Mayoral Candidate Positions: Transit

Candidates for Richmond mayor received questionnaires from local nonprofit organizations James River Association, Richmond Forward, RVA Rapid Transit, Sports Backers, and Storefront for Community Design. Their responses — regarding public education, transportation, urban planning and the riverfront — will guide the Mayorathon, a candidate forum scheduled for Sept. 29.

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Below are the candidates’ responses to the questionnaire focused on transit, provided by RVA Rapid Transit. Responses have been published as received; no content has been edited beyond being formatted for the web.

Transit

QUESTION 1

State and federal plans are in the works to make Richmond a stop on a proposed higher speed rail route along the eastern seaboard.

Do you support a higher speed rail connection between Richmond and the Northeast Corridor?

JON BALILES: Absolutely, especially faster reliable rail service between Richmond and Washington. Anyone who has experienced Interstate 95 on a busy weekend during the summer knows that reliable timing and sustained speeds will do wonders for rail travel.

JACK BERRY: Yes.  Higher speed rail connecting RVA to the Northeast corridor would be a game-changer for Richmond.  Improved connections to the nation’s capital, the high tech economy of northern Virginia, and the Northeast corridor would provide a significant economic boost to our region. The I-95 corridor is congested and travel times to Washington are often unreliable and inconvenient. We’ve reached the limits of further widening of the interstate.  In addition, there are environmental consequences of auto congestion and auto dependency.  Population growth in the corridor is leading to an increased demand for safe and reliable alternatives to driving.  Unfortunately, existing rail service is unreliable as well, with trip times varying based on conflicts with freight traffic, breakdowns, and congestion due to bottlenecks.  Higher speed rail would add tracks that would dramatically improve reliability, which is even more important than increasing speed.

BOBBY JUNES: Yes, this has been in planning stages for a long time along with the plan to go south of Richmond also. Allow more people to work in Richmond also allows people to take jobs out of city. Time to start constructing this system before our lifetime ends. Richmond has always been a rail capital and center of rail transportation.

JOE MORRISSEY: I definitely support the high speed rail connection between Richmond and the Northeast Corridor.

MICHELLE MOSBY: The opportunity to provide our citizens with connections between Richmond, D.C. and the Northeast Corridor via a reliable, safe and convenient connection to our nation's capital must be acted on. This transportation investment is critical to the growth and development of our City and the Richmond Region. Reliable, higher speed rail service would provide new access to job opportunities for our residents, broaden the workforce for existing or new employers, reduce the reliance on the automobile, and provide a safer mode of transportation. We compete daily on a global platform and being a part of a higher speed rail system that connects us to some of the most important cities in the world will only enhance our position in the global economy.

LEVAR STONEY: Absolutely! Richmond is at a crossroads - literally. We are the gateway to the “New South.” We can either move forward and become competitive , or, we can fall further behind. High speed rail is a game changing dynamic. If we’re going to be competitive with other cities we need to embrace connectivity to other regions of the east coast. 

BRUCE TYLER: I support high-speed rail connection between Richmond and the Northeast Corridor. 

LAWRENCE WILLIAMS: I do support higher speed rail transit along the Northeast corridor. This right of way must however be wide enough to accommodate growth an unforeseen technology, especially in Historic Shockoe Bottom. In discussions with citizens, one interesting point came out. They said, "The rail service between D.C. and Richmond would also allow Northern workers to live in Richmond and work in Northern Virginia." Phasing of rail sections between Fredricksburg and Richmond and related cost will require regional cooperation and a mayor's support. 

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QUESTION 2

The station options being proposed for a higher speed rail connection in Richmond are Main Street Station, a Broad Street Station, and a Boulevard Station.

Which Richmond station option do you think offers the greatest opportunity for economic development and connectivity?

