Q&A with Shirley J. Ybarra
"Levey Live," appears each Tuesday from 12 to 1 p.m. Eastern time. It is a live, moderated discussion offering washingtonpost.com users the chance to ask questions directly of the people who make the news and the people who report it. Your host is Washington Post columnist Bob Levey.
Bob's guest today was Shirley J. Ybarra, Virginia's Secretary of Transportation. Ybarra, who has just completed her first year in this post, has an extensive background in governmental and commercial transportation issues. She previously served as Virginia's Deputy Secretary of Transportation and was a special assistant for policy for U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole from 1983 to 1987.
On Friday, join us for "Levey Live: Speaking Freely," an open-agenda conversation about anything on your mind, in the news or in Bob's Monday through Friday columns .
Here is a transcript of Shirley J. Ybarra's appearance:
Manassas, Va: How will northern Virginia possibly cope with the simultaneous reconstruction of the 95/495 interchange and the Wilson bridge?
Shirley J. Ybarra: Wilson Bridge construction will be the building of one new bridge with traffic moved on to it then the second span so this should help ease the congestion normally created by construction. Congestion manangement teams of both construction projects are setting up lines of communicaiton to coordinate. Visit both projects' websites in the future when they become available.
Vienna, VA: With what must be at least a half dozen new office buildings going up and plans for a "Tyson's Town Center" in the works, what are the plans for improving traffic in and around the Tyson's Corner area?
Shirley J. Ybarra: Del. Jim Scott has conducted a study this last year on opportunities in the Tyson's area. We are working to improve the signal coordination and selected roadway improvements. In addition, Ken Klinge, the Commonwealth Transportation Board member chairs the Dulles Group looking at implementing the Dulles Bus/Rail project.
Bob Levey: Your studies say that 2,500 motorists a day must be wooed off of I-95 or there will be unbelievable delays along I-95 during the Springfield reconstruction. But how do you do this? They've had many years to discover the wonders of Metro and Virginia Railway Express. Yet they continue to find two-hour commutes preferable. Is this an impossible problem?
Shirley J. Ybarra: We have worked to improve the VRE reliability and in fact have improved ridership dramatically in the last few months. We will also be providing commuter information at the "Information Store" to coordinate ridesharing and other public transportation options. We are also working with GSA to set up telecommunications sites as well as the park and ride lots along the I-95 corridor. Quite honestly Bob, 2500 is not many considering nearly 400,000 vehicles go through the interchange every work day. I would hope these other options would be attractive.
Reston, VA: What are the prospects of Metro rail service from Falls Church to Dulles airport?
Shirley J. Ybarra: Cong. Wolf secured $86 million in the TEA 21 bill. This year he has provided $17 of that amount. NoVa member of the Commonwealth Transportion Board is chairing a task force that is lookinng at implementing bus then rail. His group is making terrific progress on identifying the service patterns, managing entity and funding.
Bob Levey: Have you considered subsidizing rail and bus fares during the Springfield reconstruction?
Shirley J. Ybarra: Yes, it is one of the options being explored by the Congestion Mitigation Management Group. No decisions are made as yet.
Fairfax, VA: Is it a fair question to ask why most road construction seems to be scheduled right smack in the middle of rush hour instead of the middle of the night when it won't inconvenience a million commuters?
Shirley J. Ybarra: In fact, during the rush hour we try to be out of the way with all lanes open to traffic. If we are there something went wrong. Most of the work is done at night.
Bob Levey: Your boss, Gov. Gilmore, campaigned on the basis of a reduction in the car tax. He has taken a lot of flak when Virginians realized that the tax cut doesn't take effect immediately. Can you clear up when and how the tax cut will work?
Shirley J. Ybarra: The reduction in the car tax is to be phased out over the next four years. This first year the refunds went to individuals and next year tax payers will be seeing the reduction on the tax bill.
Richmond, VA: How do you respond to those from Tidewater and The Valley who get upset when they see all of the roads funding go to NoVa?
Shirley J. Ybarra: The Virginia Code sets out the distribution of funds by VDOT construction district. In Tidewater for example, the funding is roughly equal to the population and Vehicle miles travelled @ 24%. In addition, Tidewater receives the largest proportion of city street payments which provides for the maintenance of city streets. In addition Tidewater has the benefit of "Urban funds" for capital improvements. The Valley receives their share by the same formula.
Bob Levey: I hate to raise your blood pressure, but what about the Outer Beltway? Built in our lifetimes? Built in anyone's lifetime?
Shirley J. Ybarra: I assume you are talking about the Western Transportation Corridor. VDOT is about to request proposals for the Environmental Impact Statement. We hope to begin this process this spring. It could take 2-3 years (depending upon how much oppostion we get) and then assuming we get a favorable EIS engineering and design can move forward. Design could take several more years. Governor Gilmore is supportive of the WTC and wants VDOT to proceed as rapidly as possible however we must meet all of the environmental requirements.
Half an hour remaining with our guest, Virginia Transportation Secretary Shirley Ybarra.
