(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) Environmentally aware consumers choose to eat vegetables and meat produced at local farms to avoid foods hauled over long distances by tractor trailers. Buying close to home also helps the local economy. It tastes better, too ... usually. Produce is fresher if eaten the day after it's picked and sold at a local farmer's market, unlike fruits and vegetables hauled across the country on a truck.
In many cities, consumers do not have such options at their liquor store. But the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area's emerging craft beer market is now catering to their tastes.
"The less time the product has to travel the fresher it will be," says Jeff Hancock, the co-founder and head brewer at D.C. Brau, the city's first microbrewery since 1956. Hancock and co-founder Brandon Skall opened D.C. Brau last April.
As small business owners with just five full-time and six part-time employees, they face formidable tasks of coordinating the shipments of their ingredients over long distances, and then getting their finished product to the market fresh.
"One of the big issues related to transportation that we have... is making sure that the beer stays cold from the time it leaves here to the time it gets to the account," says Skall. "It's really, really important to us since our beer is unfiltered that our beer stays cold."
Keeping D.C. Brau's four flagship beers (named Corruption, Citizen, Public, and Penn Quarter Porter) cold while they are at the brewery is not a problem. Hancock and Skall lose control the moment the brews leave the brewery.
"So you want to make sure your distributor has refrigerated trucks, your distributor has a working cold box, things that are going to keep your beer the way it needs to be as it goes through that transportation stage to finally arrive at the account," says Skall.
Before D.C. Brau can brew an ounce of beer, the ingredients need to arrive on time from hundreds of miles away. Hancock orders his barley (to make malt) from the Midwest and hops from the Pacific Northwest. It takes days for shipments to get to D.C.
"We mainly get our barley out in the Midwest because of the plains out there," says Hancock. "It's great for growing barley, wheat, and rye; a lot of the grains used in brewing, and hops come from a moist climate like the Pacific Northwest. Hops take five days from Washington state."
Port City Brewing Company opened last year in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C. Founder Bill Butcher says, "Really, nobody has enough cold space," referring to sellers. "They will end up putting a display out of 15 to 20 cases where it is not refrigerated. That doesn't make the beer go bad. It's just not going to stay as fresh as long. We deal with it by keeping inventories short and making sure nobody buys too much that they can't sell in a very short period of time."
D.C. Brau and other brewers have to coordinate the import of ingredients over long distances.
"We search over the globe for our ingredients, and quality is the first concern," he says. "Our pilsner malt comes from Germany. The hops come from England, Germany, and the Pacific Northwest." It takes six weeks for hops ordered in Heidelberg, Germany to arrive in Alexandria.
When Butcher opened last February, he ordered what he thought would be a three-month supply of packaging, bottles, labels, and six-pack carriers, among other items. He used them up in two weeks, causing an unexpected logistical dilemma difficult for a small business to overcome, especially since there were no other microbreweries around.
"It wasn't like we could call our neighbor up and borrow some supplies," he says.
Butcher was motivated to found a brewery for the same reasons someone may only eat vegetables sold at a local farmer's market.
"It was about four years ago when we realized that we buy all of our groceries from local producers, our meat from local farmers, but the beer we were buying was coming from the west coast," he says.
Butcher's brewery lost power during the severe storm that hit the D.C. area on June 29. More than 2 million people were without electricity following the storm. Fortunately, Butcher was able to save 13,000 gallons of beer he had on the premises, thanks to a generator he snagged for the brewery. He did, however, cancel Fourth of July-related beer tastings.
(UPDATED 7:56PM) The final political obstacle to completing the Silver Line rail project to Dulles International Airport and west into the suburbs was removed on Tuesday when the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors voted 5-4 to “opt in” to the Phase 2 of the 23-mile, $6 billion commuter rail line.
The affirmative vote was greeted with a degree of relief. Had Loudoun County opted out, the project would have been delayed by at least 18 months. The remaining stakeholders would have been left to redesign the proposed route in order to eventually connect the Silver Line to the airport but no further into the county, where two Metro stops were planned.
“I’m relieved. It’s a big day for Loudoun. It’s a big day for my constituents,” said Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn), whose district will be the location of the last of 11 stops once the Silver Line is completed in 2018.
Buona can thank Supervisor Ken Reid (R-Leesburg) for providing the decisive swing vote. Reid had been leaning toward voting to opt out for weeks, but late last week moved to supporting the project once the board decided to create special tax districts around the future Metro stops to finance the county’s $270 million commitment to the Silver Line.
“I didn’t change my mind,” Reid said. “What happened was that we did a motion for the tax district, so I didn’t change my mind. The tax district takes the risk off the county’s taxpayers.”
In the special districts, commercial properties will be taxed at a high rate, sparing residential properties, because they stand to benefit the most from the presence of Metro. But supervisors who opposed “opting in” argued the tax revenue projections are flimsy.
“Everything I have looked at… really turns my stomach. There are so many aspects of [this project] that are not going to help the county. In fact, if you list the pros and list the cons, the cons far outweigh the pros at this time,” said Supervisor Janet Clarke (R-Blue Ridge), who joined Supervisors Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin), Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian), and Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) in voting against the county’s participation.
The months of contentious political debate did not reflect public opinion. While the county supervisors battled (and a vocal minority pressured elected officials to opt out), public opinion polls showed overwhelming support for bringing Metro to Loudoun.
The agency running the project, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, may now proceed with seeking bids from contractors.
“We’ve worked very closely with Loudoun to give them the information they needed to make this important decision and we are very happy that they are going to be a partner with us and Fairfax to move this important project forward,” said Patrick Nowakowski, who runs the rail project for MWAA. “In the next few weeks we will initiate the procurement process to hire a firm to design and build this project for us.”
MWAA will also begin setting the higher toll rates on the Dulles Toll Road, which are expected to finance 75 percent of Phase 2’s costs. Starting next year tolls are projected to increase to $9 round trip for a full toll.
“This is the way the [funding partners] came up with up to make this project and we are just trying to be good stewards of the public money and deliver the project as inexpensively as we can,” said Nowakowski.
There is no federal money involved in Phase 2 of the Silver Line (Phase 1 had $900 million federal dollars). The plan did not meet federal criteria for ridership and population density, so the financing burden fell further on users of the Dulles Toll Road, who will be faced with significantly higher tolls without access to Metro until 2018, when the Silver Line is supposed to be finished.
(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) The Silver Line project is a 23-mile, $5.5 billion rail link to connect Washington, D.C to Dulles International Airport and beyond into the Loudoun County, Virginia suburbs. When completed there will be 11 rail stops between the capital and the final stop in Ashburn. (See full specs here as a PDF.) It's an ambitious transit extension, one of the largest in the nation currently underway, and a critical vote Tuesday at 9 a.m. ET may shrink the plan significantly.
Phase I of the project is nearing completion. Phase 2 is scheduled to start next year. However, there is one more obstacle to overcome before construction may begin on time.
The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to participate in the project. The county’s commitment to Phase 2 is $270 million. If the county decides to opt out, the project will be delayed by at least 18 months and will likely never extend beyond the airport.
Fairfax County and the state of Virginia are also committing funds to the Silver Line, but the bulk of the project run by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) will be financed by increased tolls on the Dulles Toll Road. Those tolls are projected to cover 75 percent of the $2.7 billion cost.
If Loudoun opts in, the project will start on time. MWAA will begin setting higher toll rates this fall and begin soliciting bids from contractors.
Loudoun County’s board asked for an extension to decide if it will “opt out” of Phase 2 because of concerns over how financing the project would impact the county’s taxes. Last week, the board gave tentative approval to creating special tax districts around the future Metro stops west of the airport.
Check back to TN for updates after the vote.
Listen to the audio version of this story here.
When the District of Columbia and Arlington County partnered to establish a bike sharing system in 2010, offering more than 1,500 bikes at 165 stations, local bike shops got a little nervous. Why would someone buy a new bike for hundreds of dollars when they could hop on a bike any time they wished for just $50 per year?