BALILES: The best potential for overall positive economic impact is in the Boulevard/Scott’s Addition/Broad Street area, although service to Newport News should be preserved at Main Street Station. There is major potential for development not only at the 60 acres on the City's Boulevard property but on another 100 or so acres in that area that is currently zoned industrial. That area could be developed in the future to include mixed use development that is new, more dense, and has a substantial impact on the city's tax revenue base.

BERRY: I generally view downtown to downtown service as the ideal model.  The city’s largest employment base, and its most important economic engine, is the downtown central business district.  

As downtown’s chief advocate for the past 18 years, I have seen the benefits of working for a stronger, more vibrant downtown.  The recent Main Street Station renovation as a multi-modal center, coupled with the major renovation to the train shed now underway, plus the BRT route, make the station an ideal location for RVA’s transportation hub.  This option also preserves the opportunity for an improved Staples Mill Station, which is important to our regional neighbor, Henrico.  It is possible that studies now underway may determine that this alternative is not realistic given the improvements that would need to be made to the infrastructure from Acca Yard to downtown.  If that turns out to be the case, I would support the Boulevard option as a centrally located station that could anchor the future development of Richmond’s “mid-town”.

JUNES: Main Street station is best suited as it gives ease of access to center city, to canal walk, and to newly approved Stone Brewery. This brings ability to move masses of people to convention center and to active economic development along the canal walk.  

MORRISSEY: I support the Boulevard Station as proposed by Dr. Eugene Trani, President Emeritus, Virginia Commonwealth University.

MOSBY: Main Street Station (MSS) has long served as the transportation hub of the City and our Region. The connections to the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), local transit, BikeShare, Virginia Capital Trail, and the most heavily utilized interstate system in the Country, I-95, all converge around MSS. Shockoe Bottom has experienced a resurgence of activity with a significant amount of new residential and businesses locating within close proximity to our Historic Main Street Station. We must continue to build on what has been a long standing priority to have Main Street Station serve our City as the primary higher speed rail station.

STONEY: There are pros and cons to all options and everything needs to be on the table. I will say that having a “downtown to downtown” connection would be an ideal scenario. Furthermore, we have already made investments to improving the Main Street Station, which will be directly connected to the BRT. Advantages to a Boulevard Station would be a brand new, completely functional and modern complex in a burgeoning neighborhood. When it comes to these decisions, we must look for the most practical and cost effective solution. As Mayor, I will work with outside partners and the state and federal government to achieve the best deal for the city. I also believe we can’t be thinking in the context of having just one station with access to higher speed rail. Other cities on the line have two stations servicing them - that should be an option for our region as well.

TYLER: At this point I believe there are two options that should be considered the Main Street Station and the Boulevard Station location.  

Main Street Station’s close proximity to the Central Business District provides easy access to businesses, VCU Health, and the courts.  The station is also convenient for residents in the multifamily housing located in Shockoe Bottom.  With the addition of high speed rail, development could continue at a rapid pace.  The two biggest issues with this location is getting rail service to the station without compromising Hell’s half acre and access to the station from Interstate 95.  

The Boulevard Station offers the advantage of connecting to the existing north line, which stops at the Staples Mill Station for regular train services.  This location could eliminate the two station concept that we currently have in Richmond.  By locating the station next to the existing bus depot it will facilitate intermodal transportation options.  Also, ease of access to Interstate 95 is a major consideration.  Based on current businesses in the area, hundreds of thousands people a year visit the Boulevard area (The Diamond and Bow Tie Movie Theatre).  The biggest issue with this location will be assembling the land to actually develop the station site and the associated new loop track.

