenry helps me represent the 30th District more effectively,” said Sen. Adam Ebbin. “I encourage and welcome all residents… to attend our delegation’s hearings.”
Some of the legislation on the 2017 roster that has been proposed by Arlington representatives includes:
- Paid family leave, proposed by Sen. Barbara Favola: Under this legislation, the Commissioner of Labor and Industry would develop an implementation plan for a paid family leave program.
- Reporting lost or stolen firearms, proposed by Sen. Barbara Favola: This bill would require a person who legally possesses a firearm to report its loss or theft to police within 24 hours of discovering that it’s missing.
- Same-sex marriage, proposed by Sen. Adam Ebbin: This legislation would repeal the parts of Virginia’s constitution banning same-sex marriages and civil unions.
- Governor’s term of office, proposed by Sen. Adam Ebbin: This legislation would allow Virginia’s governor to serve consecutive terms. Currently, governors cannot run again immediately after serving one four-year term, but they can run again in a future election.
- Firearm locks, proposed by Sen. Janet Howell: The bill would make it illegal to sell or transfer a handgun to anyone without the person being provided with a locking device for the handgun.
- No-excuse absentee voting, proposed by Sen. Janet Howell: This would make it acceptable for any registered voter to vote absentee in person without having to provide a reason.
- Required immunizations, proposed by Del. Patrick Hope: The bill would require children to receive an immunization for meningococcal disease (which causes bacterial meningitis) in order to attend school.
The compromise is intended to appease lawmakers from outside the Beltway, many of whom opposed the idea of tolling I-66 without adding capacity to the often clogged highway. It’s likely to rankle some residents in Arlington, where in the 1970s a citizens group formed to oppose the construction of I-66 in the first place. That group now advocates for a “wiser, not wider” I-66.
According to various news reports, the compromise calls for eastbound I-66 to be widened to three through lanes between the Dulles Connector Road the Fairfax Drive/Glebe Road exit, within the existing highway right-of-way.
Outside-the-Beltway lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, were calling for I-66 to be widened before being tolled. The McAuliffe administration’s plan for converting I-66 to high-occupancy toll lanes inside the Beltway during rush hour — tolls for vehicles with 1-2 occupants, free to those with 3 or more occupants — was in danger of being blocked in the Virginia General Assembly without the compromise. The plan originally called for widening to be considered as a last resort, after studying the efficacy of the HOT lanes in improving traffic congestion.
“If we don’t take this deal now, it’s not going to happen for a generation,” state Sen. Barbara Favola said, as quoted by NBC 4.
The deal will allow tolling on I-66 to begin in 2017 and the new lane to be in place by 2020, at a construction cost of $140 million, according to WTOP.
Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey released a statement on the plan shortly after it was announced, expressing disappointment.
We are disappointed with the news of the amended plan for I-66, which will immediately widen I-66. We respect that Governor McAuliffe and his administration worked hard to protect the earlier plan, which delayed the widening of I-66 until we had several years’ worth of experience with multimodal solutions. We appreciate that — aside from the decision to widen immediately — many of the original elements remain intact:
- Toll revenue is dedicated to multimodal improvements;
- NVTC (our region’s transit agency) receives the toll revenue;
- Local governments retain the authority to spend these funds on local projects; and
- Any widening occurs within existing right-of-way.
As the new plan moves forward, Arlington will be vigilant, working to ensure that appropriate environmental analyses are completed efficiently and comprehensively. We will do all we can to mitigate harm from the widening, and we will explore possible improvements to accompany the widening. As always. Arlington will be working to promote improved regional transit. We need frequent, reliable, and comfortable transit systems along the east-west corridor that get people quickly to where they want to go.
Update at 3:00 p.m. — Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) has weighed in with an interesting statement, suggesting that Arlington County’s opposition to a partial I-66 widening, as proposed, may not be too strong.
Arlington County had a longstanding agreement that I-66 would not be widened inside the Beltway. Today’s announcement by Governor McAuliffe changes that understanding, and with no public input so far.
My initial reaction is one of concern for Northern Virginians who have worked – many of them for decades – for an alternative approach to big highways. But I continue to learn details of the proposal and to listen to constituents on all sides of this issue.
Early conversations with elected officials who represent Arlington County indicate that Arlington is more open to this partial I-66 widening than in the past, and that the potential benefits from I-66 tolls will bring important transit and multi-modal benefits to the surrounding corridor. I remain dubious about additional asphalt, and await input from my Arlington and other constituents about today’s proposal.
Update at 11:55 a.m. — After the jump, the press release from Gov. McAuliffe’s office.