Author: Audrey

Toll Cheating on I-66 Drives Up Tolls

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, March 16, 2019

I’m speaking on my own behalf as an Arlington Coalition for Sensible Transportation (ACST) director, not as a member of the Transportation Commission.

Recently, ACST made FOIA inquiries with Virginia State Police (VSP) and VDOT to determine whether toll cheating on I-66 Inside the Beltway (ITB) by solo motorists is inflating the toll prices.

Reportedly, pursuant to the attached, redacted Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between VDOT and VSP, during the first year of tolling, VDOT reimbursed VSP approximately $550,000 from I-66 toll revenue for new VSP enforcement activities, including at least four additional state troopers to monitor the gantries along I-66 for toll cheaters.

Under this MOU (p. 4), the VSP Area Commander is supposed to issue daily, monthly, and quarterly HOV-enforcement reports–“with vehicle information and the time/date of violations”–to VDOT’s “I-66 ITB Facility Manager”. VSP indicated that it does not routinely do this.

Instead, it produces database-generated summary reports showing incidents and citations by incident type. The incident summary report for the first 53 weeks of I-66 tolling shows 1,326 HOV stops resulting in 702 citations.

Dividing the 702 HOV citations by 253 8-hour tolling days in this 53-week reporting period, yields an average of 2.77 HOV citations for every 8 hours of tolling.

A 99% HOV-compliance rate among the I-66 ITB facility’s 14,000 daily trips vehicle trips/day taken with an E-ZPass Flex set in the HOV mode would equate to 140 toll-cheating trips/day, whereas the VSP has cited fewer than 3 vehicles/day, on average, for HOV violations.

Moreover, ACST suspects that HOV enforcement on I-66 is largely limited to westbound travel, allowing eastbound solo motorists to routinely cheat the tolls with near impunity.

Populist outrage over the “sky high” AM eastbound tolls threatens to undo the Transform 66 initiative, leading to more traffic congestion in Arlington and DC and an even wider I-66. Unless elected officials and VDOT get serious about enforcing I-66 tolls, I fear that will happen.

PRESS RELEASE: What’s Not To Like About Amazon in Arlington, Part 4

The Arlington Chamber of Commerce recently urged its members to support the deal that will install Amazon’s second headquarters in Crystal City in return for $750 million in state cash incentives–plus many other freebies from the state and county.

Also “expressing full support for a County agreement with Amazon” was the Crystal City Crystal City Citizen Review Council (CCCRC) which ruled that concerns about the impacts of HQ2 on housing and schools must be subordinated to reducing the office vacancy rate.

According to the Sun Gazette, opposition to the deal has been limited to a “largely left-wing contingent” that has nevertheless given the Chamber of Commerce a lot of heartburn.

Will someone please tell the Chamber of Commerce not to worry? Amazon HQ2 is a done deal. County Board has openly admitted that it had no input on the Governor’s secret negotiations with Amazon last year. And–unlike self respecting New York state elected officials who resented being side lined by their governor in negotiations with Amazon—County Board is serving as a rubber stamp for HQ2 right now.

Also you don’t have to be a leftist not to like the deal. All you have to do is earn less than $150,000 per year—the average wage of an Amazon hire at HQ2. To see the inflationary impact of HQ2 hires on housing prices, go to the federal government’s benchmark housing price (HP) index.

The HP index shows that over the past five years, when Amazon completed its conquest of the e-commerce market, King County, Washington (Amazon’s current location) registered three times the housing price inflation as Arlington.

What that means is that once Amazon comes to town, a lot of tenants are going to be looking for cheaper digs, and a lot of fixed income single family homeowners will have no option but to sell or face foreclosure.

Arlington Civic Association Says VDOT Responsible for Erosion of W&OD Trail

Comments At Arlington County Board Meeting, 2/26/19

I am speaking in my capacity as a director of the Arlington Coalition for Sensible Transportation (ACST), not as a member of the Transportation Commission.

I support VDOT’s request for temporary and permanent easements along the W&OD and Custis Trails to implement needed trail improvements between East Falls Church Metro and Ballston.

I pulled this item from the consent agenda because it does not include a plan to address the root cause of flooding of Four Mile Run in the immediate vicinity of the work VDOT has outlined.

