Sunday, March 8, 2009

Why VRE--In Context

Here is the entire e-mail I sent to Spotsylvania Supervisor Jerry Logan referenced in Mr. Telvock's story, County's Inaction Costs its Neighbors, in the FLS. As you can see it covers a bit more than just the issue of the cost of Spotsylvania's inaction to the City and Stafford. When read in its entirety it puts my comments in proper context--


I would ask that you broaden your view of VRE beyond just the gas tax and the operating costs and look at the overall impact of the service and its importance to the future development of the region. To focus on just the cost ignores the realities we now face and does a disservice to those we serve. While costs must be consider so must the impact of doing nothing, and the potential benefits that may offset those costs.

You need to take some time and review the recently adopted regional transportation plan to place VRE in its proper context in the region’s transportation plan today and in the future. The population in this region will double by 2035 and as reported, we cannot lay enough pavement to meet the growing demands on our road system. If we do not look at making transit viable the quality of life for residents will suffer.

While we all are looking for new economic development opportunities the growing congestion on our roads is making it more difficult to attract, and keep, businesses. Our region’s economic development is tied to the Washington Metro area so our ability to maintain adequate traffic flow in the I-95 corridor is critical. I am aware that there are project you would like to see in Spotsylvania and that you are being told by those bringing those projects forward VRE is important to the success of those projects.

Right now the funding for VRE is an issue that I will not deny. But I would ask that you look beyond today and the possibilities in the future. DRPT is planning to begin train service from Richmond/Lynchburg to New York. They are now taking a more active role in funding rail transportation. The new administration in Washington has now shifted the emphasis on transportation away for roads and putting more funding into transit. It is easy to look to “doomsday” scenarios to justify inaction. It takes some effort to come up with workable solutions.

VRE, like most anything else, is not perfect. It is easy to stand on the sidelines and criticize it but that gets us no closer to meeting our goal of maintaining adequate transportation north and south. As a member of VRE you would have the opportunity to bring forward changes to improve the system and become part of the solution. If you feel VRE is not the answer please tell me what you think is a better way.

I would also be remiss if I did not point out a few of the negative impact of Spotsylvania’s inaction regarding VRE on both the City and Stafford County. One of the reasons we are facing some financial challenges is because of the number of non-VRE riders we serve. Our downtown streets and parking lots are full of Spotsylvania residents (No they don’t eat and shop here-- they run off the trains and go home) and FAMPO just allocated $150,000.00 to lease private commercial spaces because existing parking lots are full—with a lot of Spotsylvania residents. Expansion of lots costing hundreds of thousands of dollars are planned in part because of growing ridership--again including Spotsylvania residents. I’ve yet to hear a member of the Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors acknowledge these, and other impacts, Spotsylvania residents are having on our communities.

This afternoon I am attending a meeting with staff to get the City to support the Towne Centre improvements on Route 3. I realize the importance of this project to the region and especially for Spotsylvania County. What I’m hearing is why should the City help Spotsylvania County when they do not seem interested in working as a regional partner. This “provincial” attitude must come to an end if we are to meet the challenges we face in the future. Working as a region brings shared costs, improved opportunities for outside funding, and less of a financial impact on our residents.

As a fellow Republican I also take issue with the rising cost of government and I have, and am prepared, to cut spending where I do not see a benefit to residents. In doing so though, I am obligated to look beyond the project or expenditure itself to judge its impact in meeting the needs and goals of our community today and in the future. It means that I may have to accept some cost today to meet future needs or goals. To that end I must be able to provide residents with the vision to justify the support.

I take issue with those in the party who begin every position they take with the word “No.” This is a statement not a solution. It provides no vision or direction for the future development of our region. I would hope you would agree that inaction could also have serious consequences. What the local Republican Party currently lacks in vision and leadership. Without it we are doomed to be in the minority and justifiably so. My question to you is this: While opposition to VRE may in your view make political sense; does it make sense in regard to the future of Spotsylvania?

If you have any question please do not hesitate to give me a call.

Please feel free to comment--


Anonymous said...

Matt - Thanks for your thoughts on this issue. You've identified some issues that resonate. First, like you, I see VRE as an economic development issue. Companies, especially in the technology industry, will look to Spotsy's action (or inaction) on VRE and make a decision whether to invest. What positive action have the Supervisors taken to make the County attractive to outside investors? While the recently passed Tech Zone ordinance is nice, it was window dressing. There are no new benefits available now that weren't available before. Saying no to VRE is not without consequences.

Secondly, VRE provides obvious transportation benefits based on a "user-fee" model. The riders will pay most of the cost of commuter rail. Isn't that essentially what the VRE detractors want? If we follow their logic, then we should not accept any Federal highway dollars, immediately withdraw from Fred transit, and begin buying our own equipment to compensate for VDOT's inadequacies. For the life of me I cannot understand why many view rail service differently than the enormous taxes we pay for roads. I-95 has far worse on-time performance than VRE.

Finally, for the sake of argument, let's assume that all the VRE riders are high-salaried "fat cats" as one thoughtful letter writer described them. If that's true, wouldn't we be nice to them? Shouldn't we encourage more of the same? The County ought to show its appreciation for the hard-working commuters who commute north everyday and bring their fat paychecks home to Spotsylvania. Instead, County staff and elected leaders do everything within their power to keep the vision of Spotsy as a rural bedroom community alive. What a disservice.

So, the question still remains, what have Supervisors done to make Spotsy a place worth investing in?

Muttley said...

Question: Have you ever ridden the VRE? Be careful, no lying permitted.

MATT KELLY said...

Nope. Not a commuter. My connection with VRE is as the City's representative on the VRE Operations Board. In your mind I guess that means my involvement in the budget, policies, and operations of VRE--Not to mention spending two years on FAMPO working on the regional transportation plan--disqualifies me from commenting on the service.

Dastardly said...

Since when did qualifications prevent you from expressing your opinions?

MATT KELLY said...

Dastardly--Point well taken.