It turns out their fears were for naught. Bike store owners say bike sharing is actually helping their businesses by fueling an explosion in bicycling enthusiasm. Moreover, bike shops say they are witnessing a culture change in their neighborhoods as more people leave their cars at home and hop on two-wheelers.
"We've seen all kinds of people out on the streets," says Erik Kugler, the owner of Bicycle Space, a new shop on 7th Street NW. "Streets are becoming safer. Drivers are becoming more courteous. The city is becoming a much more fun place."
Kugler says customers are buying bikes because of Capital Bikeshare.
"We've had plenty of those people," he says. "In fact, when you contacted me about the story I put it out on Facebook and Twitter, and we were just inundated with responses from people who said, 'I was a Bikeshare member, and it encouraged me to get a bike.'"
Kugler's and other bicycle users' Twitter posts about this story produced a flood of responses in just a few minutes. Jon Renaut tweeted that he hadn't ridden a bike more than a half dozen times since high school, tried Capital Bikeshare, and then bought his own bike. He says he's ridden about 1,500 miles already, just this year.
Laurance Alvarado tweeted, "bought a #Brompton after a great experience with @Bikeshare." Daniel Colbert tweeted, "I did exactly that. Loved Bikeshare. Bought a bike as a direct result."
Bikeshare proved to be a gateway drug that fueled an addiction. After bike sharing first, Kristin Frontiera, 25, bought her own bike online for $40.
"Bikeshare has gotten really, really popular," says Frontiera, a recently returned Peace Corps volunteer. "I'm so happy for it, but if I need to leave my house at 8:30 in the morning with the rest of America and go to downtown with the rest of America, there's no way. There aren't bikes."
Bike share program leads to more bike owners
Indeed, Bikeshare's shortcomings have led its users to buy bikes of their own. The cycles are a bit heavy and slow. On busy days there may be no bikes available at a nearby dock, or no open slots to return a bike, forcing a user to find another dock.
"When I started riding Bikeshare, there was a phase when I'd see another person and we'd say hey, Bikeshare! This is awesome!" says Frontiera. "Now I see them and I feel like I need to pedal faster to get to the dock before them."
Kugler is seeing more customers, and more significant changes, in his neighborhood that he credits to the rising popularity of bicycling.
"AAA estimates that people spend on the average [$9,000 per year] related to their car," he says. "So if you can build an area where people don't need to spend that money every year, that money becomes available for the local economy. You see new restaurants open up, cafes, niche shops, and small businesses like ours. We employ 18 people here."
The story is the same at City Bikes in Adams Morgan, which has been in business for 25 years.
"You are getting more and more people that loved using Bikeshare and now are saying wait, I want something that's my own," says marketing manager Ben West. "[They] want something that is custom designed for the kind of riding [they are] doing."
West says bicycling is achieving "critical mass" in Washington. There are enough bicyclists on the streets that motorists have to be courteous and accommodate them, even where there are no bike lanes.
"In some areas of the city, there is almost a traffic jam of cyclists," says West.
Bicycle community grows in D.C.
Any worries that Capital Bikeshare would ruin business for neighborhood bike shops are long gone. There were similar concerns in Paris when the Vélib rental system started. However, a 2008 report in Bike Europe, a website for bike professionals, cited a 39 percent growth in sales of city bikes possibly attributed to the huge popularity of the Vélib system.
The Washington Area Bicyclist Association endorses Bikeshare's program for that reason.
"We often hear that once Capital Bikeshare members find the joys of bicycling in the D.C., they go on to purchase a personal bike," says Gregory Billing, the association's outreach and advocacy coordinator. "Local bike shops have seen both an increase in sales of bikes and also repairs of old bikes. Owners and managers report seeing an increase of old bikes being pulled out of the basements or garages, brought to the shop for a tune-up and to be outfitted with a cargo rack for commuting."
Russell Martin, 25, enjoyed bike sharing so much that he bought three bikes of his own at local bike shops. "I ended up selling my car and buying a couple more bicycles, and I haven't looked back," says Martin, a sales manager at a boutique hotel who commutes on a bicycle daily.
He fell in love with bicycling again, but the limitations of Bikeshare also persuaded him to get his own cycle.
"I actually had a problem last night where every station within a mile of where I want to go was full, and there was nowhere to dock the bike," he says.
Annah Walters, 25, says she wanted her own bicycle only after trying Bikeshare first.
"One of the great things about Bikeshare is it's sort of a gateway drug to biking. You don't have to make a several hundred dollar investment," says Walters, who works at Habitat for Humanity. But Walters didn't have to make the big purchase when it came time to get her own two-wheeler. Her boyfriend bought her one for her birthday.
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s CEO says the agency will not grant a request by three members of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors to extend a deadline for a critical decision affecting Phase 2 of the Silver Line rail project to Dulles Airport.
In an interview with Transportation Nation, CEO Jack Potter said MWAA will not extend Loudoun County’s deadline to December to decide whether to opt out of the $2.7 billion rail link. The current deadline is July 4; the board of supervisors is expected to vote the day before.
On Monday the three board members issued a list of 21 “considerations” upon which their support may ride and requested a six-month deadline extension. If the nine-member board votes to opt out, the start of Phase 2 would be delayed at least 18 months.
“We are looking forward to a decision on July 3,” said Potter, who said Loudoun officials were already granted a 30-day extension that pushed the final decision into next month.
Although only four of nine county supervisors currently support Phase 2, Potter said he was optimistic Loudoun will opt in.
“They are starting to address some of the more challenging issues with Phase 2. One of the biggest issues they have is how to finance Phase 2. The fact that they are actively engaged in discussions about tax districts and finding other means of dealing with the funding, I find that encouraging.” Potter said.
The extension request had little chance of being realized. There may not even be enough support on the Loudoun Board to make a formal request to MWAA even if the agency were willing to grant it. The request for more time to weigh the Silver Line does illustrate, however, that just two weeks from the big vote there remain serious questions among enough board members to place the project in peril."
A proposal to create a special tax district around the planned Metro stops west of the airport was one of three ideas the Loudoun board agreed to consider to pay for the county’s $270 million Phase 2 commitment. The board has scheduled a work session on June 29 to decide on a financing framework before the final vote. The tax district would levy taxes on commercial properties that stand to benefit from the presence of a Metro stop nearby.
In response to Potter's remarks, Supervisor Ken Reid (R-Leesburg) said he would support Metro rail-to-Loudoun if the board approves the proposal for the special tax district. Reid has been on the fence, saying he would not support the project unless the board demonstrates it can be paid for. He was among the three Supervisors who signed the "opt in consideration."
“Looking at the numbers it looks to me that it will help pay for the cost of Dulles rail without burdening the rest of the county,” said Reid, who maintains that the Silver Line would not solve the county’s transportation problems.
“I still think that some of our conditions… are things the Airports Authority and WMATA should be discussing with us,” said Reid, who said he never intended to make the 21 considerations a list of ultimatums.
“I think that many of the issues there are beyond anyone’s control,” said Potter. “It’s great for someone to have a wish list for what they would like to have in a perfect world, but much of what they wrote down is unattainable.”
In an email, supervisor Geary Higgins, who also asked for an extension of the July 3 deadline, said Potter's remarks were "unfortunate." Currently only four supervisors on the nine-member board support the Silver Line. One more supporter is necessary for a majority to prevent the county from opting out of the project.
After four hours of debate Monday night, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors only inched closer to deciding how to fund its $270 million commitment to Phase 2 of the Silver Line rail project to Dulles Airport and west into the county, leaving some Metro-to-Loudoun supporters on the board visibly frustrated and raising the probability that a majority of supervisors will decide to opt out of the project when a final vote is held in two weeks.
“I’ve been saying all along it’s 50/50. I still think it’s 50/50,” said Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles), a Phase 2 supporter, after Monday night’s marathon work session.
If the county opts out of the $2.7 billion dollar project, construction of the rail link to connect Washington DC with the international airport would be delayed by at least 18 months.
The supervisors met to determine how the county would finance the project but only settled on submitting three options to the board staff for further consideration: creating 1) a county-wide commercial and industrial tax, 2) special tax districts around the two future Metro stops that
would levy taxes on commercial properties, 3) tax districts based on the borders of the county’s planning sub-areas.
