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Virginia House bills put roads over rails

By   /   February 17, 2015  /   News  /   No Comments

AP file photo

PAY UP: Toll roads, not railroads, are the preferred form of managing traffic in Virginia.

By Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau

RICHMOND, Va. — Arlington’s controversial streetcar project — and any other Northern Virginia rail ventures — will face a steeper climb if state lawmakers approve House Bill 1470.

Delegate Dave LaRock’s measure requires the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority to run proposed transit projects through a congestion-relief rating system. Currently, mass transit is exempt from the requirement.

The Hamilton Republican’s bill is buttressed by the House’s transportation funding package, House Bill 1887. That measure, by Delegate Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, prohibits highway maintenance and operating funds from going to transit projects, or to bike lanes or pedestrian trails.

Making congestion reduction the pre-eminent criteria for transportation and land-use planning in Northern Virginia is another blow to Arlington’s streetcar venture.

Watchdog reported late last year that county officials sidetracked the multibillion-dollar project as it struggled for funding and public support.

Though promoters haven’t given up, they haven’t been able to prove streetcars would relieve traffic on Columbia Pike and U.S. 1. Critics, including independent traffic engineers, say the trolleys would actually worsen congestion by reducing traffic lanes.

“The Tide” streetcar in Norfolk has also raised concerns, as local officials seek additional funding to expand the line that has the lowest ridership in the United States.

Bob Chase, president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, has long argued for a prioritized system of approving road and transit projects. He supports LaRock’s bill, which requires that mass transit proposals be evaluated on the same performance-based standard as all other transportation projects.

HB 1470 is already halfway home, having cruised through the House on a 97-0 vote.

Kenric Ward is a national reporter for Watchdog.org and chief of its Virginia Bureau. Contact him at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward

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Kenric Ward is a veteran journalist who has worked on three Pulitzer Prize-winning newspapers. A California native, he received a BA from UCLA (Political Science/Phi Beta Kappa) and holds an MBA. He reported and edited at the San Jose Mercury News and the Las Vegas Sun before joining Watchdog.org in 2012 as Virginia Bureau Chief.