Most of the state legislative primary battles in Northern Virginia are in the state Senate, which hasn't been on the ballot for four years. There's one House of Delegates primary in our region, for the 49th District, where veteran and Arlington NAACP President Julius “JD” Spain is challenging sitting Delegate Alfonso Lopez in the Democratic primary.
The 49th covers Pentagon City in the east, along Columbia Pike, to Bailey's Crossroads in the west. It's mostly in Arlington, with some pieces of Fairfax County.
The Greater Greater Washington Elections Committee posed questions to the candidates, along with other races in 10 Northern Virginia primary elections for General Assembly, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, and Commonwealth's Attorney. You can read the responses below. For lack of any better way to order them, we post the responses in the order they are submitted.
The Elections Committee will be deciding whether to make endorsements in the primaries, which we'll do if there is a clear best candidate in our opinion. To figure that out, we'll look at the questionnaire responses, but also, we'd like to hear from you. Do you have context we should understand about some of these answers? Other information? You can give us your feedback using this form.
The primary is June 11. You can see all of the races, and the responses we've posted so far, at our 2019 primary election page.
How do you see the transportation network changing to deal with growth in the region and increased numbers of trips? Specifically, what role do you see for transit, bicycling, and walking in the transportation network?
Alfonso Lopez: Since my first campaign in 2011, I have always been a strong supporter of smart, transit-oriented growth to make our community more urban, walkable, and accessible to everyone. The availability of safe and reliable transit is a real issue of equity for our community. Nearly half of all trips taken via transit in our region are taken by people with an annual income of $30,000 or less. Owning a car is extremely expensive. Investing in transit, walking, and biking infrastructure expands opportunity and makes our community more accessible for all.
In the House of Delegates, I’ve helped fulfill that vision for Northern Virginia by supporting numerous smart transportation bills. In 2013, I supported the first increase in dedicated transportation funding in Virginia in over 27 years. That legislation also funded the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, which has made many important multimodal transportation investments in Arlington and Fairfax County. In 2014, I supported legislation to create a statewide transportation funding prioritization process (Smart Scale). This year, based on that process, the Commonwealth Transportation Board is poised to add $200 million worth of projects in Northern Virginia to Virginia’s six-year improvement plan. 88% of those projects are transit improvements, including a second Crystal City Metro Station entrance in Arlington, an extension of the Crystal City-Potomac Yards Transitway, the West End Transitway in Alexandria, and Richmond Highway BRT in Fairfax County. In 2015, I supported legislation to increase dedicated funding for transit in Virginia (HB1887) and in 2018, I supported raising new revenue for dedicated capital funding for Metro—a vital statewide asset for our region.
In addition, I’ve also worked to pass legislation protecting Virginia bicyclists. In 2012, the Virginia Bicycling Federation bestowed me with the Virginia Bicycling Friendly Award for my legislation protecting bicyclists from being followed too closely by automobiles. I’ve also supported legislation protecting bicyclists from being “doored” by parked cars. Most recently, when the Penrose Civic Association, Arlington County, and VDOT reached an impasse regarding the location of the new Washington Boulevard Trail (which opened last year), I worked with VDOT to secure the right-of-way necessary to keep the project moving forward—while also protecting tree canopies and valuable natural resources.
Looking ahead, it’s clear that we can do more to invest in transit and improve accessibility in our region. Columbia Pike is the most heavily trafficked bus corridor in the entire Commonwealth of Virginia. We need to improve transit service on the Pike beyond just slapping a “Pike Ride” sticker on a Metrobus and calling it a day. I’m hopeful that WMATA’s current regional Bus Transformation study will help move our region in the right direction by recommending improved service and technology that are needed to attract new riders to our bus system.
Another major challenge facing the Commonwealth in the coming years is the Long Bridge Project, which would add a new rail bridge between DC and Virginia. The current bridge is at 98% capacity during the morning rush hour. A new bridge would allow the Commonwealth to expand and improve VRE Service. I also support the current plan to include a pedestrian bridge, which would improve walking and biking access from Arlington to Washington, D.C.