“In my view we eliminated too many options from the table. The board took off the table any use of the general fund whatsoever, which I think is a mistake. We could fund the entire project our of general fund revenue with an impact of $98 a year for the average homeowner,” Letourneau said.
On the nine-member board four supervisors are considered “opt in” votes, but it’s not clear if they will be able to sway any of their colleagues to reach the five-vote majority necessary to support Metro rail-to-Loudoun. Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) made a show of voting against every financing option, declaring “Metro is evil.” When asked to clarify his remarks by a reporter Delgaudio declined to comment, saying he was “very busy.”
Of the four remaining supervisors leaning toward “opting out,” three signed and submitted just hours before the work session began a list of 21 demands they would like satisfied in order to support the project.
Supervisor Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin) initiated the “opt-in consideration” which included proposals outside the Loudoun board’s power. For instance, Higgins is asking the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority to seat two additional Virginia board members. When asked how the proposal relates to Phase 2’s financing, Higgins responded, “The [MWAA] board doesn’t have the greatest reputation for openness and the way they have approached things. If it’s no big deal why have they refused to seat those people?”
The board’s three Phase 2 supporters who were present (Chairman Scott York was absent) touted the findings of a new survey conducted by the University of Virginia. Using a sample of 1,000 county residents in mostly suburban zip codes, the survey found that 77 percent want access to Metro rail. In rural areas support is 57 percent; in non-rural areas support rises to 81 percent. However, supervisors who are leaning toward opting out questioned the survey’s methodology, implying that the questions were designed to prompt favorable answers.
"There were no specifics with respect to [supporting rail]… if it means raising your taxes,” said Board Vice-Chair Janet Clarke (R-Blue Ridge). “That’s what this board is grappling with."
The supervisors plan to hold one final work session to determine if they can provide a financing framework before deciding the county’s ultimate participation in a public meeting scheduled July 3. Letourneau said opting out would hurt the county for decades, let alone delay construction by
at least 18 months.
“It is possible the project would get completed to Dulles Airport, but it will stop at Dulles Airport. There will be a rail line behind it which would make it impossible for it to ever be continued into Loudoun County. That’s the worse case scenario for us, where we are paying very high tolls, we are getting no economic benefit, our commuters have no access to the airport station, and they will have very limited access to the station’s in Fairfax County,” he said.
With time running down to a critical deadline, the Loudoun County, Virginia Board of Supervisors is weighing a range of options to pay for the $270 million commitment to Phase 2 of the Silver Line Metro rail project to Dulles Airport. The alternatives under consideration — and the scant time to reach a decision — are raising questions long asked by the project's critics, who say the multi-billion dollar undertaking is poorly planned and unfair to local taxpayers.
Loudoun County lawmakers have until July 4 to decide whether to opt out of the $2.7 billion project that would complete the rail link between the Washington D.C. Metro system, the airport and beyond it into the county suburbs. Phase 1 of the Silver line will end short of the airport at Wiehle Avenue in Reston.
The Loudoun County Board will hold a work session Monday, June 18 on the proposed funding options, which include creating special tax districts to tax developers around the planned Metro stops, a countywide transportation service district that would provide money for both rail and road improvements and a commercial and industrial tax.
Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles), who is leaning toward voting to opt into the project, released a letter to his constituents on Tuesday in which he laid out the financing options and his reasons for supporting the county's participation in the project.
"Depending on exactly how we finance the project, the amount that we'll have to spend each year is fairly easily absorbed in the budget without having to do anything significant to raise taxes," said Letourneau, who has argued that the county's general fund could possibly cover the Phase 2 costs.
The board would not have adequate time to actually implement any long-term financing plan before the July 4 deadline, but may present to the public a framework of its intentions. Some supervisors say a mere framework is inadequate considering the potential burden on taxpayers for years to come.
"It's going to take a combination of having a dedicated funding for highways, buses, and rail for me to support the project," said Supervisor Ken Reid (R-Leesburg), who is leaning toward voting to opt out. "I would love to have a special tax district. The problem is there are not a lot of tax ratables there to keep the rate reasonable," referring to the current lack of development around the future Metro stops west of the airport, a sentiment shared by Letourneau.
"Frankly, those [tax districts] would not generate a tremendous amount of revenue, especially in the next couple years, because our areas are not developed," Letourneau said. However, as he described in his letter to constituents, Letourneau is satisfied the county can afford the project and should opt in while still figuring out the financing.
Supervisor Reid said the process is backwards. "If you don't get economic development, which is very likely because it is at the end of the rail line, then taxpayers are stuck holding the bag," he said.
Reid also doubts a tax only on businesses would work. "If you tax our businesses only to pay for Metro, it puts them at a disadvantage to businesses in Fairfax, Prince William and other jurisdictions," said Reid, pointing to Loudoun's less densely developed landscape. "The promise of Metro for Loudoun County is not what a lot of people think it will be."
(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority voted 11-1 to drop a pro-labor provision from the rail-to-Dulles project.
The Project Labor Agreement was to be part of the agency's plan for Phase 2 of the Silver Line rail project to build a rail extension connecting the Washington, D.C. subway to Dulles International Airport and beyond into suburban Loudoun County, Viriginia.
The MWAA's board of directors surrendered to political pressure from the Virginia Governor, Republican lawmakers in the state's general assembly and the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors who opposed the PLA.
The PLA preference would have given prime contractors a significant bonus in the bidding process for choosing a union workforce to construct the $2.7 billion rail link. Virginia officials claimed the PLA violated the Commonwealth’s right-to-work laws. The state of Virginia threatened to withdraw $150 million in funding. Loudoun County did the same with its $270 million commitment.
“I think it is important we send a signal to Loudoun County that we really wish to encourage their participation. It’s critical to the success of the project,” said MWAA chairman Michael Curto moments before voting in favor of dropping the PLA.
Board member Robert Brown cast the only no vote, saying he did not trust Virginia to follow through on its funding commitment despite recent assurances from Governor Bob McDonnell himself.
“I don’t find that believable,” Brown said. “I would find believable a grant agreement signed by the Commonwealth and the Airports Authority to provide these funds. I don’t see any reason to believe a man who’s been governor three years is suddenly going to change his mind.”
In an interview with Transportation Nation, Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton confirmed his state will participate in the project.
“We've always been in. The question has always been just how much we can be in due to some of the things that the MWAA board was attempting to put in the contract,” said Connaughton, referring to the PLA.
The death of the Project Labor Agreement preference does not guarantee Loudoun County’s participation in the Silver Line. Local funding battles of the ilk that stymie many an infrastructure project remain contentious. The county Board of Supervisors has until July 4 to opt-in, and board members are still divided over funding options. Supervisors from eastern counties where the rail line would be built have different ideas than representatives from other parts of the county where residents will rarely use the Silver Line.
For instance, the future Dulles Airport stop requires an operating subsidy that will cost Loudoun County $5 million to $7 million per year, even though Loudoun residents are not expected to heavily use that stop.
Chairman Curto said the MWAA board would be willing to open further talks with Loudoun officials to ensure they opt in.
“There's been outreach by MWAA, by the Commonwealth and by the Department of Transportation. I think all of those stakeholders and funding partners are willing to go out to Loudoun County and answer any questions regarding the project to facilitate their yes vote,” Curto said.
A decision by Loudoun County to withdraw from Phase 2 would delay the project at least 18 months, according to MWAA’s CEO Jack Potter.
Now that the PLA is dead, the Silver Line’s critics are expected to focus on coming toll increases on the Dulles Toll Road that are supposed to finance a significant percentage of the project’s cost.
The Reston Citizens Association, which represents 58,000 residents in Fairfax County, says tolls may have to rise dramatically over the next several decades to pay for the rail line. Virginia’s $150 million commitment “will allow toll rates to edge up to $4.50 full toll over three years rather than double to that level next year,” said the association’s Terry Maynard.
“If Virginia follows through with additional incremental financing as many have promised… the tolls will still reach $18.75 by mid-century, but they would edge up year-to-year rather than in two dollar or larger increments every five years,” Maynard added.
