The I-66 Conundrum

Everyone agrees that I-66 is the most congested traffic corridor in the Commonwealth.  Everyone agrees that traffic relief along I-66 is the most critical objective in Virginia, or at least in northern Virginia.

That’s where the agreement ends.  More transit?  More lanes?  Tolling?  HOV?  It all depends on where you are and where you’re going.

Divides in northern Virginia can roughly break down between “inside the Beltway” and “outside the Beltway.”  Nowhere is that more evident in the I-66 debate.  If you live inside the Beltway, there is no I-66 crisis — and you have 18 trains an hour departing for the District.  Your commute is a breeze.

If you live outside, the Beltway itself is a invisible wall.  You can’t get inside — it’s either gridlock or you need another warm body next to you.  So you spend your life traveling around the Beltway.

From the outside-the-Beltway perspective, there’s no reason to widen I-66 anywhere unless the widening occurs INSIDE the Beltway.  Otherwise, you just have more lanes funneling to the same bottleneck.  (And, no, you can’t toll lanes which are currently free to the public).

In addition to this basic dilemma, there is the further problem that widening I-66 at its most critical point — the I-66 and I-495 cloverleaf — means taking land from the historic community of Dunn Loring, which sits on both sides of Gallows Road as it travels north-south from “the Mosaic” to Tysons Corner.

Early VDOT plans showed a disregard for that fragile ecosystem.  Later plans are dialing that back, primarily through burying the new storm water ponds, but there’s still plenty of takings planned.  The biggest variable is whether the County will continue with its plans to widen Gallows Road.

On top of all this is the issue of whether the Orange Line will even be extended from Vienna.  It’s been early 30 years since that station opened.  Since then there has been no plans, even conceptually, to extend the line.  Based on current linear mile construction costs, that Metro extension would seem to be a pipe dream.

It’s a lot to digest.  All spring there have been meetings in Dunn Loring, Fairfax, Oakton and Chantilly — and there will be many more.  Eventually, the Commonwealth Transportation Board will make this final choice, although the Fairfax County Board will have a say.  Let me know what you think.

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Thursday night at Brion’s Grill in Fairfax my campaign will be hosting our first “Chappy Hour” of the 2015 campaign season.   Please stop by for a drink or wings.

We’ll be watching the “NFL Draft,” a night which is like Christmas Day for football fans.  (Imagine Mel Kiper breaking down the arrival of baby Jesus.  “He’s got great vision, tremendous upside.   But can he handle a Roman-dominated world?”)

There are the Top Picks, who will be at the Draft with their entourage; typically, it’s mom and dad, siblings, a random girlfriend, and the family pastor.  The Top Pick is the awkward giant in the ill-fitting suit with the cell phone pressed to his ear.  The golden phone call has arrived.  In that moment, the summer “two-a-days” and early morning workouts finally pay off.  He’s made it.

My fascination is with the guys who fall to the lower rounds or go undrafted.  Nobody covers those phone calls.  And yet so many of them go on to be the backbone of Super Bowl champions.   Who is this year’s Tom Brady?

I relate to the undrafted guys — those who are scrambling just to get bus fare to camp.  The guys who show up hungry and beat out the bonus babies.

When I came out of law school in 1994, I was undrafted.  I had clerked for two major law firms — and neither offered me a job.  I called just about every single law firm in northern Virginia (and everywhere else) and left hundreds of un-returned messages, until I finally got an offer.   Two years later, that firm split up and I was on the street again.

That was 20 years ago.  Now my partners and I own a firm which has 45 employees, 20 lawyers and (soon) two State Senators.  But it seems like a dream.  All my career I’ve remembered that I was undrafted — and I have to prove myself every day.

Maybe you were a Top Pick in your life.  Or maybe you were undrafted.  Either way, join us at Brion’s Grill next Thursday.  I’ll save a cold one for you.

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A Few Random Thoughts …

It’s Monday, April 20.  Last week flew by with veto session and an ongoing trial.

A few random thoughts in no particular order …

Susan Swecker is an excellent choice for Chairman of the DPVA.  I’ve known Susan since I was a mere babe in the House of Delegates.  She’s first class.

Excellent choice also by GMU in selecting Dave Paulsen as its next men’s basketball coach.  He’s a proven winner with Bucknell, and the exiting of Shaka Smart from VCU promises to reshape recruiting in the Old Dominion.  I went to college with Dave back in the Eighties — Williams College represent!

If I had a son that plays football (and I do), there is no better role model, on and off the field, than Troy Polamalu, who just retired after a Hall of Fame career.  I used to tell my legal associates that they needed to wear a Polamalu-style wig when they went to court — because that’s the kind of intensity I wanted them to have.

Glad the spring is finally here.  Ran the Fairfax Bar 5K last weekend at Fairfax Corner.  A shade under 24 minutes.  Not very good.  Looking to improve on that at Vienna Elementary 5k Sunday morning.

