The fourth week of this session of the General Assembly brought some of greatest highs and greatest lows I have ever experienced in my 10 years serving in the General Assembly.
In a Monday, Jan. 29 press conference with Governor Northam, we announced a new agreement with Transurban to start the immediate construction of a new lane southbound on I-95 between VA-123 and the Prince William County Parkway. Transurban agreed to waive any compensation event or penalty payment on their existing contract. With this agreement, we are much closer to removing the worst bottleneck in all of Northern Virginia, the most frequent transportation complaint I receive — a traffic nightmare that costs millions of Virginians millions of hours of lost productivity.
For the last three years, Sen. Jeremy McPike and I have been pressing the McAuliffe and Northam administrations for solutions. Local officials had proposed similar solutions that were either impossible to build due to existing Transurban contract language or even if funded, would not open for another 7-10 years. Our agreement uses no taxpayer dollars, will allow construction to begin in 18-months and be completed within three years.
My legislation to facilitate underground utilities on U.S. 1 in Fairfax County passed both the full Commerce and Labor and Finance Committees and will be before the full Senate this week. If enacted, it will create a mechanism under which Fairfax County can pass the cost of the undergrounded lines on to all county electricity ratepayers through their electric bill.
This week, the Senate will vote on my bill to require sound coal ash storage, thanks to a bipartisan agreement and help from Governor Northam, Secretary of Natural Resources Matt Strickler, House Speaker Kirk Cox and Senate Commerce & Labor Committee Chairman Frank Wagner. The agreement prohibits using existing leaky ash ponds for future storage and for existing coal ash, requires Dominion to either recycle it or put it in a landfill with a secure liner. The cleanup will cost $3 billion and be funded by ratepayers at no more than $5 per month on electricity bills. This might be the first time Virginia has done something that is more protective of the environment than required by federal law.
On Jan. 31, the Senate Local Government Committee approved my bill to authorize Fairfax County to clean up “rogue” shopping carts after giving stores 10 days’ notice. Loose shopping carts, still a problem on U.S. 1, do not belong in our streams. My creek cleanups conducted with the Friends of Little Hunting Creek have collected over 230 shopping carts and counting out of Little Hunting Creek.
Friday was a very difficult day for all of us. I had planned a town hall meeting with Sen. George Barker and Del. Kathy Tran at South County High School. Delegate Tran received numerous threats and we learned about online conversations discussing which sniper rifles to bring to a planned, pre-meeting, anti-abortion rally. Also, law enforcement officials expressed concerns about safety and logistics, especially because four student and youth sports events were scheduled to occur simultaneously. Given these reports, we cancelled the meeting.
While discussing the meeting, we received word of Governor Northam’s yearbook pictures showing two people in blackface and a Ku Klux Klan (KKK) robe. By the time I was home, Governor Northam had admitted that he was in the pictures and apologized. That evening, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and both the Senate and House Democratic Caucuses determined that featuring such things on a personal yearbook page, even 30 years ago, severely undermined faith in the Governor’s ability to lead the Commonwealth. All called for his resignation. While I am aware that he revised his position the next day, massive damage has been done to the Governor’s ability to lead.
I am extremely saddened by the situation. I have never seen the slightest hint that Ralph Northam could support such intolerance and abhorrent behavior. While Governor Northam now says that how the photograph got there is under investigation, featuring blackface and KKK on a personal yearbook page is truly horrific and should be condemned.
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