In Loudoun County, the board of supervisors is considering a slew of potential tax increases, including creating a county-wide commercial and industrial tax or special tax districts near two future Metro stops west of Dulles Airport where commercial development is expected.
(Washington, DC -- WAMU) The next phase of the Dulles Rail project will not give preference to construction contractors who promise to hire union workers. The 11-1 vote by the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority means that the imperiled project will go forward, and Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell will release $150 million for the project's next phase.
"Today's vote is a major turning point for the Dulles rail project," said Airports Authority Chairman Michael A. Curto in a statement. "This project is vital to the economic growth of this region and the Board is determined to do whatever is necessary to finish the project as quickly and cost effectively as possible."
Although the MWAA Board previously included a project labor agreement (PLA) as part of the construction plan, board members voted this morning to remove the PLA from the project in order to ensure continued state funding for the rail line. Only one board member, Robert Brown, voted to keep the agreement.
State funding is instrumental to determining whether Phase 2 of the Dulles rail project will be delayed. Today's vote came amid threats of the Commonwealth of Virginia and Loudoun County pulling hundreds of millions of dollars in funding out of the project. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) and Republicans in the General Assembly have said the project labor agreement (PLA) violates the state's right-to-work law by giving a preference to contractors who would choose union labor.
Most Virginia construction workers are non-union. MWAA officials have publicly defended the PLA, saying that if Virginia withdraws its money, tolls on the Dulles Toll Road could double, and the project could be delayed. Also key for the project's future will be tonight's Loudoun County Board meeting. Board members heard from residents both for and against continuing funding for the project Monday night, and the board is expected to discuss the $270 million that represents Loudoun's share for Phase 2.
Loudoun has until July 4 to make a decision.
Phase 2 of the Metro Dulles rail project, known as the Silver Line, is either a boondoggle or the key to Loudoun County’s economic future, depending upon whom you ask.
Nearly 200 people packed a public hearing before the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Monday night to weigh in on whether the county should remain part of the $2.7 billion plan to connect Metro rail to Dulles International Airport and further into the county.
Loudoun County's financial commitment to Phase 2 will cost it $270 million. The Board of Supervisors has until July 4 to decide whether the municipality is in or out.
Vehement support — and opposition — for Silver line
In kelly green t-shirts printed with the words "Loudoun Rail Now," supporters outnumbered opponents at the public hearing. While fewer in number, anti-rail residents were nonetheless determined to convince the board to pull out of Phase 2. Bob Constantino even wore a prop inside the Loudoun government center: a Viking helmet.
"During their time they were known for pillage, they were known for plunder and they were known for thievery," Constantino said of the Vikings. "It's my contention that the Metro Silver Line Phase 2 in the context of Loudoun County is virtual railway robbery."
Opponents do not support a project they fear might raise their taxes to benefit those who would ride the Metro beyond Dulles Airport. The county's long-term funding commitment is also a point of contention. Loudoun's operating budget for the future Metro stop at the airport itself would be $5 million-$7 million per year, even though county residents are not expected to heavily use it.
Supporters of the plan, including businesses, urged the board to keep its commitment to the project.
"…The long term benefits of the Dulles Rail project offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to Loudoun County," said Tony Howard, the president of the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce.
Another pro-rail speaker, Mindy Williams, urged the board to see the Silver line as an opportunity. "The opportunity to increase the commercial tax base, the economic opportunity, and the ability to leverage the tremendous asset we have in Dulles airport…" she said.
Loudoun residents not the only ones divided
The nine-member board, composed entirely of Republicans, is split. Board chairman Scott York supports the project, but his colleagues on the board remain divided. The supervisors will weigh a variety of funding options, including the creating of new taxes, at another meeting Wednesday night.
Also on Wednesday, the board of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is expected to decide whether to drop a controversial pro-labor provision -- a project labor agreement or PLA -- for the entire project that would favor bidders that choose a union workforce to build Phase 2.
The PLA is a sticking point for the Loudoun County Board, but even if MWAA drops it, the county's support is not a sure thing.
Supporters worry about missed opportunity
"The worst thing about saying, 'no' is you don't want the project to end at Dulles Airport," said Carol Wilte, a 20-year employee at the airport and rail supporter. "You don't want to add all that commuter traffic on top of all the travelers going to and from an airport that already has $25 million passengers."
Phase 1, which is nearing completion, will terminate at the new Wiehle Avenue Metro station in Reston, requiring passengers to take another form of transportation to the airport.
If Loudoun opts out of Phase 2, the project will most likely be delayed significantly while MWAA and the state of Virginia seek funding options, including charging significantly higher tolls on the Dulles Toll Road.
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Board of Directors is expected to vote Wednesday on whether to keep a controversial pro-labor provision in its plans for Phase 2 of the Silver Line.
Publicly, the airports authority leadership has defended the project labor agreement, or PLA, that caused the Republican-led Loudoun County Board of Supervisors and the Virginia General Assembly to threaten to pull out of the project. Privately, MWAA leadership is conceding the $2.7 billion rail link will not go ahead as planned if they insist on keeping the PLA.
The PLA would provide bidding contractors a 10 percent bonus on their technical evaluation scores if they choose a union workforce to build Phase 2 to Dulles International Airport and beyond into Loudoun County. Opponents have argued the PLA violates Virginia's right-to-work law and would lead to out-of-state union workers dominating a Virginia project.
"If the project labor agreement is part of this, then I am absolutely certain that Loudoun County would not be part of the project," says Loudoun Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles). "Phase 2 would not move past Wiehle Avenue in Reston if there is a PLA for the foreseeable future."
Loudoun County has until July 4 to decide if it will confirm its funding commitment of $270 million to the Silver Line. Virginia lawmakers are threatening to withdraw $150 million over the PLA. Loss of those funds would send Phase 2 stakeholders back to the table, likely delay the project, and almost certainly lead to higher tolls on the Dulles Toll Road to make up the difference.
Today, there's a public hearing in Loudon County where residents will have the opportunity to weigh in on Dulles Phase 2. The Board of Supervisors is considering creating new taxes or tax districts to fulfill its funding obligation.
Construction on Phase 2 is scheduled to start next year.
A month before Loudoun County, Va. officials must decide whether they will withdraw from one of the the largest public transportation projects currently under construction in the country, they have big decisions to weigh about how they might fund the county’s $200 million dollar commitment to the $2.7 billion Phase 2 of the Dulles Metro Rail project, if they fund it at all.
All nine members of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors are Republicans, but the board is divided over funding options. Supervisors who represent eastern districts are opposed by lawmakers in other parts of the county.
“Those of us who represent districts in the east, we understand the clear transportation benefit to having Metro or to having some other path out of the county. My constituents are sitting in traffic. I sit in traffic every day,” says Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles).
On Monday the board will hold a public hearing where taxpayers can speak out about the funding options under consideration, among other issues: creating a countywide commercial and industrial transportation tax, or creating special tax districts near the future Metro stops.
Letourneau says it is possible to fund the project without raising taxes, but it is possible the average homeowner in Loudoun County could see an annual property tax increase of $98 per year.
On Wednesday supervisors will meet to discuss their options. No final decision is expected before July 4, the deadline for the county to decide whether it will pull out of the project altogether. Letourneau, who is serving his first term on the board, says the changes are 50/50 for Loudoun to contribute to Phase 2, which would complete the 23-mile rail link to Dulles International Airport and beyond into the county.
Also on Wednesday the board of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is expected to decide whether it will drop a controversial pro-labor provision – a project labor agreement or PLA – that would provide bidding contractors a ten percent bonus on their technical evaluation scores if they choose a union workforce to build Phase 2. Even if the PLA is dropped, Letourneau says the county’s commitment to the project will still be a 50/50 proposition because of other outstanding issues.
“For instance, the Dulles Airport stop has an operating subsidy associated with it that Loudoun County is going to have to pay every year. I don’t think that’s especially logical. Our residents aren’t going to be using that stop, but it’s going to cost us between $5 million and $7 million per year to pay for that stop,” he says.
