Rep. Wittman talks about mass transit, VRE expansion
Thursday, Mar. 14
Rep. Rob Wittman, R-1st District
By Dan Roem
Times-Democrat Staff Writer
When the General Assembly passed its comprehensive transportation bill last month during the final day of its regular annual session, it turned out to only begin the dialogue about mass transit, not end it.
Hundreds of local residents turned out for a town hall meeting last week in Gainesville devoted to the Bi-County Parkway, which is set to receive $10 million in state funds due to the passage of that bill.
Two Republicans represent Northern Virginia districts where an extension of Metro would have a direct impact on the lives of many of their constituents: Reps. Frank Wolf (R-10th) and Rob Wittman (R-1st).
Wittman sat down for a half-hour, one-on-one interview in his Washington, D.C., office last Thursday and discussed his views on transportation.
There are no Metro stops in his district, but there are five stations for the Virginia Railway Express, the area's other top commuter rail line and one which is preparing for an expansion.
VRE and the 1stThe 1st congressional district of Virginia includes much of the Tidewater region of Virginia and its population hub is centered in Fredericksburg, which is the southern-most stop for the VRE.
The northern-most part of the first district contains large swaths of Prince William County, including all or parts of Gainesville, Bristow, Manassas, Nokesville, Woodbridge, Monclair, Lake Ridge, Dumfries, Triangle and Quantico.
Two VRE stations in Prince William County are included in his district: Broad Run (Manassas Regional Airport) and Quantico.
Stafford County is also home to two VRE stations in Wittman's district: Brooke and Leeland Road.
According to Wittman, constituent calls to his offices focus little on Metro.
However, he does hear about VRE both over the phone and in person at various commuter lots, such as when he occasionally picks up riders waiting in slug lines.
Wittman noted that an addition of a third rail line through Stafford County is now closer to happening after approval by the state and federal departments of transportation last year.
Part of Wittman's push for more rail options in eastern Prince William comes from the economic incentives tied to them.
For example, he mentioned a collaborative effort from Stafford and Prince William counties intended to move the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) headquarters from Washington, D.C., to the Quantico area.
Quantico has a VRE line but no Metro option, so extending Metro would be an enticement for the FBI to move.
A third rail line for the VRE would also allow a quicker flow of foot traffic for passengers there.
One complaint about VRE Wittman said he hears comes from constituents who say, "I have to stay late at work, and I can't use VRE" to go home.
Wittman declined to offer an opinion about the state's recently passed transportation bill. It has divided the state GOP between those supporting Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, who supported its passage, and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican nominee for governor who opposes it.
He did say, though, that "the jury's still out with how you can leverage those state dollars" from the new transportation bill to capture more federal money from grants and matching funds.
The congressman, now serving his third full term, said he recently met with Virginia Department of Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton.
"Sean is positive about where things are going" regarding transportation, said Wittman.
Tying future commercial and residential developments around transportation is something Wittman stressed as he discussed the need for multi-modal transit options.
"You try to get ahead of the demand," he said, later adding, "land-use planning and transportation planning have to go hand-in-hand."
Whether it's Metro, VRE or general transportation options, Wittman suggested that the less reliant they are on taxpayer funding, the better.
"Those projects ought to look at being self-sufficient," said Wittman.
Despite the country's $16 trillion national debt, Wittman said "there are federal dollars" available for transportation projects available for states to claim though "it's a finite universe of dollars out there."
Yet when it comes to land development at the local level, "the federal government should stay out of it," said Wittman.