WILLIAMS: The North Boulevard station between the tracks and the Greyhound Bus station, option, in my opinion is the most cost effective rail station location. Please visit: http://www.lawrencewilliamsarchitect.com/#!NORTH BOULEVARD AERIAL MAX USE/zoom/c1zy6/dataItem-iqptgd2f  
 
The topography and infrastructure entanglements at Main Street Station and the ability for a rail station to grow over time, eliminates Shockoe Bottom as the primary rail station for Richmond. Presently trains cannot make right turns when going to the cardinal points. Often trains have to travel to Fulton Yard to wait for rail traffic to pass before proceeding north, south east or west. The flat land of North Boulevard can accommodate the future regional and local mass transit rail of the future. I am also concerned additional tracks adjacent to historical burial grounds and the train shed will impact planning for the Shockoe Plaza development. As Mayor, my goal would be to promote the North Boulevard proposal because of its flexibility and long term economic impact. Upon additional review from citizens the North Boulevard rail station will be a part of my 10 point election platform. The above mentioned study of North Boulevard is presented as a public service and to illustrate practical real world visionary leadership without tax payers paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in studies. That money could be going to our schools. The cost of elections should be going to schools. Yes Main Street station is valuable as a local loop mass transit rail station but not as a regional future high or faster speed rail hub. The western lines are cheaper to build and connect. That being said I would as Mayor, request study of local metro rail line connecting VCU medical campus to North Boulevard. A phase two line between North Boulevard and Carytown. Then a phase three mass transit metro rail loop from Cary to VCU and Main Street Station along the Expressways. Each leg, with two tracks and two passing trains going in opposite directions would reverse direction at Main Street Station to minimize track width right of ways and  structure coordination.   Conclusion: Main Street Station is a local Mass Transit Metro Rail Hub. North Boulevard would be a regional Hub. Historic Shockoe Bottom and a natural Shockoe Bottom North can remain untouched by parking and rail growth. The Historic Train Shed should remain without air conditioning to be environmentally efficient. We learned this energy lesson at Sixth Street Mall. The train shed would  serve as an all-weather back up space to the new Lumpkins Jail / Shockoe Plaza proposals. A Food Hall/ Assembly Hall  with present  Shockoe Chiefs, each with competing vendor spaces,  would be appropriate in the existing open air shed with hinged full glass walls sloped and facing North and seen from I-95.

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QUESTION 3

The Richmond Regional Transit Vision Plan will be complete in the fall of 2016. This project, which is being undertaken by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation in partnership with the jurisdictions of Metro Richmond, will offer the layout of a regional public transit network, but one premised on regional cooperation.

What are the barriers to regional cooperation from your perspective, and how do you intend to foster more collaboration in order to bring this much-needed plan to fruition?

BALILES: Building regional trust begins by picking up the phone. Municipalities can't enter into large cooperation agreements if trust is lacking, as it is today. Smiles and handshakes at breakfasts are one thing, expanding transit is another. That starts with working with Henrico to expand transit along Broad Street westward where the jobs are located. That should be the first step, then work on the next corridor, either Route 1 north and south or Route 360 east and west. I rode the bus to work when I was a City employee and I will do so as Mayor with my regional counterparts to show them that transit can work to everyone's benefit.

BERRY: As a former city official and county administrator, I understand the perspectives of all the players.  Regional cooperation depends on mutual trust, respect and effective working relationships.  These relationships are built over time by working together and communicating constantly.  Professional respect of each jurisdiction’s organizational capacity is important, as is avoidance of overly partisan politics.  Both the current Hanover and Chesterfield County Administrators used to serve on my staff.  We know each other well and have the utmost respect for each other.  In addition, the Henrico Manager served as an intern in the Richmond Budget Office.  Between those leaders, plus the City’s CAO, and all of the elected officials, some of which will be new, this is a perfect time to push the reset button and get to work on regional issues, starting with transportation

JUNES: Need to make surrounding counties and towns part of plan - not excluded or secondary to metro area plan. Share benefits as participating parties should be offered to receive somewhat equal payback for being "active member.  

MORRISSEY: In my opinion, the biggest barrier to regional cooperation is that the surrounding municipalities do not trust the City of Richmond’s management of its finances.  Their lack of trust is not unfounded, given the city’s failure to meet financial reporting deadlines for the past 2 years, and its poor budgeting history. That trust will not be extended until and unless Richmond shows sustained evidence of having mastered its financial management functions. 