(Washington, DC -- WAMU) Older D.C. residents may remember their city's streetcar era. The trolleys stopped operating in 1962, a full half-century ago. In Georgetown, where streetcars started running in the late 19th century, the tracks remained in place on O and P Streets. The roads, however, became an obstacle course for cars as the underground conduit that used to contain electric cables eroded, sinking the streets into uneven, tire-tearing, pothole-filled paths. Now, after more than a year of work and much public support, a project to restore the streets is nearing completion.
Since last March, O and P Streets have produced a cacophony of construction. Men wielding shovels, back hoes, circular saws, and a very loud machine called a plate tamper, have reconstructed the roadways made of granite stones and trolley tracks to preserve the historic character of the neighborhood. Construction is slated to finish this fall.
"We're reusing as much of the old material as absolutely possible," says project spokeswoman Dara Ward.
The work has been painstaking. All the granite pavers (their actual name is setts) were excavated and inspected for reuse. About 90 percent were deemed good enough to be power washed and then, one by one, hammered into place. Sand and gravel were swept over the setts to fill the cracks and crevices. The last step is handled by the operator of a plate tamper, a loud machine that can be heard a couple of blocks away. The tamper levels out the roadway so it can accommodate vehicular traffic.
Before the $11.8 million project began, the trolley tracks rose above the grade of the road, forcing drivers to "surf" the narrow railings to keep their tires from tearing.
"There were pieces of jagged metal sticking up," says Georgetown resident Stephen Martin. "I'd say I was replacing the tires on one of my cars every year. They never made it through the tread life."
"We have actually been getting one complaint in particular from the residents who live on these blocks that are newly done, and it's that the cars are driving too fast," says Ward. "They don't have to go so slowly because the road has been evened out now."
Residents are looking forward to the end of construction and their new "old" roads.
"I like the fact that it is so quaint looking," says resident Rebecca Clay. "That's why we live in a historic neighborhood. It would be sad to make it plain old asphalt again."
The P and O Streets of another era
While real streetcars are making a comeback in other parts of D.C., the restored trolley tracks on O and P Streets only evoke memories of a bygone era. The streetcar system reached Georgetown in 1872 and lasted until 1960, says Jerry McCoy, the special collections librarian and historic preservationist at the Peabody Room of the D.C. Public Library.
"The community was already over 100 years old before the streetcar system was authorized by Congress," says McCoy, who says the Metropolitan Railroad Company, chartered in 1864, operated the first trolleys in Georgetown.
The first streetcars were pulled by horses. In 1892, Congress decided to eliminate horse-drawn trolleys from the District.
"Congress deemed that all horse-powered vehicles had to cease and some other form of power had to be found," says McCoy. "That was the period when cable cars were introduced into history, just like those in San Francisco."
Georgetown's electric cables were run underground in the conduit that remained long after the trolleys stopped running. That empty, rotting conduit was what led to O and P Streets collapsing over the past 50 years.
"You're talking about almost 150 years of rainwater and salt and people losing their coins and purses and everything down here. The time really took a toll on this underground chamber between the tracks," says McCoy.
The streetcar operators briefly experimented with another type of propulsion: batteries.
"They were storage batteries," says McCoy. "Like when we complain about our smartphones not lasting very long on batteries, it was the same problem back then in the 19th century. These power storage batteries were not capable of holding charges long enough."
There were three main reasons why streetcar service ended in Georgetown in 1960 and across the District in 1962: Congress wanted to open the roads to car traffic, create a city-wide bus system to replace the trolleys, and follow the example of other cities attempting to modernize their transit systems.
"Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York were all ripping up their streetcar tracks at the time," says McCoy.
The tracks on O and P Streets are only for show, but McCoy says they are still important to Georgetown nonetheless.
"I think it is really important that this small piece of time be preserved in Georgetown," he says. "Georgetown isn't only about 18th century colonial America. There is really some important 20th and 19th century history embodied here."
As for motorists who may not be aware of the streets' rich history, they will be grateful for the smooth ride.
Listen to the story here.
Bus rapid transit, light rail, car and van pooling, and bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure are all in the works for Northern Virginia, under the so-called "Super NoVa" transportation plan for the next three decades, to be released in September.
Planners envision the construction of cross-jurisdictional networks to connect people to their jobs in the metropolitan Washington area, and to employment and tourist locations within northern Virginia and neighboring states. The goal is to help commuters avoid the region's notorious traffic congestion.
"It's really looking at the major travel patterns of people throughout this region and trying to understand where they are and where they want to go," says Amy Inman, the manager of public transportation planning at the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, a post she has held for four years. Inman is the head planner for Super NoVa.
With the growing realization that only paving more highways would not satisfy the demands of region's population and job growth projections, Inman says localities 50 or 75 miles away from Washington need more public transportation options. The study will evaluate the needs of future population and employment centers.
The unofficial border of northern Virginia as outlined on a map today contains several counties including Fairfax, Alexandria, Arlington, and Loudoun, among others. Under Super NoVa, northern Virginia would extend as far south as Caroline County and as far west as Culpeper and Frederick counties.
"We are envisioning mobility beyond boundaries," Inman says. "As we all know, there isn't just one mode of transportation that's going to be the solution, but we want to be able to provide people with travel options."
Inman says planners are focusing on maximizing the capacity of existing infrastructure in current corridors; for instance, transforming part of a major roadway into a bus rapid transit corridor instead of building a new road.
Super NoVa is gathering information from people traveling to Virginia from Maryland, West Virginia and Washington. A second round of public hearings has been held this month; officials held their first round of hearings in February. The public will get another chance to weigh in after September when the first recommendations are released. The study is expected to be completed by the end of the year. Inman says the public feedback has been useful.
"We have learned that the growth of this region is very great," she says. "In the future, the areas of Fauquier, Culpeper, and Winchester will have a developing demand for different types of public transportation, so we're learning from the localities what kinds of solutions will be necessary to address their particular transportation issues."
In some places, bus rapid transit may work. In others, light rail or increased car-pooling may be the answer. Super NoVa is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Planners are trying to ascertain which modes of transport are supportable in a given location.
"Even beyond Culpeper County there are folks who are traveling 100 miles or greater into D.C.," she says. "It's phenomenal the distance people will travel to get to their employment. We also know that we're reaching or exceeding the capacity of many of our transportation transit systems today."
Inman says Virginia's political leaders, including Gov. Bob McDonnell, have been supportive of the plan.
"Everyone understands we have to think of multiple solutions to address the transportation issues, especially in the Super Nova region, an economic engine for the commonwealth and neighboring states," she says.
Although Super NoVa is not planning new highways, Inman says the group's recommendations will square with the plans of the Virginia Department of Transportation for new roadways.
"VDOT has plans in place that we are building upon," she says, referring to VDOT's proposal to increase roadway capacity along the I-95 corridor.
A report in Bicycling Magazine ranking the top 50 most bike-friendly cities places Washington fourth. In the magazine's last ranking, in 2010, Washington didn't break the top ten.
See the entire list 2012 here.
Then, as now, the list was dominated with more predictable cities like Portland, Minneapolis, Boulder, Madison, and Eugene. Seattle and San Francisco also made both lists.
But the big story of this year's list is the prominence of big cities --like Chicago and New York, which, like Washington, both climbed in ranking.
Most of the changes that the magazine credits in Washington, DC -- including bike share and more bike lanes -- began under DC's former transportation commissioner, Gabe Klein, who now has that job in Chicago (up to #5 from #10 on the last Bicycling Magazine list.)
The magazine examined cities with populations of at least 95,000 for "a robust cycling infrastructure and a vibrant bike culture."
The magazine reports that bicycle ridership increased in Washington "80 percent from 2007 to 2010." The capital city's bike share program is growing in popularity and recently clocked its two millionth ride.
(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) Subway doors shouldn't open while the train is in motion. But they did recently in Washington D.C. Scary stuff.
D.C. Metro's investigation team was able to replicate the mechanical problem that led to two incidents of uncommanded door openings on a Red Line train this week.
