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2020 Legislative Program: General Policy Positions
SECTION 3: GENERAL POLICY POSITIONS (Continued)
TRAFFIC INCIDENT MANAGEMENT
The City supports legislation in the 2020 General Assembly Session that would allow VDOT Traffic Incident Management ("TIM") vehicles along Statewide Safety Service Patrol Routes to be equipped with flashing lights and sirens. During the 2019 General Assembly Session, such legislation passed the House 99-0 and failed narrowly in Senate Transportation Committee. These programs, which would facilitate the prompt arrival of TIM professionals, have been shown in other states to significantly alleviate traffic congestion and improve safety by mitigating secondary crashes.
VDOT safety service patrol vehicles, also known as traffic incident management (TIM) vehicles, operate on the I-64 corridor, the I-95 corridor, the I-495 corridor, the I-295 corridor, most of the I- 81 corridor, and part of the I-77 corridor. TIM vehicles are dispatched by VDOT Transportation Operation Centers or Virginia State Police dispatchers to support first responders by clearing major accidents. VDOT currently uses amber lights for TIM vehicles, and are frequently delayed in responding due to traffic which does not yield the right of way to amber lighted vehicles. Proposed legislation would authorize TIM vehicles to be (i) equipped with flashing red or red and white warning lights, (ii) exempt from certain traffic regulations in particular situations, and (iii) equipped with a siren, exhaust whistle, or air horn. The proposed legislation also would add TIM vehicles to the list of stopped vehicles for which the operator of a motor vehicle must move over or proceed with caution.
TIM vehicles have been shown to reduce response times by 50 percent. The Maryland Department of Transportation, who has emergency lighting and sirens on their vehicles, has identified an average response time of 7.5 minutes per incident, while VDOT currently averages 14 minutes. Prompt arrival of TIM professionals, facilitated by emergency vehicle responses, alleviates traffic congestion. For each minute an incident negatively impacts a travel lane, approximately 4 additional minutes are statistically required to return travel volumes to pre-crash values. Delays have increased safety challenges, cost significant commuter hours, and greatly increased costs. Finally, this bill mitigates secondary crashes. Prompt arrival of TIM vehicles will positively impact traffic congestion and life safety.
REGIONAL DEDICATED FUNDING MODEL
The City supports the collaborative development of a new regional funding model to support priority regional public transit projects.
The Transportation District Commission of Hampton Roads (TDCHR) (of which the City is a member) has initiated efforts to transform transit across the region.
The region's bus network has not been significantly improved in decades. The route structure and frequency of Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) service within a given locality is determined by that locality rather than the TDCHR. While HRT attempts to link routes between cities where possible under this system, the frequency of service and hours of operation are set and funded by the local jurisdiction (out of their general fund revenues) often leading to non-existent or inefficient and ineffective inter-city connections.
This historic funding and planning method has resulted in HRT operating a collection of locally determined transit routes rather than a fully integrated and inter-connected regional transit system. Of 10 peer sized transit agencies, Hampton Roads Transit's operating cost are 20% below its peer's average while offering 25% higher bus service per rider.
Hampton Roads is also the only region in the United States with a multi-modal transit system (bus, light rail and passenger ferry) that also does not have any dedicated funding source to support its overall transit operation or capital investments.
Recognizing this, the 2018 Virginia General Assembly mandated the development of a regional transit planning process. The legislation specified that the planning process must include the identification and prioritization of projects, the establishment of performance benchmarks that incorporate state and federal requirements, the development and implementation of a regional subsidy allocation model, and the distribution of funds solely designated for transit and rail and that are administered by a regional body authorized by the Code to enter into agreements for the operation and maintenance of transit and rail facilities.
The TDCHR's Transit Transformation Project is integral to this effort to establish consistent, high frequency cross-connection bus transit between cities in the region to and between major employment, education, health care, shopping and residential centers. It is expected to result in new data-driven regional service standards.
This will support consistency of service across the region, including a core system of connective regional routes that are supported by a network of localized bus routes and transit modes ranging from on-demand bus service and micro transit and to bicycles and scooters, all connected seamlessly through a user-friendly technology platform.
Implementing an improved regional transit structure will require the development of new funding options, as well as a new method for allocating the costs between the localities served by Hampton Roads Transit. While the current method of allocating costs between the local jurisdictions is left to the discretion of the TDCHR and its local government members, the funding structure for the new regional network and its sources should be addressed in the Code of Virginia and include options for a new regionally derived, revenue source to supplement local funding.
The City supports state funding, to replace state bond funding that has exhausted during the past biennium, for transit state-of-good repair (SOGR) and transit expansion projects.
