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VDOT, DRPT pick up national transportation awards for work on GRTC Pulse project

The Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) won the award in the Quality of Life/Community Development category for their collaborative effort to fund and construct The Pulse, a bus rapid transit system in the City of Richmond.

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At the annual meeting of the Southeastern Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (SASHTO) this week, the Commonwealth of Virginia was recognized with two America’s Transportation Awards from SASHTO’s 12th annual regional competition. SASHTO represents fourteen departments of transportation across the southeastern United States.

The Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) won the award in the Quality of Life/Community Development category for their collaborative effort to fund and construct The Pulse, a bus rapid transit system in the City of Richmond. VDOT also was honored with an award in the Operations Excellence category for its innovative towing program, which incentivizes tow companies to clear complex commercial vehicle crashes from major highways as quickly and safely as possible.

“We are honored to be recognized by our national peers for innovative solutions that improve quality of life and expand access to economic opportunity,” said Shannon Valentine, Secretary of Transportation. “The work our team has accomplished is changing lives and transforming communities.”

With partnership from the Greater Richmond Transit Company (GRTC), the Federal Transit Administration, the City of Richmond, Henrico County, and DRPT, the state-of-the-art Pulse system was constructed by VDOT in only 18 months within the existing right-of-way along a 7.6-mile corridor of U.S. Route 250 in the City of Richmond and Henrico County. It features two bus-only lanes, 26 real-time connected stations, environmentally-friendly transit vehicles, and a priority traffic signaling system to ensure true bus rapid transit. Additionally, the Commonwealth-funded a system-wide bus network redesign that feeds into the corridor served by The Pulse. Since its launch in 2018, The Pulse continues to exceed ridership expectations. The bus rapid transit service, combined with the redesign of the GRTC network, have led to an overall transit ridership increase of 18%.

“The Pulse is an example of a creative transportation solution that is providing new mobility options and improving the transportation system for the entire region,” said Jennifer Mitchell, DRPT Director. “DRPT is proud to have been a part of this amazing team from start to finish.”

VDOT Commissioner Stephen C. Brich added, “We are dedicated to our roles in building and operating a world-class transportation system that serves as the foundation for Virginia’s economy and quality of life. The SASHTO awards serve as reminders that each of our initiatives and projects can make positive impacts in the communities we serve.”

“This recognition is very well deserved,” said Gary Armstrong, GRTC Board Chairman. “The hard work of DRPT and VDOT was evident throughout the design and construction of the system, and DRPT’s dedication to successfully implementing a state-of-the-art BRT system was front and center from application through the award of the TIGER grant.”

As the recipient of the two awards, Virginia will now be eligible to compete for the national award, presented by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) at its annual meeting in October.

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Education

RPS to close January 27th after more than 700 teachers request off to attend Fund Our Future rally

Richmond Public Schools may be closed today for the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, but next week will also be a four day week for students and teachers after more than 700 faculty members requested off work to protest at the Fund Our Future rally at the State Capitol.

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Richmond Public Schools may be closed today for the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, but next week will also be a four day week for students and teachers after more than 700 faculty members requested off work to protest at the Fund Our Future rally at the State Capitol.

The rally, to be held Monday, January 27th, will see educators from across the Commonwealth descend upon the Capitol to advocate for more state funding for schools.

RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras sent a note out on the school system’s website explaining that he was “proud” of the level of participation and that it would simply be impossible to find enough substitute teachers to cover for those attending the rally:

Dear RPS Family,

I’m reaching out to share an important change in our school calendar: RPS will be CLOSED on Monday, January 27. Please allow me to explain.

On that day, the Virginia Education Association (VEA) is hosting a “Fund Our Future” rally at the State Capitol to advocate for increased school funding. Based on data we collected last week, it appears that nearly 700 (about a third) of our teachers will be taking personal leave to participate in the VEA rally. We are proud that so many of our educators will be turning out to advocate for RPS and all of Virginia’s public schools.

Unfortunately, however, it is simply not possible to secure enough substitutes for this many classrooms. As a result, non-participating teachers would face unreasonable class sizes that would make meaningful instruction nearly impossible and potentially create significant safety concerns.

Given this – and after conferring with the School Board – I have decided to close RPS on Monday, January 27.

I recognize doing so will create an unexpected childcare burden for our working families. On behalf of RPS, I sincerely apologize for this. I also want to acknowledge that some of our families face food insecurity and depend on school meals for their children. In light of this, our nutrition team will be preparing “to-go” bags for students to take home on Friday afternoon.

