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Committee to discuss bill to “transform” state transportation, establish Passenger Rail Authority

A House committee decided last Wednesday to temporarily postpone action on a comprehensive transportation bill that, in part, establishes a governing body to purchase and manage railways, something supporters said the state has gone too long without. 

Capital News Service

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By Jimmy O’Keefe

A House committee decided last Wednesday to temporarily postpone action on a comprehensive transportation bill that, in part, establishes a governing body to purchase and manage railways, something supporters said the state has gone too long without.

The House Finance Committee, citing time constraints and the bill’s complexity, will act Monday on House Bill 1414, introduced by House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax.

The bill also amends several laws related to funds, safety programs and revenue sources.

The Virginia Passenger Rail Authority would be led by a board of directors consisting of 11 members, nine of which would be appointed by the governor, and would have the power to purchase and manage railways. Eight of the members will have voting power and would represent localities across the state. The authority would be tasked to promote, sustain and expand Virginia’s passenger and commuter rail service and to increase ridership.

Danny Plaugher, executive director of Virginians for High Speed Rail, said his organization has supported the creation of a rail authority for decades. The nonprofit advocates for frequent and fast rail service throughout the state and along the East Coast.

“It creates an entity that can own real infrastructure,” Plaugher said. “The state has not been in the business of owning rail since the state sold the Richmond to D.C. corridor in the early ’90s.”

Virginia announced plans late last year to purchase rail for passenger use from CSX.

Plaugher said that rail service in Virginia has increased by about 30% in the past decade. He noted that while Virginia has been expanding train service, trains in Virginia typically run north and south, not east and west.

He noted that the state’s four-year gubernatorial terms can limit certain initiatives and priorities can change.

“One of the benefits of a rail authority really is that you can have that long term sustaining vision for the expansion of passenger rail that supersedes the changing of any gubernatorial administration,” Plaugher said.

The authority would have the power to build and maintain rail facilities, borrow money and issue bonds to finance rail facilities. It also would make rules and regulations pertaining to railways. Local authorities would be subordinate to the rail authority.

The legislation includes the establishment of a transit incentive program, which would promote transit in areas with a population over 200,000 and “reduce barriers to transit use for low-income individuals.”

The rail authority is part of a larger transportation legislation package announced Monday by Gov. Ralph Northam and legislative leaders. Together with Senate Bill 890, HB 1414 aims to increase driver safety and modernize Virginia’s transportation system.

“Virginians should be able to get to work or to school safely, without sitting in traffic,” Northam said in a statement. “This bold package will reduce congestion, transform transit and rail service, and support economic growth across Virginia.”

Both bills would reduce vehicle registration fees to $13 for private passenger cars weighing 4,000 pounds or less and $18 for private passenger cars weighing more than 4,000 pounds. It also would allocate funding for interstates and streets to meet safety targets and raise the gas tax by 4 cents each year for the next three years. The gas tax will increase from 16 cents to 20 cents in July and will reach 28 cents by 2023. After that, the gas tax will be adjusted annually based on the United States Average Consumer Price Index.

“In November, Virginians overwhelmingly demanded we take swift, decisive action to move our Commonwealth forward,” Filler-Corn said in a statement provided to Capital News Service. “I am excited to work with the Governor and my colleagues in the General Assembly to pass this legislation that will make our roads safer, commutes shorter and transform passenger and commuter rail in Virginia.”

Plaugher sees the potential establishment of the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority as a step in the right direction for Virginia transportation.

“The Passenger Rail Authority is really positioning Virginia to take hold of their transportation destiny,” Plaugher said.

After a quick overview from the state Secretary of Transportation, Shannon Valentine, the chair moved to act on the bill Monday.

“I would invite the public to also please communicate with us any questions that you might have,” said House Finance Committee Chair Vivian Watts, D-Fairfax, who advised members to thoroughly read the bill. “Thank you very much for the overview of a very large, very complex, good look to the future.”

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Community

Results from “Lost Cause” Studio Project Survey Reveal a Richmond Eager to Confront its Past

The survey asked Richmond region residents to share their knowledge about and ongoing impact of the Lost Cause myth, their desire to learn about this complex history and how a transformed Valentine Studio can address community needs.