The Commonwealth needs steady and reliable revenues dedicated to the statewide transit capital program. In 2007, the Commonwealth Transportation Board authorized about $3 billion in bonds for transportation projects, with a minimum 20 percent dedicated to transit capital. The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) elected to receive funding from these Capital Project Revenue (CPR) bonds over a ten-year period ($60 million annually). These bond revenues have expired, resulting in significant permanent decline in available funds. In response, the 2016 General Assembly established the Transit Capital Project Revenue Advisory Board to examine state transit capital funding needs and identify potential solutions to meet these needs.
The City believes the Governor and General Assembly need to address this issue now. The inclusion of transit projects in the Smart Scale process has somewhat alleviated the loss of this bond funding, however we are gradually moving to a crisis situation.
EMPLOYER TAX CREDITS FOR PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
The City supports the creation of a state tax credit for employers who subsidize the cost of public transit commuting for their employees.
Employees value commuter benefits provided by their employer. National research has found a growing interest and use of these benefits in recent years. The federal government is perhaps the largest provider of employee public transit commuter benefits through its "Federal Government Mass Transit Benefits Program" which reimburses qualified employees for certain commuting costs (up to a specified limit). There are many restrictions, such as benefits received may not exceed the actual cost incurred by the employee; over payment must flow back to the employer; and the employee must use the service for which the employer is paying at least 75% of the time.
For the private employer, providing such benefits used to be like money in the bank. Employers saved on federal payroll taxes while employees saved on federal income taxes. This changed somewhat with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed into law on December 22, 2017 which made changes to the Qualified Transportation Fringe Benefits section of the federal tax code. Employers may still provide these tax-free benefits to employees for parking, transit and commuter highway vehicles; however, an employer can no longer deduct the expenses for providing these tax-free employee commuter benefits.
The Commonwealth does not provide any incentive for either public or private employers to provide these benefits. The public benefit of such policies is reduced traffic, parking needs, wear and tear on highways and increased farebox revenue for the transit agencies. For the employer, it helps attract and retain qualified employees. The Commonwealth should provide a state tax credit for employers who subsidize the cost of public transit commuting for their employees.
The City appreciates the General Assembly's efforts to meet the demand for construction and maintenance of highways, bridges, railroad overpasses and other critical components of transportation safety and commerce. The City supports continued funding for the State of Good Repair program, bridge construction, and bridge maintenance and operations, especially for moveable bridges. The City further requests the State to retain the Revenue Sharing Program.
With passenger rail service now running through Chesapeake and freight-rail activities on the rise, the need for grade separated highway-rail crossings is critical to ensure emergency access to the ever increasing industrial areas along the Elizabeth River, as well as highly populated residential areas. The City and the Norfolk-Portsmouth Beltline Railroad jointly funded the design of the Freeman Avenue overpass and are seeking construction funding through various state and federal programs. Further, the City is undertaking the replacement of the 22nd Street Bridge which serves as a crossing of the Norfolk-Southern Railroad. Additional funding is needed to design and construct overpasses at major crossings such as Freeman Avenue and Portlock Road.
The City strongly opposes any proposal to reduce annual road maintenance payments to the 83 Virginia local governments that own and maintain their own streets.
IMPERSONATION OF LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER
The City supports amending Va. Code §18.2-174 by changing the penalty from a Class 1 misdemeanor to a Class 6 felony if impersonation occurs during the commission of another crime.
Increasing the penalty from a misdemeanor to a felony under certain circumstances will reflect the seriousness of the offense of impersonating a police officer. Most law abiding citizens will obey without question the directions or requests of a person they believe to be a law enforcement officer. An article in the Virginian Pilot newspaper highlighted an individual who had posed as a law enforcement officer to stop females and then handcuffed and fondled them. In July of this year we had a home invasion and shooting in the South Norfolk section of the city where suspects broke into a home and claimed to be the Chesapeake Police as they broke into the home. Also, given the current terrorism environment, individuals who impersonate a police officer pose a threat to many security systems as some security personnel may be more likely to allow someone they believe to be a police officer to enter a secured area.
THREATS OF DEATH OR BODILY INJURY TO A PERSON AT ANY PLACE OF ASSEMBLY, BUILDING, STRUCTURE, OR MEANS OF MASS TRANSPORTATION; PENALTY
The City supports amending the Virginia Code by adding a new section 18.2-83.1 similar to the language proposed below. This language is necessary to encompass threats made to groups of persons, such as school students, that fall outside of current Code provisions. Va. Code Section 18.2-83.1. Making Terroristic Threats; false information as to such threats; punishment; venue.