According to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, by 2045 22% of the trips in our region will be taken via transit, walking, bicycling, or some other alternative method. That means nearly 80% of the trips taken will still be by car. We can and we must do better as a region to invest in transit, walking, and bicycling improvements in our transportation infrastructure to move people more efficiently and effectively throughout our community.
Julius Spain: The DC metro region is expected to see an increase of 1.5 million people and 1.1 million new jobs by 2045. Smart growth policies are needed to ensure that we can manage this anticipated increase.
It is critical that we first decrease our reliance on cars and make all modes of transportation attractive — from continuing to improve WMATA to incentivizing employers in the region to continue to encourage teleworking. This must be coupled with the infrastructure needed to support a shift to transit, walking and bicycling.
Specifically, residents need better public transportation options along Route 7 and Columbia Pike. It is past time for us to prioritize Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and expand the current program on Route 1. An efficient BRT system can cut travel times for commuters, making their lives easier. We need to continue to build on the current BRT system and incentivize riders and drivers to use it.
There are sections of Columbia Pike which are not conducive to bike lanes. In those areas, there should be more bus route options. I would also advocate for investing in better lighting and signage to increase pedestrian safety and encourage alternate transit methods.
I support the current pilot programs for electric scooters and look forward to integrating scooters to address the “first- and last-mile” connections. Any final decision on scooters should include a plan to improve safety measures for riders, including increased awareness around helmets and automobile driver understanding of scooters.
The region has made many strides to encourage transit, bicycling and walking. I strongly support additional investments to develop infrastructure and also incentivize and encourage residents to utilize these methods.
Do you support adding transportation revenue to replace the loss to Northern Virginia from the 2017 Metro funding increase deal? If so, what new sources of revenue would you support and what types of projects would you like to see prioritized for the funding?
Alfonso Lopez: The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority gives our region a competitive advantage over neighboring jurisdictions. Just last year, the Authority approved $1.3 billion in transportation investments over the next six years. That’s an investment of over $200 million each year toward expanding the capacity of Northern Virginia’s transportation infrastructure. Compared to the $200 million that Northern Virginia will receive over a two-year period from the statewide transportation prioritization process, Smart Scale, the Authority clearly has a much greater impact on our region.
While it was critically important for our region and the entire Commonwealth to secure dedicated funding for Metro, I preferred Delegate Sullivan and Senator Saslaw’s proposal to raise additional revenue to pay for that improvement. Metro is a core statewide asset and, according to an analysis by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, Metro and VRE produce $600 million per year in income and sales tax revenue to the Commonwealth of Virginia. Rather than diverting $75 million a year from the Authority and requiring Northern Virginia localities to pay an additional $27 million in local funding, the Commonwealth of Virginia should have used that $600 million in state revenue to pay Virginia’s $154 million in dedicated capital funding for Metro.
This diversion has been especially onerous for my hometown of Arlington County because Arlington’s portion of the $27 million requirement now exceeds the reduced 30% local funding available through the Authority. This means that Arlington now has to divert funding from other local transportation priorities in order to meet our obligation to Metro.
While I support raising new revenue for the Authority, I think it’s also important to consider how that money will be prioritized and spent. The Authority’s current prioritization system established through HB599 places great value on the congestion reduction relative to the cost of the project. Looking at the Authority’s list of funded projects, it’s clear that this factor often favors road projects over transit, walking, and biking improvements.
Additionally, the Authority does not take land use into account when evaluating projects. The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority should be investing in transportation projects that encourage more smart growth and transit-oriented development, rather than suburban sprawl. In contrast, land use is the second highest factor in Northern Virginia used in the statewide prioritization process. Increased funding for the Authority should be connected to a reevaluation of the Authority’s prioritization process to ensure that it is investing in the projects that will move more people more efficiently throughout our region.
Julius Spain: I support adding transportation revenue to replace the loss to Northern Virginia.
Safety should be the number one priority for WMATA. WMATA is an aging system and riders need to be prepared for the regular maintenance needed to ensure safety and reliability. The SafeTrack plan is only part of the solution, and WMATA will continue to need regular maintenance updates.
The WMATA board recently voted to not extend the operating hours and allow for more maintenance time. WMATA should also prioritize providing more buses and developing a campaign to encourage bus riding. WMATA should also move forward with the plan to partner with ride sharing companies.