MOSBY: The barrier to regional cooperation is a perception of unwillingness, but I believe we are making strides as a region. In my 3 plus years on council I have experienced UCI and BRT as examples of collaboration. I will continue to insert myself and even start the conversation as it relates to regional cooperation. As the President of Council I have the opportunity to be on boards such as the Greater Richmond Partnership. This board is designed to promote our region and help cultivate economic opportunities. I will press upon all the need for regional transportation that serves as a catalyst for economic growth that is beneficial for everyone. I will foster regional collaboration through my belief that we are stronger together as a region and we can serve all of our citizens better by providing safe and reliable transportation options that go beyond our local boundaries.

STONEY: As Mayor, I plan on being collaborator in chief with our friends in the surrounding counties. I have established relationships - and the leadership and vision necessary - to get everyone around the table. If we want to grow our economy and take our region to the next level, we need to work together to create a comprehensive and competitive transportation network that will allow all of us to grow and win. With clear direction, a fresh approach, and commitment to collaboration, I will tackle any barriers standing in the way of regional cooperation that can move us forward.

TYLER: The main barrier is funding.  On average for every dollar spent on transportation, twenty cents comes from the fare box and eighty cents comes from city, state and federal funding.  Elected officials representing adjacent local jurisdictions do not want to raise taxes to provide for a service they believe their constituents will not use.  

The only way to fund expansion of our transit system will be to look to the regional planning district for transportation funding.  We need for this body to create a dedicated source of funding.  

WILLIAMS: I would work closer with the regional planning commission from a promotional perspective. The previously mentioned Mayors Blue Ribbon Citizen Regional Advisory Board would also be made up of citizens outside of the City to foster goodwill, define and to work through obstacles with experts.  The State Legislature has many regional cooperation laws in place, however, the local City Council and County Supervisors have stalled progress. The lack of knowledgeable salesmanship has been lacking. 

With the help of Community Volunteers across jurisdictional boundaries, I feel I have the best skill set and salesmanship to achieve mass transit progress with a clear vision.

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QUESTION 4

The Broad Street BRT route will be a first of its kind in our region.

What do you think is the next key corridor to focus on expanding our BRT system? Why?

BALILES: West Broad in the direction of Short Pump because that is a major jobs corridor. This line can be extended without dedicated lanes, which makes it more cost affordable, yet it can still operate with speeds that make transit more reliable.

BERRY: The logical next step is to extent the Broad Street BRT corridor further west to employment centers and retail centers in Henrico.  I believe breakthroughs in regional cooperation are possible with the next mayor, and I plan to engage Chesterfield in dialog regarding transit.  After expanding west on Broad Street, the next priority is probably the Rt. 60 Midlothian corridor, as it would have the highest potential to connect citizens to jobs, since there are over 40,000 jobs in this corridor not currently accessible by GRTC patrons.  

JUNES: The Route 33 corridor. It is a centrally located and expansive route that would pull a lot of users to a central area. It also runs more North - South. Certainly be as much benefit to Henrico County as it would benefit City of Richmond. Stepping stone with shared benefits whereby all parties to the project obtain piece of the active participation distribution.

MORRISSEY: I think the next key corridor should be Staples Mill Road West from Willow Lawn into Henrico County.  Other possible corridors are in South Richmond along the Jeff Davis Highway and/or Hull Street, Midlothian Turnpike, and Broad Rock Road – all in Chesterfield County.

MOSBY: I believe the next route should be a south side route that not only connects north and south of the river but also connects into chesterfield. The south side is not only the most densely populated of the city but it also has the most potential for revitalization and building stronger communities. The next phase of development in the evolution of our city should be south side Manchester, Jeff Davis, Hull Street and Midlothian corridors. We need to have a strategic growth plan that will support the advancement of the Bus Rapid Transit and one that will reflect the desire and character of the residents currently living along these corridors.