Arlington, VA: Please explain how Congress could LEGALLY re-name National Airport as "Reagan National Airport." Isn't National governed partially by Virginia? Aside from the emotionalism involved (never mind that Reagan fired the air controllers in the 1980s or that he already has a huge government building named after him) what right did Congress have to re-name National on a whim?
Shirley J. Ybarra: Reagan National and Dulles are governed by an independent authority (Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority) which is an interstate compact approved by Congress. MWAA leases the airports from the federal government. Virginia's governor appointes 5 memebers of the authority board. While these airports are located in Virginia they are a unique animal. Also as I recollect, the MWAA Board approved the name Reagan National Airport.
Bob Levey: I've heard from many readers who want you to allow "slug lines" (ride-formation lines) along the Dulles corridor. The idea would be to allow more people to take advantage of HOV rules. What's your position on this?
Shirley J. Ybarra: Slug lines are the best of the free market I have ever seen. Slug lines do not need Virginia's approval and can be created by the commuters. Quite honestly, we do not get involved. If they want lines along the Dulles Corridor--have at it.
Bob Levey: The state announced yesterday that it would indeed find the money to build park-and-ride lots beside I-95 during the dreaded reconstruction of the Springfield interchange. That's great news. But why were those dollars stricken from the budget in the first place?
Shirley J. Ybarra: The dollars weren't really "stricken"--the Chief Engineer decided not to submit these projects as a part of the Interchange Construction Budget. Because of Governor Gilmore's action, I will work with the Districts and CTB members to secure the funding.
Bob Levey: Back to the issue of reducing cars on I-95: Isn't the answer flextime and telecommuting? What if Virginia insisted (somehow) that one-third of the people who now work days switch to evenings, and another one-third figure out how to work from home?
Shirley J. Ybarra: Bob, I think that flextime, telecommuting, ridesharing, transit, etc. are all part of the answer. We are working the GSA and the Pentagon on telecommuting and additional optionn of flex time. I do not a Virginia mandating either of these.
Herndon, VA: What is the status of the Drainesville road widening project? It has been delayed over and over again. How over budget is the project and what is the state doing to speed up completion of the project?
Shirley J. Ybarra: We have had problems with utility relocation and recently weather causing a delay. As soon as the weather breaks this spring we will be back to finish the work which should take two to three months.
Bob Levey: What's the deal behind that $10 million bonus you're offering if the first phase of Springfield reconstruction is finished early? I smell some unhappy Virginians who think that money might be better spent
Shirley J. Ybarra: We have had great success with incentives. In the overall scheme completing the work faster restores the commuting and is less disruptive to the economy. This is a practice used around the country as well as Virginia.
Falls Church, VA: I'm not very familiar with the VRE. How far does it extend, does it travel above ground, where does it end up in DC?
Shirley J. Ybarra: VRE is commuter rail service which comes into DC (Union Station) from Manassas and Fredricksburg serving stops along the way. Visit their website or call VRE--sorry I do not have their number with me.
Bob Levey: No one has pulled a gun on me while I drive along I-95, but I have seen many examples of road rage there--incredibly aggressive lane-changing, speeding, those hard-to-misunderstand finger signals. What can Virginia (or any other state) do about this?
Shirley J. Ybarra: I work with my counterparts in DC and Md., plus our law enforcement agencies at the states and local level, on a project called Smooth Operator. This is focused on more enforcement and education to try and address aggressive driving.
Alexandria, VA: Shirley, I understand the need for artificially low highway speed limits as a source of revenue generation, but what are your thoughts on the apparently bogus notion that limits equal safety. (I'm referring to recent statistics on the significant drop in highway fatalities coinciding with raised speed limits across the nation.)
Shirley J. Ybarra: Low speed limits do not generate revenue for VDOT or road building funds. There is a long history eg. fuel prices, which is how the lowered speed limits first came into being. We have been fortunate in Virginia to have a record year in terms of safety. You should also know we have tried raising the speed limits in the legislature on rural interstates in previous years and have been unsuccessful.
Bob Levey: I realize you're not a psychologist, but aren't you worried about the pressures on families when Northern Virginians have such long commutes? If I never saw my kids because I was stuck in traffic, neither I nor my kids would be very happy about it. How big a factor do you think family stress is--and will be?
Shirley J. Ybarra: This is exactly why we are working so hard to address so many of the projects in NoVa including the Dulles Rail, the HOV 2 which has been successfully started on the Dulles Toll Road, why Congressman Wolf gave Virginia the oversight of I66 inside the beltway etc etc etc. We are also looking to the future as we work through the 2020 Regional Transportation Plan to begin to address the future needs.
That's it for today. Many thanks to our guest, Shirley Ybarra. If you have a follow-up question for her, or if we didn't get to a question you sent, please e-mail Secretary Ybarra directly at SYbarra@VDOT.state.Va.US.
Next Tuesday's guest on "Levey Live" will be Mark Teren, president and publisher of WashingtonPost.Newsweek Interactive (the company that brings you washingtonpost.com, and this program). Also, be sure to catch "Levey Live: Speaking Freely," our weekly no-holds-barred chat show. It'll be on from 1 to 2 p.m. Eastern time this Friday (and every Friday).