The arrival of Amazon HQ2 in National Landing has the potential to not only provide jobs, but also additional investments from Amazon. The region has much to offer the world’s most valuable retailer, and it is critical our community gets a fair deal. Virginia, DC and Maryland are making substantial investments by supporting WMATA based on the current ridership per locality. A large percentage of Amazon workers will use the Metro and other transit. Amazon should fund a significant portion of the cost to repair and maintain the WMATA system through a direct subsidy proportional to the cost per additional “Amazon” rider.
Given the growth in jobs and population in the region, what legislation would you champion to support the provision of more affordable housing in your district? How would you address housing supply across the cost spectrum?
Alfonso Lopez: I am incredibly proud to have authored and passed the bill creating the Virginia Affordable Housing Trust Fund in 2013. This legislation has become a major tool in Virginia's efforts to address issues of affordable housing capacity and homelessness prevention. In fact, Housing Trust Fund dollars have helped create projects in every corner of the Commonwealth. After just six years, thousands of families have avoided housing instability as a direct result of the Affordable Housing Trust Fund—including many families in the 49th district.
The lack of funding for affordable housing has become an increasingly problematic issue over the last few decades. Indeed, in my district—which is located within the Beltway and includes some of the lowest-income communities in the region—residents have been experiencing gentrification for quite some time. I often hear stories of elderly constituents who bought their homes in 1958 for $18,000 who now pay upwards of $4,800 a year in property taxes. Despite the help my office can provide in directing them to local and state assistance programs, those resources are not unlimited. As our region continues to grow, the uncertainty and fear felt by residents in my community will only increase until we address this issue head-on.
For years, I have put forward legislation creating a dedicated source of revenue for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Similar to the dedicated funding sources for the Virginia Water Quality Improvement Fund, this dedicated revenue would be triggered whenever the State Budget surplus exceeds $300 million. Then, a percentage of the revenue above $300 million would be set aside for the Housing Trust Fund. This means that in lean years the Housing Trust Fund would not receive funding, but in flush years the Fund would grow. Members of the House Appropriations Committee and Senate Finance Committee have consistently opposed this legislation, arguing that they would rather control the amount appropriated each year. Unfortunately, those same members regularly use the revenue for the Housing Trust Fund as a bargaining chip in their conference negotiations, which brings unnecessary uncertainty to a program that doesn’t deserve it.
After much personal advocacy, the Governor put $19.1 million in affordable housing funding into his original proposed budget this year. I also introduced a $50 million budget amendment for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which was unfortunately voted down by the majority. Going forward, we must not only increase overall affordable housing funding in Virginia—but we need to also provide for additional flexibility in the Commonwealth to allow municipalities to address the “missing middle” and their specific region’s needs.
Julius Spain: Housing costs are too expensive for most working families. When our families can’t afford housing, this leads to several other social and quality of life issues.
I support the current efforts of Virginia Housing Partnership Revolving Fund and the Virginia Housing Trust Fund to provide short-, medium- and long-term loans to reduce the cost of homeownership and rental housing, and create and preserve affordable housing.
The impact of Amazon on the region’s housing market has the potential to be devastating for working families. The current plans for Amazon investment in affordable housing are critical. Virginia has already agreed to provide an incentive to Amazon for job creation. I would champion legislation that would negotiate additional Amazon investment in the Virginia Housing Partnership Revolving Fund and the Virginia Housing Trust Fund.
I am concerned that our current affordable housing solutions are too focused on benefitting developers, and I would support a rebalancing of initiatives. I would champion legislation that provides housing grants and subsidies directly to the resident for low and moderate income earners. Instead of tax credits and fee reductions for developers, these funds can help our hard-working residents afford astronomical housing costs. I would also support a tax credit to encourage additional investments in affordable housing for nonprofit developers, with stringent reporting requirements to ensure that the tax credit leads to a steady increase of affordable housing rather than a giveaway to these companies.
I would also champion legislation that would create a commission to study whether any current obstacles exist in the state building code that prevent more modest size homes from being built, and whether any zoning restrictions in areas with a high cost of living are discouraging sufficient housing construction.