STONEY: Whatever your opinion about Bus Rapid Transit - I personally supported it - it is critical that we acknowledge that BRT is the beginning of a wider, regional transit network in Central Virginia. The Broad Street line is a good start and provides transportation from east to west, but I would want to explore a North/South corridor next - perhaps along Jefferson Davis Highway and Chamberlayne Ave. This is about economics: transportation connects people to jobs, and additional routes will improve the quality of life for all Richmonders.

TYLER: The next key corridor for the BRT would be the north south corridor.  By creating this next line we will be able to service the four major quadrants of our city.  

WILLIAMS: First, I would like to see the Richmond Pulse Line (RED LINE) become a BRT linear transfer system with other bus routes connecting to it along Broad Street. Second, I would like to see a Richmond Rapids Line (BLUE LINE) from Parham Road along Chamberlayne  Ave. across the James River at The Lee Bridge and Continue West to Midlothian Turnpike as a linear BRT Transfer Station. Finally, a metro loop light rail circling the inner city core along existing rail lines and expressways, connecting Carytown to Main Street Station, Carytown to North Boulevard and North Boulevard to the VCU Medical Campus. 

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QUESTION 5

The most successful transit networks in the country have a dedicated revenue stream, and our lack of dedicated funding for public transportation has been cited as the number one challenge to providing transit for the region.

Do you support a dedicated source of funding for transit? If so, what funding source would you prefer? If not, why not?

BALILES: The best way to achieve this is to get approval from the General Assembly to lower the bar for applying for regional transportation improvement funds. Currently, only Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia qualify. If so, a regional authority could be created to significantly enhance our shared transit network.

BERRY: Regional transit is one of the most important opportunities to connect underemployed city residents with job opportunities in the counties.  Currently, less than 30% of jobs metro-wide are accessible to residents living in transit served neighborhoods.  And 18% of city residents don’t have a car.  High quality regional transit is a key component of the City’s anti-poverty strategy, and it is an expectation for choice riders as well, as more and more citizens want options beyond the private automobile.  One approach taken by other regions in the country is to combine state and federal funding with a regional dedicated funding source, such as a portion of the sales tax or the gas tax.  A regional transportation funding mechanism would allocate funding to many regional transportation projects, including roads, bridges as well as transit.

JUNES: Yes I support dedicated source funding on a limited basis. Perhaps a initial start-up period of 6 - 12  months. After kick off period the system needs to convert over on a phase basis to become more like a private operating business. Its focus to achieve financial success as a  interdependent self funded entity.

MORRISSEY: In general, my preference is 1/3 federal, 1/3 state, and 1/3 local contributions for funding transit needs.  The biggest barrier to having a dedicated funding stream is the constitutional requirement that the state and the city have balanced budgets.  Localities have traditionally used their bonding capacity to fund transportation infrastructure but, as is well documented, Richmond’s bonding capacity, at current revenue levels, is almost tapped out.

MOSBY: Yes. I do support a dedicated revenue stream for public transportation. The answer of how to accomplish that is not an easy answer. We are in tight budget times, with numerous competing interests. Among them are schools, basic city functions, housing, addressing poverty and numerous other vital activities. Support for public transit should be a regional effort and only through that process can we achieve an efficient, comprehensive system. This must be achieved to accomplish an economically sound system for the future. Again, I believe in a dedicated revenue stream for public transportation but the answer for how to do that comes with setting priorities, making compromises and working together with our partners, locally and regionally to develop a sustainable revenue source.

STONEY: We need to be doing a better job of beating down the door of state and federal government officials, this is a shared responsibility and I vow to be a champion for transportation funding. I will use my relationships on both levels and build new coalitions to find the funds necessary to make transportation a priority. A transformative, 21st century transportation plan not only puts Richmond on the map, it improves the quality of life of those living here. The resource are there - and as Mayor - I will show leadership in tirelessly advocating for them.