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The Longest (Veto) Day

The veto session ended its third day today down in Richmond.  We’ve officially been sitting for fifty-two (52) straight hours.

(ed. note:  we recessed for a day on Thursday which allowed me to return to court, where I’m in a multi-week trial).

Wednesday we took up all the Governor’s amendments and vetoes, which included the scuttling of SB 695.  On the Senate side, we “passed by” the amendments — while the House adopted an amendment which scaled back the law, thereby keeping open the door for other technologies like “retina scan” which allow law enforcement to covertly scan and upload personal identifying information, but kept the 7-day limit.

Today we passed the Governor’s amendments, or most of them, on the issue of ethics, including a $100 cap (aggregated) on gifts.  We also heard final speeches from Senators Chuck Colgan, John Watkins, Walter Stosch, Jeff McWaters and Toddy Puller, who are retiring after this session.

Book of Ecclesiastes:  “Let us now praise famous men (and women) … Leaders of the people by their counsels … wise and eloquent are their instructions … All were honored in their generations, and were the glory of their times.”

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On Eve of Veto Session, SB 965 Hit with Misinformation

It’s a day before the veto session.  All of the lawmakers will be returning to Richmond tonight or tomorrow.

Ironically, the most controversial legislation appears to be SB 965, which passed unanimously back in the regular session.  That bill strictly limited the use of government to utilize “surveillance technology” to collect personal information without a warrant.  Now a tremendous amount of lobbying is being used to defeat it.

I’m not in Richmond to answer every charge, but basically the arguments are based on three distinct pieces of misinformation:

1.  That the legislation was “rushed” through the chamber.

2.  That it takes away the ability of police and Sheriffs to track missing persons or solve crimes under active investigation.

3.  That the conference report has an unintended effect on existing (pro-safety) technologies that Sheriffs and police use every day.

I take these criticism seriously, so I’ll examine each one in turn — especially since the Governor has now amended the legislation to effectively “legalize” the very technology I was attempting to restrict.

First, the original bill was “pre-filed” before session began and introduced at a press conference with bipartisan support. It spoke to limiting the state’s use of “any technology” for collecting personal data, where the data was of “unknown relevance” AND “not intended for prompt evaluation for purposes of suspected criminal activity.”  This was an extension of existing law, the Government Data Collection and Dissemination Act, which already limits government collection of personal data.  The bill in original form passed the Senate unanimously and the House, after full committee hearings in each. In conference, we NARROWED the scope of the bill from “any technology” to “any surveillance technology” in order to be more precise.  That conference report passed both bodies, approx. two months after introduction.  Not exactly a rush job.

Second, in regard to its effect on investigations, the bill on its face exempts data collected pursuant to a criminal investigation.  More specifically, the bill also permits a 7-day period to hold the data from license plate readers, which gives police the opportunity to decide whether that data is relevant to an investigation or a missing person.  If so, police can hold the data indefinitely.   (The purpose of the “seven days” was for police to determine whether the data actually was relevant — and not just part of a Databank Mountain).

Third, the bill does not effect any technology — surveillance or otherwise — where there is “known relevance,” e.g. a body camera attached to a police officer or a hidden camera in a jailhouse.  In other words, if there’s a purpose for the camera location, then it’s fine.  (Conversely, if the collection is random, then it’s not fine).  Despite this fact, a lot of the post-session lobbying against the bill has misrepresented this reality, by speaking only to the “surveillance technology” definition, which limited the scope, and failing to read the actual law.   The “scare tactic” is to say that SB 965 (and its House equivalent) limits the ability of law enforcement to collect data from ANY CAMERA outside of investigation, which is simply false.   Again, the critical test is “known relevance.”

(note:  This standard is no more or less vague than “probable cause” or “reasonable suspicion” which officers interpret every day in policing).

The irony, of course, is that the bill was specifically targeted for “license plate readers,” which have already been found (by an AG’s opinion) to be in violation of existing state law.  In fact, the State Police does not use them for that reason.  Our bill just basically brought the state Code in line with that opinion.

As I said before, the Governor’s amendments would take my bill, which strictly limited “surveillance technology,” and essentially turn it upside-down.  It would also (retroactively) legalize the use of LPR’s by northern Virginia police departments who ignored the AG’s opinion and continued to scan plates and databank info.

The voices in favor of the Governor’s amendments were the same voices that opposed my initial bill in the Senate and House.  And these arguments were specifically rejected in the House and Senate committees, after we pointed out how these “public safety” concerns were fully met by the bill’s text.  (In reality, the best use of LPR’s is more for collecting property taxes, than finding missing children).

I understand that nobody in state government wants to have their power limited.   But that’s what a citizen legislature is supposed to do.  In light of the misinformation on SB 965, it’s critical that the legislature assert that role.

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