The Virginia General Assembly is supposed to be a part time job. That’s what I keep telling my partners. We meet for 60 days in even numbered years and 45 days in odd numbered years because we adopt a biennial budget during the even years. We meet one day in April to vote on the Governor’s vetoes and amendments, but other than that most of the rest of the work can be done at night or on the weekends.
At least that’s how it’s supposed to work.
This year we got to the end of the legislative session, but the House and Senate couldn’t agree on a budget, and they realized they were too far apart to try and hammer out their differences with a couple days extension of the session.
So last week, I trekked down to Richmond mid-week again for Special Session I. (The fact that we number the special session always seems ominous. Could we have Special Session II, III and IV yet to come?)
This special session is to review and vote on Governor Northam’s new budget (which is based largely on former Governor Terry McAuliffe’s outgoing budget) so that we can have another opportunity to get it right.
Of course, the big issue holding things up is Medicaid expansion.
I’ll be down again this week to work on the budget some more and to vote on the Governor’s vetoes as well as his amendments to a few bills. So what happened?
Unfortunately, the sessions didn’t end before my deadline . . . so you’ll have to wait until next month for my take.
For now, let me update you on another issue that is about to start having a big impact on Falls Church and Merrifield residents - the beginning of the construction on I-66 Outside the Beltway.
Construction on the project will include lane shifting and concrete barriers narrowing some of the lanes. There will also be intermittent weekend shutdowns of the Orange line to accommodate some of the construction and to avoid safety issues.
The project completion is expected at the end of 2022. At that time, there will be two toll lanes in each direction (like the I-495 HOT Lanes) plus three regular traffic lanes and a shoulder area. The toll lanes will be HOV-3, requiring drivers to have three or more people in car if they’d like to use the lanes and avoid the toll. Motorcycles and buses will also be able to use the lanes for free, but other cars with fewer than three people will pay the toll. Alternatively, drivers can use the regular lanes at any time without paying any tolls.
As always, if you can carpool, telecommute, or take public transportation, this will help you avoid some of the expected residual issues during construction and avoid the tolls once the project is completed. During construction VDOT and their partner are offering free or reduced bus fare along the corridor to help ease congestion and provide commuters with alternatives to get from points into town.
Some of the revenue generated by the tolls will go toward other regional transportation projects and to provide transit services that include three new bus routes, increased service on existing routes, and connections to metro stations. There will also be a new park and ride lot to support future bus services. In addition, there are some other road and bridge maintenance/repairs that will be possible because of the money from the tolls.
I don’t expect that these positives will erase all the animosity toward tolling or that knowing the construction will eventually end will make your current daily commute any easier. But I do hope that having some information will help make it more manageable.
In the meantime, the project website (outside.transform66.org) is a great source for updates. Here, you can sign up for their e-news or visit their social media accounts (@VDOT and facebook.com/VirginiaDOT). The main website has interactive project maps plus a listing of any upcoming public hearings.
Of course, you can also contact my office to let me know about your issues and concerns. I’m happy to relay them to the project team and ensure that your voice is heard. I can be reached at DelMSimon@house.virginia.gov and (571) 327-0053.