Any person who, with the intent to (i) intimidate a civilian population at large, (ii) influence the conduct or activities of the government of the United States, a state or locality through intimidation, (iii) compel the emergency evacuation of any place of assembly, building or other structure or any means of mass transportation through intimidation, or (iv) place any person in reasonable apprehension of bodily harm through intimidation, either (a) communicates to another by any means any threat to bomb, burn, destroy, shoot, stab or in any manner injure persons at any place of assembly, building or other structure or any means of mass transportation, or (b) communicates to another by any means information, knowing the same to be false, of any plan to bomb, burn, destroy, shoot, stab or in any manner injure persons at any such place of assembly, building or other structure, or any means of mass transportation shall be guilty of a Class 5 felony; provided, however, that if such person be under fifteen years of age, he shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
A violation of this section may be prosecuted either in the jurisdiction from which the communication was made or in the jurisdiction where the communication was received.
The Chesapeake Police Department and numerous other jurisdictions across the Commonwealth have experienced a dramatic increase in threats correlating with nationwide mass shooting events. Officers have had difficulties prosecuting such threats mainly due to the specific nature of the Code. Many of the threats simply say, for example, "I'm going to shoot up the school." Shooting up a building, such as a school, doesn't necessarily mean "people" because it could just mean shooting at the building when it is unoccupied. We are looking for ways to prosecute these individuals. Another frequent trend is people posting online such indirect threats as "don't go to school tomorrow, there's going to be a shooting" or "don't go to school" accompanied by a picture of a gun. With the addition this Code section those individuals may be charged with communicating a knowingly false threat.
The City supports legislation to require that a sex offender who enters an emergency shelter designated by the Commonwealth or any political subdivision thereof and operated in response to a declared state or local emergency shall, as soon as practicable after entry, to notify a member of the shelter's staff who is responsible for providing security of such person's status as a registered sex offender.
The City supports the introduction of legislation that addresses the issue of distracted driving.
The City supports legislative initiatives that would lawfully restrict solicitors and other persons from standing on public right-of-way, including medians, where doing so is likely to create a public safety hazard. The City recognizes the need to balance public safety with First Amendment rights of free speech and believes that an acceptable narrowly drawn compromise is possible given the compelling governmental interest in ensuring the safety of motorists and pedestrians alike.
URBAN AREAS SECURITY INITIATIVE (UASI)
The UASI designation for the Hampton Roads region was restored in 2017. The City supports the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission's request for assistance from our state and federal partners to increase the level of UASI funding provided to the Hampton Roads region.
SAFETY BELT REQUIREMENT
An amendment to Virginia Code § 46.2-1094 is necessary to protect the lives and wellbeing of citizens of the Commonwealth and others traveling on the roadways within Virginia. Currently, Virginia Code § 46.2-1094 requires persons who are at least 16 years of age and riding in the front seat of a motor vehicle to wear a safety belt; however, law-enforcement officers are prohibited from enforcing this section, unless they have cause to stop or arrest the driver of the vehicle for some other violation. Wearing seatbelts has proven to save lives. To make this code section more effective in saving lives, law-enforcement officers need to be authorized to enforce Virginia Code § 46.2-1094, without first being required to find that another law has been violated.
WATERSHED IMPLEMENTATION PLAN PHASE III
The Commonwealth must continue to fully fund the Water Quality Improvement Fund and provide financial assistance for local government water quality improvement projects in Virginia at appropriate levels designed to clean up the Bay and its tributaries. The Commonwealth would defeat the spirit of community partnership if it adopted stringent new wastewater mandates during the third and final phase of the Watershed Implementation Plan or required local governments to undertake unfunded mandates for water quality improvement projects.
Local governments through wastewater treatment plant upgrades throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed have led Virginia's progress toward a restored Bay. Localities willingly invested over an estimated $2 billion in recent years to install nutrient removal technology at dozens of major wastewater treatment plants. Unfortunately, the Chesapeake Bay TMDL Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) adopted on August 23, 2019 breaks from this long tradition of collaboration.
Today, as the Phase III WIP admits, local government wastewater operations are proudly out- performing the municipal wastewater sector's Chesapeake Bay TMDL requirements in Virginia. However, the Phase III WIP wrongly assumes without explanation that in 2025 the already-reduced discharges from these local wastewater facilities will reverse course and spike up to much higher levels. This assumption is completely contrary to a decade-long demonstrated track record of declining discharges, which is also acknowledged in the Phase III WIP.
In response to its mistaken assumption, the Phase III WIP imposes extremely stringent and costly new regulatory restrictions on local governments, with significant adverse financial implications for utility funds and ratepayers. This will also increase the State Budget appropriations needs for normal Water Quality Improvement Fund operations and thereby increase competition for limited State funds and cause delays in other sectors like agriculture and stormwater that have much improvements yet to complete.
Numerous alternative recommendations for more cost-effective additional wastewater sector initiatives to continue the already Virginia-leading Bay restoration efforts by local wastewater utilities were provided to the Office of the Secretary of Natural Resources but were rejected. Instead, the Phase III WIP requires costly new regulatory restrictions on local wastewater utilities that are unnecessary to meet the Chesapeake Bay's clean water goals, which local governments have long supported and continue to support
Further, the City opposes sections of the WIP III providing that if Virginia doesn't have nutrient management plans implemented on 85% of farms with 50 or more acres by December 31. 2020, then the plans will become mandatory for all farms that size. The City also opposes the condition that contract applicators cannot apply commercial fertilizer on farm operations in excess of the nutrient management plan guidelines.