On Tuesday morning, riders told a Metro worker the doors were opening on their Red Line train while it was moving. That car — one of six in that train — was emptied of passengers and closed off. Metro spokesman Dan Stessel says the rest of the train was kept in service.
"There was no indication that it was a broader issue," said Stessel. "It was thought to be an issue just with a particular set of doors in that one car."
Later in the journey, the doors on another car in that same six-car train opened en route, and then the entire train was taken out of service. It's not uncommon during rush hour to see people packed right up against the doors of Metro cars. That's why some passengers wonder whether the problem that happened on two 1000 series rails cars could happen again.
Patricia Smith was thinking about it on her Red Line train commute today: "On a morning rush hour, I guarantee you people are packed against that door and it's scary to think it could open on you. That is why I am sitting down."
According to the Metro investigation, they were able to replicate the incident, focusing on a misalignment of the contact head that transfers information between cars. Stessel said this particular train consisted of two 5000 series cars in the front, two 1000s in the middle, and two 6000s in the rear. The problem appeared to stem from the connection between the 5000 and 1000 series cars, which caused an electrical short.
Metro will begin in inspection of all 5000-series cars for similar issues.
No one was injured in either incident.
(Washington, DC -- WAMU) Compared to major U.S. metropolitan areas, Washington D.C. is one of the best when it comes to the choices available to commuters who want to avoid the congestion of the Beltway. We have the Metro, buses, and a new, popular bike share program. Compared to other cities across the globe, however, Washington is somewhat lacking in transportation innovation, but advocates and government officials say that is slowly changing.
Benefits of bus rapid transit systems
From the Silver Spring Metro station, Michael Replogle and a WAMU reporter traveled downtown via Georgia Avenue, one of the most congested north/south roadways in the city, one that Replogle would like to see transformed into a more efficient facility.
Replogle is global policy director of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, an organization that promotes sustainable transportation programs around the world.
"This could be a bus rapid transit corridor," he says. "You might have buses running down the center of the street and basically getting rid of the parked cars on the sides."
George Avenue has three lanes running in each direction. The outside lane both ways is often taken by parked cars. Buses regularly get stuck behind turning vehicles. A bus rapid transit, or BRT, system, would free buses to travel down exclusive bus lanes in the center of the road with the traffic lights programmed to hit green block after block.
"Bus rapid transit in Guangzhou, China is carrying 850,000 passengers a day on a single 20-mile corridor moving 28,000 passengers per hour per direction, which is more than any of the Metro lines here in Washington, D.C.," says Replogle. "They were able to build that system at a cost of less than $10 million a mile, which compares to several hundred million dollars a mile for building Metro."
BRT is being considered in Montgomery County, where County Councilman Marc Elrich has given several presentations on its benefits.
"Ideally, we would like to add more rail lines but at $300 to $400 million per mile for heavy rail like Metro and $50 to $100 million per mile of light rail, we cannot afford to build much of a next generation public transportation system," says Councilman Elrich in a statement posted to his website. "At $10 to $25 million per mile, bus rapid transit (BRT) is less expensive and allows for more interconnecting routes."
Bus rapid transit systems exist in some American cities, including Eugene, Ore. and Cleveland, Ohio. "People could have a one-seat ride from the mid- or upper Montgomery County all the way into the city," says Replogle. "There is now a growing realization that we can't afford to build Metro to everywhere in the region. We're struggling to come up with money to finance things like the Purple Line."
The benefits of BRT would extend beyond faster commutes. The improvements brought with better transportation systems extend to the design of neighborhoods (more mixed-used development closer to transportation hubs; fewer large car parking lots) to the local economy.
"For every dollar Americans spend to buy gasoline to drive their car to work something like 85 cents of that dollar leaves the local and regional economy and goes to other countries," he says. "For that same dollar to be spent on bus fare, 80 percent of that goes into paying the wages for the driver."
Metro has opened a new bicycle parking area at the College Park station with plans to open two more bike-and-ride facilities next summer. Construction is expected to be completed later this year at a new transit center in Silver Spring where there will be three bus services, shuttles, Kiss and Ride access, and a new transit store where commuters can buy fare cards and maps.
Replogle says Silver Spring's new transit center will be lacking in one area: it won't have a bike center.
"Unfortunately that is a plan that has long been thwarted," says Replogle.
Montgomery County officials say they are considering building a bike center that can accommodate a large number of cycling commuters at a nearby park, but that plan is in the early stages.
"I think this is something that may yet turn around. There are certainly some in the agencies who are fighting to get the project back on track," says Replogle, who says other cities have extensive bicycling facilities and road infrastructure to make bicycling safe.
"In a number of places in Europe like Münster and Bonn, in Amsterdam, in Switzerland, in Scandinavia, you find bicycle parking halls that store thousands of bicycles at the station entrances," says Replogle. "Hangzhou, China has 50,000 public bikes available throughout the city so that people can take a bicycle from one place and leave it at another place."
Union Station has the only large bicycle parking area in the city--a glass building that can hold about 100 bikes per day with around-the-clock security. Washington's Capital Bikeshare program has about 1,500 bicycles.
"In the Netherlands there are several towns where there are bike stations that hold over 6,000 bicycles," says Replogle.
A model of a sustainable transportation system
You don't have to look across the ocean for examples of sustainable transportation systems on a large scale. Look across the Potomac River at Arlington County, considered a regional leader in transit innovation.
"The most important things that Arlington has done right start with land use and the decisions that were made by my predecessors beginning in the '60s and '70s to invest in the Metro system in the way that no one outside of D.C. did," says Chris Zimmerman, a member of the Arlington County Board with 20 years of expertise in sustainable transit.
The county is a partner in the Capital Bikeshare program and has worked to design the areas around the Rosslyn Metro Station, to name one, to be more bike-friendly.
"We were the first to put bike lanes on the street and we have about 30 miles of bike lanes. We also have bike trails that connect to them," said Zimmerman in an interview outside the Rosslyn station. "We created bike parking. A lot of the work this shop does is to make sure people have provisions in their buildings. I can bike to work because there is a place to put my bike in the building."
Arlington provides an array of resources online, from websites to help commuters who choose to walk or bicycle, to its Mobility Lab (mobilitylab.org). The county also runs several one-stop shops for commuters called Commuter Stores, where people can access transit schedules, bike/walk maps, and car and van pool information, as well as purchase fares.
Zimmerman says the county's efforts to get people moving more efficiently have garnered a lot of attention with the United States, but he looks to other continents, too.
"I went to Copenhagen about 11 years ago on a study tour," he says. "I saw what rush hour looked like in a place in which a third of the people were moving on bicycle in a place that's farther north than we are, tough winters and all that, a third of the people were moving on bicycle. They had become more car-oriented and they had to re-orient themselves to walking and bicycling."
In order to facilitate more walking and biking in Arlington, officials needed data. Commuter-counters were employed at key junctures. The results were eye opening--6,000 people were crossing the Key Bridge daily, to name one major roadway, on foot or on bike.
"No one was counting for years," says Zimmerman. "In many places in this country we are already moving large numbers of people without cars. We ultimately save money, we even build tax base."
In a few weeks Zimmerman will depart for France to visit three cities roughly the size of Arlington to study how they are becoming less car-dependent. The goal, he says, is to create a seamless transportation system in which commuters know they can travel around the region without wasting time. They would be aware of plentiful bus routes, bike lanes, and train schedules.
"In European cities they've been doing this for many more decades," says Zimmerman. "They've built up more of it, and so you can get all over the place in a combination of transit and bicycle; you can pretty much travel anywhere. It is hardly ever an option in the United States."
The decline in children’s physical activity is blamed on an array of factors, from the design of road systems to accommodate automobiles instead of pedestrians and bicyclists, to poor parenting.
Whatever the reasons, the results are alarming: approximately 17 percent (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents are obese. Supporters of more walking- and bike-friendly neighborhoods partly blame rising the obesity rates on the drop in the number of kids who walk or pedal to school.