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From the Valentine.

Today the Valentine released the results of a community survey, conducted in October and November of 2020.

The survey asked Richmond region residents to share their knowledge about and ongoing impact of the Lost Cause myth, their desire to learn about this complex history and how a transformed Valentine Studio (the location on the museum’s campus where sculptor Edward Valentine created many Lost Cause works) can address community needs. More than 1,000 participants, representing a wide variety of perspectives and backgrounds, completed the survey.

A diverse team of historians, activists, local leaders, Valentine family members and community members developed the survey. The Valentine also held focus groups to gain a deeper understanding of the variety of opinions about the Lost Cause, the role of cultural institutions in sharing this history and the potential installation of the damaged, paint-covered Jefferson Davis statue, until recently displayed on Monument Avenue, in the space. The results of the survey and the focus groups will inform and guide the project development.

Results included:

A majority of respondents stated that they would like to see the Valentine use the reinterpreted studio to explore the history of power and policies in Jim Crow Richmond, the art and artistic processes that created Lost Cause sculptures and the history of racial oppression in Richmond.

Additionally, 65% of respondents from the Richmond region agreed that museums should acquire the monuments from Monument Avenue and display them with context. For the Valentine specifically, this reinforced our request to the City of Richmond to acquire and display the graffiti-covered Jefferson Davis statue on his back as he fell.

Additionally, focus group participants, moderated by project partner Josh Epperson, felt that using the studio to explore Lost Cause history and connect it to the present would be a valuable use of the space. Focus group participants also affirmed the Valentine’s commitment to continuing its high level of community engagement, which they expected to be critical to the success of the reimagined studio.

You can find additional survey results HERE.

“Based on the survey feedback we received from our fellow Richmonders, we are confident that this is the best next step for this space and for this institution,” said Director Bill Martin. “We look forward to providing a location where Richmonders can learn about the Lost Cause, consider Richmond and the Valentine’s early role in disseminating the damaging Lost Cause myth and ultimately gain a deeper, more nuanced, more empathetic understanding of the region we call home.”

The Valentine will continue to solicit and address community questions, comments or concerns as the Studio Project develops.

On December 31st the Washington Post had an article on the museum taking a closer look at the role that founder of Edward V. Valentine had in the lost cause.

Today, the artist’s studio is closed to visitors at the Richmond museum that bears his family name — the Valentine. But museum director Martin and others see the workshop as the center of what could be a public reckoning with the racist mythology that Valentine’s sculptures helped bring to life.

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Community

Bookbinder’s Brings you Mac & Cheese on Another Level with BIGWIFE’S Pop-Up

This isn’t your typical mom’s mac & cheese. If your mom makes mac & cheese like this we would like to be adopted.

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Old Original Bookbinder’s Seafood & Steakhouse has launched a new experimental pop-up concept focusing exclusively on macaroni and cheese. BIGWIFE’S Mac & Cheese is operating for delivery and carryout from the Bookbinder’s kitchen.

The inventive menu includes creative spins like Buffalo Mac with spicy chicken and gorgonzola cheese; Little Figgy Mac with goat cheese, ham and fig; Mac Lorraine with bacon, scallions, and gruyere; and Greek Wedding Mac with tomato, olive, artichokes, pepperoncini and feta. Any mac can be made gluten free.

Orders can be placed at https://www.bigwifesmac.com/ and via Grubhub. BIGWIFE’S is open Monday through Thursday from 5 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Old Original Bookbinder’s is located at 2306 E Cary Street, Richmond, VA 23223.

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Crime

City of Richmond declares State of Emergency due to “credible threats” related to planned protests

The city’s declaration opens up funds for emergency use and was voted into effect unanimously by City Council Monday evening.

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The City of Richmond and Mayor Levar Stoney’s administration has declared a State of Emergency for the city due to what officials call “credible threats” of violence related to planned protests leading up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20th.

The declaration follows Governor Ralph Northam’s declaration of a statewide State of Emergency, which allowed the administration to send National Guard troops and State Troopers to Washington, D.C. to help with security, logistics, and other immediate needs following the insurrection at the Capitol last week.

The city’s declaration opens up funds for emergency use and was voted into effect unanimously by City Council Monday evening.

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