Please note that our school calendar includes extra time to account for inclement weather and other unforeseen circumstances. As a result, at this time, no additional days will need to be added to the calendar.

Thank you in advance for your understanding of this decision. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me directly at jkamras@rvaschools.net.

With great appreciation,

Jason Kamras

Superintendent

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Downtown

Hundreds trek to Capitol to support environmental bills

Hundreds of clean energy supporters trekked to the State Capitol this week demanding Virginia move away from reliance on carbon-based energy, invest in alternative energy supplies and lower rates for customers.

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By Jeffrey Knight

Hundreds of clean energy supporters trekked to the State Capitol this week demanding Virginia move away from reliance on carbon-based energy, invest in alternative energy supplies and lower rates for customers.

At the rally, hosted Tuesday by the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter, Chesapeake Climate Action Network Action Fund and other environmental organizations, participants pushed for Virginia to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, an effort to cap and reduce carbon emissions from the power sector.

Gov. Ralph Northam supported the initiative in his 2020 budget proposal by including $733 million in new funding for the environment and clean energy.

“In Virginia, we are proving that a clean environment and a strong economy go hand-in-hand–and having both is what makes our Commonwealth such a great place to live, work and play,” Northam said in a press release.

Organizations lobbied for bills that seek to depart from a reliance on fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. One focus was House Bill 1526 and its counterpart Senate Bill 851 known as the Virginia Clean Economy Act.

These bills would develop mandatory standards, annual timelines and call for specific reductions of carbon emissions with the goal to hit 0% by 2050. The bills also push for offshore wind operations and solar energy generation.

“I’m 100% for environmental issues,” Sen. Lionell Spruill Sr., D-Chesapeake, and co-patron of SB 851, said to supporters of the bill during the rally. “If I have to stand alone for environmental issues, I will do it alone.”

After supporters met with legislators they reconvened at the nearby St. Paul’s Episcopal Church where they heard speakers champion environmental justice and steps to combat climate change.

Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William, took to the podium during the rally to address coal ash, a by-product of burning coal in power plants that contains arsenic, mercury, and other metals.

“Most of our environmental impacts, not only of climate change but also with coal ash and pipelines, are in our most vulnerable communities,” Carroll Foy said to the audience.

Dominion is Virginia’s main energy supplier, with 2.6 million customers in Virginia and Eastern North Carolina, according to its website. The energy giant has been moving away from coal production, but environmental advocates worry that closure of Dominion’s coal ash ponds will affect nearby communities. They want Dominion to haul away the coal ash, versus cap it in place.

Advocates also said that the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline that Dominion and other utility companies want to build as they tap into alternative energy sources will compromise communities and deviate from a zero-carbon future.

“There will be 35 years of non-renewable energy if the pipeline continues,” said

Corrina Beall, legislative and political director of the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter.

The Environmental Justice Act (HB 704 and SB 406) patroned by Del. Mark Keam, D-Fairfax, and Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, D-Richmond, respectively, would require state agencies to review proposed environmental policies with regard to the impact on low-income communities, communities of color and vulnerable populations and calls for “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people.”

Supporters at the rally also pushed for the Fair Energy Bills Act (HB 1132), patroned by Del. Jerrauld “Jay” Jones, D-Norfolk, and Del. Lee Ware, R-Powhatan. The bill calls for lower rates from energy suppliers like Dominion Energy, who reportedly overcharged Virginians $277 million more than they were allowed in 2018.

SB 966 restored the SCC’s ability to conduct earnings reviews to determine whether Dominion Energy had collected more money than required. If so, the extra revenue could be reinvested in electric distribution grid transformation as well as solar and offshore wind projects at no extra cost to the consumer.

“What makes more financial sense is for the money to be reinvested, which allows the customer to get the benefit of the project without any additional rates,” said Rayhan Daudani, manager of media relations for Dominion Energy.

He said that customers get a “great value” with rates 6.8% below the national average, along with increased investment in renewable energy and a transformed energy grid. Dominion said it plans to invest $750 million between offshore wind projects and smart meters that provide better grid service.

“Our mission is to keep those prices low, build the nation’s largest offshore wind project, continue to provide solar energy across the state and keep the lights on for our customers,” Daudani said.

The offshore wind project is set to be the largest in the U.S. with enough energy to power up to 650,000 Virginia homes, according to a recent Dominion Energy press release.