The City opposes oil and gas exploration, including seismic testing and drilling, off the coast of Hampton Roads.
COAL COMBUSTION BY-PRODUCTS
The City supports the excavation of coal combustion residuals (CCR) to a permitted, lined landfill meeting Federal criteria for this class of waste, or its beneficial reuse in accordance with Virginia Code Section 10.1-1402.03 in a manner that is compliant with Chapter 62 of the Chesapeake City Code and its Zoning Ordinance, as well as applicable State and Federal criteria, and the EPA's Final Rule for the Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals from Electric Utilities ("CCR Final Rule"). The closure and post-closure of any CCR unit should be in compliance with a conditional use permit issued by the City.
GROUNDWATER MANAGEMENT & GROUNDWATER INJECTION PROJECTS
The City supports the conclusions of the Eastern Virginia Groundwater Management Area provided to the General Assembly for consideration. Specifically, it supports the following:
Support of Hampton Roads Sanitation District's SWIFT and similar projects, including aquifer storage, recovery, and recharge.
Promotion of alternative water sources and solutions included in the report.
Lengthening the maximum groundwater permit term to fifteen years by changing the statutory language in Virginia Code Section 62.1-266(C).
Establishment of incentives for local governments and well owners to connect to public surface water systems when reasonably available, with credits to localities to help lower connection fees or to provide low cost financing.
The continued activity of the groundwater trading group established by House Bill 1036 to study and identify the components of a groundwater trading program.
Support funding to the Department of Environmental Quality through General Fund appropriation that ensures a robust groundwater management program in the Eastern Virginia Groundwater Management
Support legislation or regulations that require yard irrigation systems to withdraw water from either the surficial or shallowest confined aquifer.
Uranium mining, milling, and disposal of generated wastes pose health and environmental concerns for Virginians. If uranium mining activities are permitted in Virginia, the City is concerned that radiation and other pollutants from mill tailings may occur and water supplies may be contaminated. Therefore, the City opposes uranium mining in Virginia, and opposes the elimination of the existing legislative moratorium on the mining and milling of uranium in Virginia. Further, the Commonwealth is requested to vigorously oppose federal court actions to overturn the moratorium on uranium mining.
SOLID WASTE OR OTHER SURCHARGES
The City opposes the imposition of a state fee or surcharge on water, sewer, or any other local government service.
STORMWATER LOCAL ASSISTANCE FUND (SLAF)
The City is requesting that the Governor and General Assembly allocate $50 million in the fiscal year 2020 budget to the SLAF, which will allow localities throughout the Commonwealth to implement urban stormwater management practices as described in Virginia's Watershed Implementation Plan. These funds will also assist localities to meet costly state and federal stormwater permit requirements. The City is grateful to the General Assembly for creating the SLAF and appropriating $20 million in FY2017 for the fund. The purpose of the fund is to provide matching grants to local governments implementing best management practices that cost effectively reduce pollutants in stormwater runoff. The City was fortunate to be awarded $1.25 million in FY2014 for the Washington Manor Outfall project in the Deep Creek area of the City; $412,000 in FY2015 for a wetlands bench project on Yadkin Road ($74,500) and the 22nd Street wet pond ($337,500); and $1.7 million in FY2017 for the New Mill Regional BMP ($1,022,975) and the Meads Court Regional BMP ($684,228). The City applied for FY 2019 SLAF funds, but was not granted any awards. A request for funding for FY 2020 will be submitted for continued support of the SLAF.
NUTRIENT ALLOCATIONS CURRENTLY ASSIGNED TO EXISTING MUNICIPAL WASTEWATER TREATMENT PLANTS
The City opposes legislation which would restrict or limit nutrient and sediment trading between sectors as currently allowed, including between MS4 (Stormwater), Wastewater, and Agriculture. In order to meet the goals set out in the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, localities need all available cost-effective options to reduce nutrient and sediment loads, as well as regulatory certainty for planning and funding.
The implications are that this concept is a serious threat to localities, especially in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Adverse consequences could include:
Disruption of major recent local wastewater treatment investments made to comply with the Chesapeake Bay TMDL over the past 5-10 years;
Stranding of existing constructed treatment capacity and associated loss of capacity of local growth and economic development;
New, extremely stringent, and costly treatment over and above EPA Chesapeake Bay TMDL levels;
Disruption of existing or planning nutrient trades between or among wastewater facilities and or municipal separate storm sewer systems;
A precedent for potentially taking away water supply (withdrawal capacity) from existing water suppliers to transfer to new facilities where the source is already fully allocated.