TYLER: As I indicated earlier I believe a dedicated funding source must come from the regional transportation funds.  I will work with our General Assembly representatives to create this funding source for transportation.  This is the most appropriate way to expand transportation into Chesterfield County and augment service in Henrico County.  

WILLIAMS: I support a dedicated funding source for transit. However, it is a regional issue when you consider Chesterfield is already a vested stock holder in the success or failure of the existing bus system. Especially if the new transit system competes with it. Inner City Transit on the above three phases is in the best interest of local county commuters just as the Downtown Expressway proved to be. The three phases are awaiting a Regional Study Initiative lead by regional administrators that should be freed by their Council or Supervisors to do so. This, I am certain is a desire of all citizens. 

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QUESTION 6

The Richmond Transit Network Plan (RTNP), which will be complete in January 2017 and is being undertaken by the City in consultation with Jarrett Walker + Associates, is an incredibly unique opportunity to enhance the bus lines for which the City pays, particularly in coordination with the BRT.

How will you personally play a role in the creation and implementation of this plan, regardless of the outcome of this election?

BALILES: I will ride the bus, as I have in the past, and continue to advocate for better public transit. That’s because it is essential for economic development, connecting people with jobs, and serving those in need. There is no better way to lead than by example.

BERRY: The Richmond Transit Network Plan is an excellent planning process to evaluate alternative route structures and trade-offs in the context of implementing BRT.  The results could provide a dramatic transformation of the GRTC system.  Connectivity to BRT will be an important priority for the revised network.  Community preferences for speed vs. coverage, and willingness to walk further to get more frequent service will be evaluated.  It is important that citizens have a lot of input in rebuilding a system of public transit that impacts so many people on a daily basis.  Just like the master planning process, civic engagement is the key to getting buy-in for new approaches.  My role is to encourage broad based civic engagement, find resources for implementation, ensure that the very best options are put on the table, and be a passionate advocate and consensus builder.  The City government must become a strong, capable partner with the ability and determination to get plans implemented.

JUNES: Certainly any new system that makes the operations more effective over efficiency should be looked at given the long range of plan. Play role as a citizen and resident of the City of Richm attend open forum to hear discussions regarding the Richmond Transit Network Plan.  

MORRISSEY: Either as the Mayor, or as a private citizen, I will advocate for adoption of this plan as long as it is in the best interests of the residents of Richmond.

MOSBY: I will continue to advocate for the South side and transportation in general as I know that development of both can have a critical impact to the future development of our city. We are a great city but we can be even greater if we are willing to do the hard work to get this right. The Richmond Transit Network Plan presents an extremely unique opportunity to make changes to the existing bus routes in a way that will better serve all of our citizens.

STONEY: I applaud the RTNP for their efforts to intimately involve members of the community in the design process for the new transit network, whether through regular community meetings in all corners of the city, or through the easy-to-navigate web surveys. As a candidate, I encourage all residents to engage with the RTNP planning process now - that way, people are informed when Jarrett Walker + Associates present their three options to City Council in 2017. As Mayor, I will be hands-on in these discussions, so that when Council make their choice, I can head back out into the community and involve residents in the development and implementation process, too. RTNP are setting a gold standard for how we should engage Richmonders in decisions that impact their day to day lives.

TYLER: Public transportation for our city is critical and this study is working to improve our public transportation.  

On July 27, I attended a public meeting to listen to the presentation and the citizens asking questions and making suggestions.  I did this to let folks know that I will be an active participant in this process.  As this plan comes forward, I will review the report and work with the consultants to create the best possible outcome for delivering bus services to our citizens.  

WILLIAMS: I feel most Citizens have come to know me as a visionary and would like such input from a 21st century mayor. During my "Mayorship" and beyond, I hope I have illustrated my willingness to fast track citizen initiatives. We have waited long enough.

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