So far none of the bills supported by clean energy advocates have passed committee.

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General Assembly

‘The end is in sight’: ERA moves closer to ratification in Virginia

Resolutions to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment swiftly passed the General Assembly Wednesday. The House version passed 59-41 and the Senate bill cleared with a 28-12 vote.

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By Zobia Nayyar

Resolutions to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment swiftly passed the General Assembly Wednesday. The House version passed 59-41 and the Senate bill cleared with a 28-12 vote. The next step will be for each resolution to pass the other chamber, sometime in February.

“As the House sponsor of the bill, it is an honor to lead the effort in this historic moment for women,” said Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William, in a released statement. “This vote demonstrates how greater female representation in government can significantly improve the lives of women across the country. We are here and will be heard.”

VAratifyERA, a campaign focused on the state’s ratification tweeted shortly after passage of the resolutions: “The end is in sight!”

First lady Pam Northam and daughter Aubrey Northam appeared at the House gallery to witness the moment. They joined a crowd of mostly women who cheered loudly when the measure passed.

The governor and Democratic legislators have championed the ERA as a legislative priority, promising this year the amendment wouldn’t die in the House as it has in past years.

“Today is an absolutely historic day for our Commonwealth and a major milestone in the fight for equality in this nation,” said Attorney General Mark Herring in a statement.  “Women in America deserve to have equality guaranteed in the Constitution and Virginians should be proud that we will be the state that makes it happen.”

Though Virginia passage of the ERA is seen as a symbol of the new Democratic leadership, the effort may be too late. The Department of Justice announced last week that the ERA can no longer be ratified because its deadline expired decades ago.

U.S. Assistant Attorney General Steven Engel agreed that the deadline cannot be revived.

“We conclude that Congress had the constitutional authority to impose a deadline on the ratification of the ERA, and because that deadline has expired, the ERA Resolution is no longer pending before the states,” Engel said.

Carroll Foy said in an interview last week that she believes the DOJ legal counsel’s opinion will not stop the ERA’s progress.

“I am more than confident that this is just another effort by people who want to stop progress and who don’t believe in women’s equality,” Carroll Foy said. “This is another one of their concerted efforts to deny us fundamental rights and equal protections. But the time has come; we are unrelenting. We will not be deterred, and we will have our full constitutional equality.”

The amendment seeks to guarantee equal rights in the U.S. Constitution regardless of sex. It passed Congress in 1972 but could not collect the three-fourths state support needed to ratify it. Efforts to ratify the ERA gained momentum in recent years when it passed in Nevada and Illinois.

Five states –Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, Tennessee and South Dakota — have stated their intent to rescind their ratification, which ERA opponents say could prevent it from being added to the constitution, according to VAratifyERA. The ERA organization said that “Article V of the Constitution authorizes states to ratify amendments but does not give states the power to rescind their ratification.” The organization points out that the 14th, 15th and 19th amendments were added to the Constitution despite some state efforts to rescind ratification.

Herring said that he is “preparing to take any steps necessary to ensure that Virginia is recognized as the 38th ratifying state, that the will of Virginians is carried out, and that the ERA is added to our Constitution, as it should be.”

Female-led groups united at the General Assembly last week, urging representatives not to pass legislation ratifying the ERA. Groups such as The Family Foundation of Virginia, Eagle Forum, Students For Life of America and Concerned Women for America said they oppose ERA ratification because the amendment does not explicitly support women’s equality.

“The ERA does not put women in the Constitution,” said Anne Schlafly Cori, chairman of Eagle Forum, a conservative and pro-family group. “It puts sex in the Constitution, and sex has a lot of different definitions.”

President of the Virginia chapter of the The Family Foundation Victoria Cobb believe women have already achieved equality.

“Today I am different than men and yet equal under the U.S. Constitution, and Virginia Constitution and Virginia laws,” Cobb said.

A statement released last week by the National Archives and Records Administration, the agency that certifies ratification of amendments, indicated that the agency will follow DOJ guidance that the deadline to ratify has passed “unless otherwise directed by a final court order.”

Still, enthusiasm was palpable Wednesday at the State Capitol.

“The people of Virginia spoke last November, voting a record number of women into the House of Delegates and asking us to ratify the ERA,” said Democratic Majority Leader Charniele Herring in a released statement. “It is inspiring to see the amendment finally be considered, voted on, and passed – long-awaited recognition that women deserve.”

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