You should have received a recent letter from the Madison Manor Civic Association (MMCA) thanking you for undertaking to shore up erosion along the W&OD trail in the vicinity of the Patrick Henry overpass.

However, MMCA is concerned that unless the cause of the erosion is addressed, it will recur. Members of the civic association have identified the problem as clogged intakes to a storm water diversion bypass tunnel about one third mile upstream.

It is irresponsible for the County to ignore this situation, of which it is surely aware. County Board itself in approving the I-66 widening project on 1/28/17 in agenda item 37.C.e stipulated to VDOT that:

any new stormwater management facilities proposed with this project be adequately maintained, specifically that erosion and sediment controls should be outlined and contain information on inspection and enforcement actions.

County Board should direct staff to contact VDOT and stipulate the repair and upgrade or replacement of the existing intakes as part of the I-66 eastbound widening project, which authorizes such improvements as long as they are within the scope of the project.

Insofar as the bypass tunnel runs directly under the I-66 ROW before emptying into Four Mile Run, it is definitely within the eastbound widening project’s scope of work. Thus it is well within the authority of Arlington County Board to make this request.

County Board Ignores Neighborhood in Approving APAH Deal

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, 2/23/19

I am speaking on my own behalf and not on behalf of the Transportation Commission, which heard this item on February 7.

I support affordable housing in general and Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH)’s mission to provide it in particular. However at over $400,000 per unit, which is the price of a luxury condo, I do not believe that APAH actually provides affordable housing.

Regarding the American legion site, I am concerned that issues raised by the neighborhood have been ignored. The Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association submitted a letter dated 2/7/19 to both the Planning and Transportation Commissions detailing its concerns. It concluded:

In conversations with several planning commissioners, it has been made clear that Arlington County’s need and desire for affordable housing means this project is moving forward regardless of its deleterious impacts to nearby residents. It is feared that neighborhood concerns are not being fully considered and given the weight they duly deserve. In this way, citizens have participated throughout the process, but their voice has been lost.

I concur with this assessment. In particular I’m concerned about the decision to remove the fence separating this development from the 12th Road residential neighborhood in order to provide egress to emergency vehicles.

In another letter a resident of that block pointed out that 12th Road is a narrow, one way street with no sidewalks or adequate lighting. If indeed emergency access is needed to 12th Road, then the County should treat this situation like it does any other easement.

The County should require compensation from the developer to pay for needed street improvements. To me upgrading 12th Road is both a matter of public safety and simple equity. The fact that APAH would find millions to spend on the American Legion site–over $38 million–while beggaring the neighborhood is amazing.

PRESS RELEASE: What’s Not To Like About Amazon In Arlington, Part 3

February 6, 2019

Virginia is roiling over a photo posted in a 1984 yearbook allegedly depicting Gov. Ralph Northam in blackface. No matter that the news was surfaced by opposition research or that the current sitting U.S. President was himself sued as a young man by the U.S. Department of Justice for discriminating against Blacks. State and national Democratic leaders have fallen all over themselves demanding Northam’s resignation.

A Bribe Is a Bribe

I too question Governor Northam’s leadership, but not because of his youthful indiscretions. I’m concerned about the deal he negotiated with Amazon to site one of its new headquarters in Crystal City. Specifically I don’t like the extortionate $550-$750 million “incentive payment” Amazon extracted from the state to move here. (more…)

PRESS RELEASE: What’s Not to Like About Amazon In Arlington, Part 2

January 20, 2019

Pundits speculate why with bigger concessions offered by other competitors, Amazon chose to put half of HQ2 in Crystal City. Some ascribe the move to the area’s transportation infrastructure and highly educated workforce. Others think it’s the convenience of Crystal City to CEO Jeff Bezos’ new home in Washington, DC.

Still others point to Bezos’ proximity to the Pentagon, where Amazon Web Services is poised to win a $10 billion cloud contract. Roshan Abraham of Our Revolution Arlington (OR-A) declared at the January 8 Civic Federation meeting that it’s the access Amazon will have to federal officials.

Seattle City Council Knows Who’s Boss

Another obvious advantage to Arlington for Amazon is the ability to manipulate local government officials. Consider that in May, 2018, Amazon spearheaded a petition drive to oust the entire Seattle City Council after the Council imposed a head tax on companies grossing over $20 million per year to pay for housing for the homeless.

