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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

A Bangin’ BLT in Support of Food Justice

Hanover Tomato season is upon us let the BLTs commence.

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A tasty message from Salt & Forge and Salt N’ Vinegar.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…. Hanover Tomato season! Salt & Forge are bringing you the Hanover Tomato BLT of your dreams, featuring Bangin’ Pimento Cheese from Soul N’ Vinegar plus extra thick-cut bacon, charred jalapeño mayonnaise, and butter lettuce on toasted country white bread from Albemarle Baking Company.

This year, Salt & Forge has partnered with Soul N’ Vinegar to support Richmond Food Justice Alliance. RFJA is a grassroots, resident-led organization advancing healthy food access by addressing historical inequalities that drive low food access in our communities.

For every BLT sold, Salt & Forge will donate $1 to the Richmond Food Justice Alliance to help support their work, improving food access in Richmond’s most vulnerable communities.

In order to ensure the highest donation possible to RFJA, the Hanover Tomato BLT is not available to order through third party delivery apps such as UberEats and GrubHub. “The focus is on local food, local businesses, local partnerships, and supporting local food alliances. We don’t want third party apps benefitting from this sandwich,” says owner David Hahn.

The special will last through the duration of the Hanover Tomato season, which varies every year dependent on weather and growing conditions. This is typically a 4-6 week window of time.

Salt & Forge serves up gourmet, hand-made sandwiches, salads, and breakfast at 312 N 2nd St in Richmond’s Historic Jackson Ward neighborhood. For more information, visit saltandforge.com.

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Downtown

Stoney administration commits $25-50 million for commemoration, memorialization of “complete history”

The first investment of $3.5M will fund the Shockoe Area Memorial Park campus.

RVAHub Staff

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Surrounded by members of the Shockoe Alliance on Tuesday, Mayor Stoney committed to funding a capital improvement budget amendment of between $25 and 50 million in the city’s five-year CIP plan specifically for the commemoration and memorialization of what he calls “Richmond’s complete history.”

The mayor asserted that the shared priority of the Shockoe Alliance and city leadership is embracing and “telling the truth about Richmond’s history, centralizing the turmoil, resistance, resilience, and triumphs of Black Richmond.”

“Black lives built this city. Black lives have defined Richmond’s history. They matter,” Stoney said. “The story of Black lives should span our skyline, our landscape, and our textbooks accordingly.”

Priority investments will include the Shockoe Area, various African American burial grounds, and the Slave Trail. The effort will begin with a $3.5 million investment in the Shockoe Area Memorial Park.

The memorial park, a vision developed by the Shockoe Alliance and informed by decades of community work in the area, will use greenspace and structural sites such as a heritage center or museum to create a space of memorialization, education, and atonement.

The space will encompass the African American Burial Ground, the Devil’s Half Acre site, and the two blocks east of the railroad tracks that may constitute a future archeological site.

“In this city, we care about our history. We are our history, no matter how painful that may be to confront, and we are committed to telling our full story,” said Mayor Stoney. “That story, and so rightfully that investment, begins here. On the ground of Shockoe, and in honor of our ancestors.”

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Crime

Richmond reschedules National Night Out events due to COVID-19 concerns

Events will be tentatively rescheduled for October 6th, 2020.

RVAHub Staff

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Due to COVID-19 concerns, the Richmond Police Department is rescheduling this year’s National Night Out.

National Night Out will be tentatively held on Tuesday, October 6, 2020.

“We will continue to monitor the COVID-19 conditions in Richmond,” police said in a release. “Please watch RPD’s social media sites for updates.”

National Night Out is designed to heighten crime and drug prevention awareness, generate support for, and participation in, local anti-crime efforts, strengthen neighborhood spirit and police‐community partnerships, and send a message to criminals letting them know neighborhoods are organized and fighting back.

As we get closer to the rescheduled date, RPD will provide updates on the status of 2020 National Night Out.

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