In the greater Washington area, determined parents and advocacy groups are trying to get kids moving again. The solutions, however, are not as easy as simply telling kids to get up and go. There are concerns about the safety of streets, including missing sidewalks, heavy traffic congestion around schools during morning rush hour and, in some places, crime.
It’s also a matter of convenience and time. Some kids live too far from their schools to make walking or bicycling practical; some parents find it more convenient to drop their kids off at school while driving to work.
“Kids just aren’t used to it right now. They are used to getting bused or being in the car. It’s really about teaching kids. That’s the education part,” says Christine Green, the regional policy manager at the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, a group that encourages communities to address this issue by making streets safer.
“My job as the regional policy manager is to bring all the players in the community together. That’s the school system, the transportation engineers, the planners, the public health folks, and the community advocates,” Green says. “We bring everybody together under this common mission of not only kids walking and biking but entire communities being able to walk and bike for all their trips.”
Communities apply for federal Safe Routes to School grants. “You must complete a school travel plan before you do an application,” Green says. “A school travel plan requires you to look at the infrastructure around your school, it requires you to do some counts about the numbers of kids walking and biking to school currently.”
The entire budget of the Safe Routes to School program covers only seven percent of all schools in the United States, according to Barbara McCann, the executive director of the National Complete Streets Coalition, based in Washington.
“There’s just a tremendous need to change the way we design our roads so that the people who need to use the roads do so, and that includes kids,” says McCann, who organization largely faults road designs over the last half century for the decline in peoples’ physical activity.
“When parents are looking at going with their kids to school they have to think about is there a sidewalk, is there a safe crosswalk, is there a signal?” McCann says. “It should be a priority of the community to have safe routes to school. Sidewalks make a tremendous difference in safety. They can reduce pedestrian crashes exponentially. In many communities it hasn’t happened and hasn’t been a priority.”
In the Forest Hills neighborhood of northwest D.C., sidewalks are the focus of Robin Schepper, a mother of two young boys and leader of the Safer Routes to School program at Murch Elementary School. She has successfully fought to have sidewalks built on several streets, but some homeowners have also successfully resisted.
“There are a lot of people who really don’t want sidewalks,” says Schepper. “They have landscaped all the way to the curb even though the city owns four to five feet up. They don’t want sidewalks because they don’t want to disturb their landscaping.”
Schepper and a WAMU reporter made the 17 minute walk from her home west to Murch Elementary. On some streets there are no sidewalks on either side. She accompanies her sons, 6 and 10, on their walk to school every day.
“I was stopped by a police officer about two months ago and she said, “Hey, you got to be careful. This is not safe for your children.” And I said, “I know. I’ve been trying to get a sidewalk here for years,” Schepper says.
Missing sidewalks (and landscaping crews whose trucks make the streets even narrower) are not the biggest concern among neighborhood parents, says Schepper.
“We did a survey at Murch Elementary School when we got a ‘Safe Routes to School’ grant and we did a survey of what were parents’ biggest fears of letting their kids walk and bike to school. And the number one reason was speeding cars,” she says.
Connecticut Avenue runs north/south through Schepper’s kids’ route to school. The posted speed limit is 25 miles per hour, but motorists were seen speeding at about 45 or 50 miles per hour during her interview with WAMU.
“We have traffic coming from Maryland so Connecticut Avenue in the morning is like a speedway,” she says.
While Schepper fights for sidewalks in D.C., in Vienna, Virginia Jeff Anderson is waging a different crusade: getting kids on bicycles.
“I started here at Wolftrap Elementary by asking our principle for a bike rack one day,” says Anderson, who has three young kids with whom he bikes to school.
Once a month Anderson organizes a bike train – a caravan of bicycling students – to encourage more kids to eschew the back seats of their parents’ cars for a two-wheeler.
“I usually have between 10 and 15 kids who join me. We take the back roads and avoid the main roads,” says Anderson, who started the bike trains about 18 months ago. “There was no bike rack. We now have four. The goal is to get them to see that it is easy to do. Eventually they don’t do the bike train anymore. They just ride on their own.”
Anderson says getting more kids on bicycles or walking is not as simple as he’d like. Parents are concerned about traffic congestion, and some just want to talk with their kids in the car for those precious few minutes before the busyness of the day takes over.
“Everyone is rushed these days to get out for all kinds of reasons. People err on the side of convenience and ease versus taking 15 minutes with your child walking to school,” he says. However, there is a downside to choosing convenience, says Anderson, a member of Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling.
“In the ‘60s, fifty to sixty percent of kids biked or walked to school. We didn’t have Type 2 diabetes in children. We didn’t have an obesity problem in children. And now only 13 percent of children walk or bike to school nationally. That’s the same number we see here at our school on any given day, too,” he says.
Anderson’s daughter Laurel, 9, is happy to be in the minority. “I like doing it because we are not using energy, it’s a lot of fun, and I like getting exercise,” she says. Younger brother Eric, 7, says he feels better at school after he bikes in the morning. “You can think better,” he says.
Awareness of the benefits of safe streets is not lacking in Kentlands, a community of about 5,000 residents in Montgomery County, Maryland. A model of ‘new urbanism,’ the Kentlands was designed for walking, not only driving. Sidewalks are wide and roads are narrow. Front steps meet the sidewalks.
“Narrow roads calm traffic, keep cars going more slowly, and keep the houses closer together which creates neighborliness. They also provide for wider sidewalks on each side,” says John Schlichting, the chairman of the Kentlands Community Foundation.
The children of the Kentlands were raised as walkers. Their schools, friends, and favorite hang-outs are close by.
“I always cross in the crosswalks, and there are lots crosswalks and sidewalks in the Kentlands, so it’s not like you’re walking in the middle of the street. But if I were somewhere else I might not feel as safe,” says Elena Dietz, 11. Here sister Hannah, 13, says she notices a big difference between the way she lives compared to friends from other towns that rely on their parents for transportation.
“They have to get parent permission for everywhere they go, everything they do. Whereas I can be like, mom, I going to walk three doors down and go to my neighbor’s house,” Hannah says.
Another child of the Kentlands, Sebastian Zeineddin, 8, says he is lucky to live there. “I like walking to school because I also have friends that I can walk and talk with, too.”
Sebastian’s observation raises an issue any parent can relate to: no responsible adult would let their child walk to school, especially alone, if they believe the roads aren’t safe. Thirty percent of traffic deaths for children up 14 years old happen when they are walking or bicycling.
In the Kentlands no child has to walk by himself. The close proximity of neighbors produces camaraderie among the kids. Thus, advocates like Barbara McCann and Christine Green believe that the effort to get more kids walking and bicycling cannot succeed without major changes to the design of their neighborhoods and towns.
At the Montgomery County Department of Transportation, engineer Fred Lees is in charge of improving the ‘walkability’ of roads. The head of the traffic engineering section, Lees is working on creating walking routes to the county’s schools.
“One of the biggest problems we have with schools in general is parents dropping off kids, buses, and kids walking, all converging in the same fifteen minute period,” says Lees. In fact, 20 to 30 percent of morning traffic is children being driven to school, according to the Safe Routes to School National Partnership.
“We’ve found that along some of the designated walking routes some of the crosswalks are not there or are in bad condition, so we will certainly go out there and mark those and remark ones that are faded,” says Lees.
Getting half of all American school kids walking or biking to school again may seem like an improbable task, but advocates say it is possible through a multi-pronged effort to improve the design of communities, educate parents and children, and encourage physical activity.
In D.C. Robin Schepper is determined to make a difference one street at a time.
“The proudest moment I have in doing this type of work is that when [my kids] point to sidewalks, they say that’s mommy’s sidewalk,” she says.
A Virginia citizens group says the most critical issue surrounding the construction of Phase 2 of Metro's Silver Line to Dulles Airport is tolls.
A pro-union provision proposed by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) received most of the attention this week when federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood held a closed-door meeting with the Silver Line stakeholders to try to resolve disputes over the $2.7 billion dollar project. The Reston Citizens Association, which represents 58,000 residents in Fairfax County, says the controversy over whether bidding contractors should receive a preference for choosing union labor is not as important as toll projections on the Dulles Toll Road. Those tolls are supposed to pay off the project’s debt over the next forty years under the current funding structure.
