Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe came for his first visit to Falls Church yesterday since his election almost four years ago, and made the most of it with a ringing speech at a ribbon-cutting unveiling the first group of 10 new multimodal transportation options along the I-66 corridor inside the beltway, subsumed under an overarching “I-66 Commuter Choice” moniker. He then retired for a half-hour briefing by City of F.C. officials on the campus development project that will include a new high school (if a bond referendum passes in November) and 10 acres of economic development.
McAuliffe has only until the end of year to end his one term as governor (Virginia is now the only state in the union that restricts a governor to a single term). As of January, after four years in the governor’s mansion in Richmond, he will presumably move back into his McLean home, and there are rumors that he’s considering a run for the presidency in 2020.
He braved the heat in the parking lot of the Northern Virginia Graduate Center to hobnob with regional and Falls Church officials, and after the formalities, take his time chatting with citizens, the media and a classroom of government students from the next-door George Mason High School.
Staff members of the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Department of Rail and Public Transportation, the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission sported catchy “I-66, Do You?” buttons, and Falls Church Mayor David Tarter joined McAuliffe, Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne and Fairfax County Supervisor Jeff McKay to deliver remarks on the special occasion that concluded with an obligatory ribbon cutting. Despite the heat and lack of shade, everyone was in a cheery mood, as it almost always is whenever the energetic governor is involved.
After the ceremonies, speeches, ribbon cutting and schmoozing, Gov. McAuliffe led an entourage of key City of F.C. officials to a meeting room inside the Grad Center where he and members of his economic development team listened intently, according to News-Press sources.
In that meeting were Mayor David Tarter, Vice Mayor Marybeth Connelly, City Manager Wyatt Shields and F.C. School Board chair Lawrence Webb, vice chair Michael Ankuma, and Superintendent Peter Noonan. Present for the ribbon cutting event were also F.C. Council members Phil Duncan, Letty Hardi and David Snyder.
According to News-Press sources, the meeting with the governor, who has been one of the most aggressively pro-development in the state’s history and was given kudos from transportation officials for helping to expedite the “I-66 Commuter Choice” program. “We never believed four years ago that we would be here this quickly, said Layne. McAuliffe got major “high fives” from everyone there for making the breakthrough after 25 years of being unable to get anything done in that I-66 corridor that is arguably among the most congested in the U.S.
McAuliffe said in his remarks, “Unlocking the traffic-choked corridors that stifle economic growth and reduce Virginians’ quality of life has been one of this administration’s top priorities. These new multimodal initiatives, which include new bus service and incentives to carpool or vanpool, offer commuters new options to get to work faster and smarter.”
The plans include the introduction of tolls on I-66 that will take effect in early December. There will be three new bus routes, increased service on two existing bus routes and last-mile connections to Metrorail stations, along with a new park-and-ride lot in Aldie. There will be real time screens posted on I-66 providing traveler information. Express buses will run from the Fairfax Government Center to D.C., and from Gainesville to the Pentagon (that service began last December). Once all in operation, the corridor will accommodate an additional 5,000 trips each way per day.
The City of Falls Church’s component will be enhanced transit through Capital Bikeshare that will be ready to roll by year’s end.
McAuliffe said that these improvements to alleviate congestion will be key to attracting major new economic development to the region. The biggest buzz on that score has been the “request for proposal” issued by Amazon, Inc., for an east coast campus site. The RFP calls for 100 acres for the employment of up to 50,000 people.
McAuliffe told reporters that Virginia is very much interested in this, and that RFP responses will probably come from about a dozen locations around the state.
In the F.C. leaders’ meeting with McAuliffe, the high school property redevelopment process was shared, with Mayor Tarter doing most of the talking. It was also noted that while 10 acres of that land can be used for economic development, there are other underutilized properties immediately adjacent, and also adjacent the West Falls Church Metro station, including land held by WMATA, the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech, Federal Realty and Beyer Automotive.