Connolly, Wittman focus on separate rail projects
© Virginia News GroupWhen the General Assembly passed its comprehensive transportation bill last month during the final day of its regular annual session, it turned out to only begin the dialogue about mass transit, not end it.
Locally, hundreds of residents turned out for a town hall meeting last week in Gainesville devoted to the Bi-County Parkway, which is set to receive $10 million in state funds due to the passage of that bill.
Meanwhile at the federal level, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-11th) submitted a bill on Feb. 27 that would call for a federal study to expand three Metro lines in Fairfax and Prince William counties.
It is being handled in the House by the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. As of last week, no senators introduced a similar bill to the upper chamber.
If passed, the House bill, dubbed "H.R. 907" and co-sponsored by Rep. Jim Moran (D-8th), would examine a westward expansion of the Orange line from Vienna to Centreville; an extension of the Yellow line from Huntington to the Route 1 corridor in Fairfax and Prince William counties; and a Blue line extension from Franconia-Springfield along the Interstate 95 corridor through eastern Fairfax and Prince William.
Among other proposed stops, the study would examine a Blue line route to Potomac Mills in Woodbridge and a Yellow line route to Fort Belvoir. The latter would come at a time when the military is preparing to shift thousands of jobs to the eastern Fairfax base.
The "Northern Virginia Metrorail Extension Act'" does not include a specific dollar amount for funding a study.
George Burke, who serves as Connolly's communications director, mentioned in an interview that this is the third time the congressman has introduced this type of bill.
"The bottom line is, we need congressional authorization... for the localities to start an environmental review," said Burke.
Connolly represents much of the Prince William County communities to the east of Interstate 95 as well as all or parts of Dale City, Lake Ridge, Woodbridge and Occoquan.
For four years, he also represented parts of western Prince William until decennial redistricting shifted his district's boundaries prior to the 2012 election.
One obstacle for passing the bill comes from politics.
Democrats make up the minority party in the House of Representatives, so Connolly and Moran will need GOP help to pass the bill.
Realistically, the best chance for that to happen is if a Republican congressman includes it as part of the next larger transportation bill taken up by the full House.
Two Republicans represent Northern Virginia districts where an extension of Metro would have a direct impact on the lives of many of their constituents: Reps. Frank Wolf (R-10th) and Rob Wittman (R-1st).
Despite their partisan differences, Wittman, Connolly and Moran all share something in common as they served as local government leaders, as did Connaughton when he chaired the Prince William Board of County Supervisors.
Wittman ran the Westmoreland County Board of Supervisors for two years; Connolly helmed the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors; and Moran served as mayor of Alexandria in the late 1980s.
Wittman sat down for a half-hour, one-on-one interview in his Washington, D.C. office last Thursday and discussed his views on transportation.
There are no Metro stops in his district but there are five stations for the Virginia Railway Express, the area's other top commuter rail line preparing for an expansion itself.
VRE and the 1st
The first congressional district of Virginia includes much of the Tidewater region of Virginia and its population hub is centered in Fredericksburg, which is the southern-most stop for the VRE.
The northern-most part of the first district contains large swaths of Prince William County, including all or parts of Gainesville, Bristow, Manassas, Nokesville, Woodbridge, Monclair, Lake Ridge, Dumfries, Triangle and Quantico.
Two VRE stations in Prince William County are included in his district: Broad Run(Manassas Regional Airport) and Quantico.
Stafford County is also home to two VRE stations in Wittman's district: Brooke and Leeland Road.
According to Wittman, constituent calls to his offices focus little on Metro, and likewise he had not reviewed Connolly's bill as of last week.
However, he does hear about VRE both over the phone and in person at various commuter lots, such as when he occasionally picks up riders waiting in slug lines.
Wittman noted that an addition of a third rail line through Stafford County route is now closer to happening after approval by the state and federal departments of transportation last year.
Part of Wittman's push for more rail options in eastern Prince William comes from the economic incentives tied to it.
For example, he mentioned a collaborative effort from Stafford and Prince William counties intended to move the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) headquarters from Washington, D.C. to the Quantico area.
Quantico has a VRE line but no Metro option, so extending Metro would be an enticement for the FBI to move. A third rail line for the VRE would also allow a quicker flow of foot traffic for passengers there too.
One complaint about VRE Wittman said he hears comes from constituents who say, "I I have to stay late at work, I can't use VRE" to go home.
Wittman declined to offer an opinion about the state's recently passed transportation bill. It has divided the state GOP between those supporting Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, who supported its passage, and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican nominee for governor who opposed it.
He did say though that "the jury's still out with how you can leverage those state dollars" from the new transportation bill to capture more federal money from grants and matching funds.
The congressman, now serving his third full term, said he recently met with Virginia Department of Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton.
"Sean is positive about where things are going" regarding transportation, said Wittman.
Tying future commercial and residential developments around transportation is something Wittman stressed as he discussed the need for multi-modial transit options.
"You try to get ahead of the demand," he said, later adding, "Land-use planning and transportation planning have to go hand-in-hand."
Whether it's Metro, VRE or general transportation options, Wittman suggested that the less reliant they are on taxpayer funding, the better.
"Those projects ought to look at being self-sufficient," said Wittman.
Despite the country's $16 trillion national debt, Wittman said "there are federal dollars" available for transportation projects available for states to claim though "it's a finite universe of dollars out there."
Yet when it comes to land development at the local level, "the federal government should stay out of it," said Wittman.