In a letter sent Friday to Secretary LaHood, Terry Maynard, who sits on the association’s board of directors, said this week’s efforts to resolve the dispute over union labor “barely touch on the most critical issue of the construction of Phase 2 of the Silver Line: three-quarters of the cost of Phase 2 of the rail line’s construction will be borne by the 100,000 or so users of the Dulles Toll Road, many of them Reston residents. The result will be that toll road users will end up paying more than half of the nearly six billion dollar total cost of the Silver Line.”
In an interview with WAMU, Maynard said projected high tolls are one of many outstanding issues surrounding Phase 2 of the largest mass transit project in the country at the moment.
“It is not being addressed. That’s specifically the reason why I wrote this letter on behalf of our committee to Secretary LaHood,” said Maynard, who said motorists' tolls would pay for three-quarters of the project's cost unless the funding structure is changed.
“We’ve always called for toll road users to pay a quarter of the cost. This goes back to the 2004 federal environmental impact statement that had that percentage in it,” he said.
In his letter, Maynard said “a regular commuter who now pays less than $1,000 per year in tolls will see that cost rise to more than $8,000 per year in 2048 or more than $3,000 per year by 2028 in today’s dollars.”
Virginia Delegate Barbara Comstock (R), who sponsored legislation to withdraw her state’s funding commitment over the pro-union provision, said Phase 2 will not happen if MWAA maintains a PLA, or project labor agreement, which would give contractors a ten percent bonus on their technical evaluation scores if they opt for a union workforce.
“The law requires that they have to have a level playing field to compete. It is not something that negotiable,” she said. “The governor has said from the outset that they would have to have a level playing field.”
An MWAA spokeswoman said CEO Jack Potter was not available for comment today, but she did release a statement.
“We’re working with our partners on the PLA issue and no decisions have been made regarding tolls at this time,” said MWAA spokeswoman Kimberly Gibbs.
Comstock said no major decisions should be made about Phase 2’s fate until a midterm audit by an inspector general is released May 15.
“It will be a critical time to stop and take a look at what this audit is telling us about [MWAA’s] management practices so we can make improvements, do the best for the taxpayers to keep tolls down, and keep the costs of the project down,” she said.
(Washington, DC - WAMU) Loudoun County officials say Phase 2 of the Metro Dulles rail project known as the Silver Line may be delayed. Phase 1 is expected to be completed in August 2013, but disputes over funding and the potential use of union labor are jeopardizing Phase 2, which would connect Reston, Va. to Dulles Airport and beyond into Loudoun County.
Loudoun County’s Board of Supervisors is now controlled by Republicans who have raised questions about the county’s commitment to the project. Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R) tells the Washington Post, “There is a very legitimate and real chance that this project might not go forward.”
Among the contentious issues is a decision by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority to provide bidding contractors a ten percent bonus on their technical evaluation scores if they choose to hire union construction workers through a project labor agreement (PLA).
The dispute pits Virginia Republicans who control the state's General Assembly against the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority's (MWAA) Board of Directors and labor union leaders. The assembly members claim a decision by the MWAA violates Virginia's right-to-work law.
The Republican-led Virginia General Assembly passed legislation that threatened to withdraw the state's $150 million contribution, claiming the PLA discriminates against the state's non-union workforce. The legislation also claims the PLA will lead to out-of-state construction workers outnumbering Virginia's on the project, and increase the project's cost.
Gov. Bob McDonnell intends to sign the legislation, effective July 1. Virginia's construction workforce is 97 percent non-union.
If Virginia withdraws the $150 million contribution, tolls on the Dulles Toll Road could double to about $9 round-trip next January, according to MWAA CEO Jack Potter.
"The position that we have evolved to is a very reasonable position," Potter says. "I believe that it would be a real shame if this project were to be delayed because of the project labor agreement."
The dispute has left opposing sides claiming to be the true defenders of tax and toll payers.
Republican Dels. Barbara Comstock and Tim Hugo, the chief sponsors of the legislation, say big labor unions, namely the Laborers' International Union of North America (LiUNA), influenced the adoption of the PLA. LiUNA accuses Republicans of doing the bidding of "anti-union" groups like the Associated Builders and Contractors of Virginia.
In an interview at ABC Virginia headquarters, the association's president Patrick Dean denied charges of "anti-unionism."
"We believe at ABC that all competition should be free and open," says Dean. "Everyone should have the right to compete based on a fair price and quality work. We don't believe the government or any authority authorized by the government should pick winners and users."
Since the first year he ran for office, Hugo has received $1,500 in campaign contributions from the Associated Builders & Contractors of Virginia, which lobbied in favor of the bill that would withdraw the state's funding. From all general contractors, Hugo has received $12,250 since 2002.
"The money that ABC members and our association gives to elected officials to support their campaigns is minuscule compared to what the labor unions give to elected officials throughout the country and throughout Virginia," says Dean.
Hugo says donations by contractors did not influence his position whatsoever, and that his concern is with making sure union and non-union companies have a level playing field.
Since Comstock ran for office in 2009, she has received $1,500 in campaign contributions from the ABC of Virginia. From all general contractors, she's received $19,500 since 2009. Comstock also denied she was influenced by donors.
"That is absolutely false," she says. "We are doing the work for Virginia workers to make Virginia workers and Virginia taxpayers get the most out of their tax dollars."
A review of political contributions to Hugo and Comstock revealed that donations from contractors accounted for relatively small proportions of their campaign war chests.
Moreover, their donors have used both union and non-union workers over the years. For instance, the CEO of Bethesda-based Clark Construction, Peter Forster, has given Comstock $10,000, her largest individual donor from the general contracting industry. But Clark, which is expected to be among the bidders for Dulles Phase 2, has used varied workforces in many of its large projects.
In the view of Hugo and Comstock, the PLA, not general contractors, is the problem.
"My bill specifically says you can't discriminate against union or non-union, so everybody has to be treated equally," Comstock says. "I think the union workers have no problem competing equally. They are not afraid of this. It is the union bosses who want to control this and dictate this, get more money in their coffers. That's not money that will help Virginia taxpayers or Virginia workers."
In a statement released Feb. 21, MWAA defended its decision to adopt the PLA. It referred to MWAA's initial decision to make the PLA mandatory for contractors, a decision that was reversed after protests from Virginia lawmakers and some officials in Fairfax and Loudoun counties.
The new approach to adopt a voluntary PLA did not satisfy MWAA's opponents. A letter sent to MWAA's chairman, Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton, as well as the Fairfax and Loudon county executives, urged the authority to reverse its decision.
"Right now what we are asking for is no discrimination in awarding the contract based on whether a company or contractor uses union or non-union labor," said Secretary Connaughton in an interview with WAMU.
"We want them to be focused on competency and cost. We do not want to see a requirement for unions or a prohibition against unions."
PLAs can increase the cost of public works projects 12 to 18 percent, according to studies conducted by the ABC of Virginia. Wages are not the issue, says Dean, but pension and health care costs are.
"If non-union companies work on the project, those companies have their own benefit programs, health and welfare pension programs," Dean says. "They would have to pay benefits into the union pension program for which those employees would never be vested. The union pension fund gets nice and healthy. The overarching goal of project is bolstering union pension funds."
MWAA's CEO contends the project's cost will not be adversely affected by the PLA. "You'd be hard pressed to say that it makes more than a $5 million difference in either direction on a [$2.7] billion project," Potter says.
Under the Davis-Bacon Act, all workers will be paid prevailing wages regardless of their union affiliation. Potter's position is echoed by LiUNA.
"MWAA already knows that there are about 8 teams who are planning to put in bids. Eight teams is robust competition on a project of this size," said LiUNA general counsel Brian Petruska. "There is going to be a competitive, rock bottom, market price based on competitive bidding and the people who have the best teams and the best technology."
If Virginia makes good on its threat to pull its Phase 2 funding, motorists may end up among the losers. A $2.25 toll on the Dulles Toll Road for a one-way trip could jump to $4.50, according to a report prepared for MWAA.