Within a month all but two Council members had capitulated, and the head tax was repealed. Evidently Bezos didn’t buy Seattle City Council’s argument that there’s a direct relationship between high priced tech jobs and inflated housing prices. What he did buy was Seattle City Council. (more…)

PRESS RELEASE: What’s Not to Like About Amazon In Arlington, Part 1

January 13, 2018

Corporate and civic leaders throughout the Washington metropolitan area are ecstatic about Amazon’s decision to locate one of its two new headquarters to Crystal City. In announcing the deal, outgoing Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol boasted that Amazon’s decision was “a validation of our community’s commitment to sustainability, transit-oriented development, affordable housing and diversity.”

Victor Hoskins, director of Arlington Economic Development, remembers shouting “yahoo!” when he heard the news.

George Mason University professor Stephen Fuller declared: “The benefits are so humongous. This is really big. Nobody has really covered how big this is for a region like the Washington region”.

Fuller now estimates a $26 million annual net tax benefit to the County or half his original published estimate of $52 million, which assumed twice as many jobs created at HQ2. This is substantially less than the County’s unsubstantiated estimate of $32 million.

Yet even Fuller’s reduced amount overestimates the net tax benefit, since his calculations on the Amazon deal underestimate per pupil school costs by $3,000 per year. Table 6 in Fuller’s report on the Amazon deal assumes a per pupil cost of $18,015 per year, whereas numbers published in Exhibit 4 and Table K the 2017 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) indicate a per pupil cost of $21,313 per year.

The Amazon deal is also inequitable. For one thing, according to Bernie Sanders, Amazon reaped $5.6 billion in profits, yet paid no federal taxes in 2017.
(more…)

Tribute to John Vihstadt

These comments were delivered by Jim Hurysz on my behalf at a tribute to outgoing County Board member John Vihstadt on Saturday, December 15, 2018.

While I’m not enthralled that John Vihstadt voted with the majority of the Board as often as he did, I admired his penchant for fiscal restraint. Unfortunately John’s view on budgetary matters is not shared by the majority of the Board.

In fact at a Board meeting held the day after I lost my run for County Board to Vihstadt’s ally Libby Garvey in 2016, 5 out of 6 motions John made to defer spending of closeout funds to the FY18 budget were defeated. Three of John’s motions couldn’t even get a second, and the other two were voted down 4-1. (more…)

County Manager Got It Right This Time

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, November 27, 2018

I am delighted that instead of spending the lion’s share of FY18 close-out funds, the County Manager proposes to reallocate $16.5 million of it to next year’s budget. This is in marked contrast to last year’s close-out appropriation, wherein the County Manager allocated over $11 million to pet projects and contingencies.

I would like to think that my criticism of the FY17 close-out proposal had something to do with the County Manager’s fiscal prudence this year. But I doubt it. I think the real culprit was John Vihstadt, who in November, 2016 offered several amendments to the FY16 close-out resolution to defer reallocation of most discretionary FY16 close-out funds until the next budget cycle. Vihstadt’s rationale was that except for clearly identified emergency needs, allocation of the prior year’s budget surplus should be deferred till consideration of the following year’s budget.

While County Board voted down most of Vihstadt’s resolutions in 2016, it is comforting to know that some two years later, the County Manager is listening. (more…)

PRESS RELEASE: Thanks for Your Support

First, I want to thank you for your support for my recent campaign for Arlington School Board. I got 28,666 votes or 30% of the total.

In 2014 running for the same office against the same opponent I got 18,429 votes or about 33% of the total.

While my percent of the vote went down slightly this year, the actual number of votes cast for me went up by more than 10,000. This is good considering that the uptick in Arlington turnout consisted of a wave of new voters casting a straight Democratic ticket.

Given the serious issues confronting Arlington School Board that my campaign exposed, I was actually optimistic that I might surmount the "Blue Wave" until I arrived at Arlington Central Library at 5:45 a.m. on Tuesday, November 6. For two solid hours voters from nearby high rises queued up to vote. Most of them refused to take either my sample ballot or that of defeated Independent Arlington County Board incumbent, John Vihstadt. (more…)