Top elected leaders of five Northern Virginia jurisdictions voiced agreement on a range of issues during a chambers of commerce forum in McLean this morning. Well, at least four of them did.
Participating in the first Northern Virginia Elected Leaders Summit were Loudoun County Chairwoman Phyllis Randall, Fairfax County Chairman Sharon Bulova, Prince William County Chairman Corey Stewart, Alexandria Mayor Allison Silberberg, and Arlington County Vice Chairman Jay Fisette. As the panel answered questions focused on transportation and economic development, it was Stewart—the group’s only Republican and Virginia chairman of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign—who found himself as the odd man out.
During the hour-long forum, strong support emerged for increasing regional transportation capacity by building a new Metrorail tunnel under the Potomac River at Rosslyn and adding lanes to the American Legion Bridge—and for strengthening Metro, operationally and financially.
While lamenting the decline of the region’s rail infrastructure, most express confidence in new Metro CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld’s efforts to address safety and inefficiency concerns. And they noted Metro driving the region’s growth, with more than 80 percent of new development occurring within walking distance to rail service.
The elected leaders also highlighted efforts to diversify the region’s economic base to become less dependent on federal spending, including the new Go Virginia program and the Global Cities Initiative.
It was Stewart who frequently threw cold water on optimism of his counterparts. He criticized their focus on expanding Metro and said the region would be better served by preparing the infrastructure to support for autonomous cars that will become commonplace during the next decade. Metro is a 19th century technology, he said. “It is not the answer for the region.”
He also said regional leaders weren’t coming to grips with the fiscal stress facing the state government, the fundamental changes in the way businesses use office space (less of it), the declining benefits of four-year college degrees, and the importance of governments and educational institutions working more closely with businesses. “North Carolina is eating our lunch,” he said. “We have become arrogant.”
Randall said Loudoun leaders were taking a pragmatic approach to answer many of the region’s challenges. To address transportation woes, she said currently planning efforts are putting a greater emphasis on job growth, hoping to cut down or eliminate residents’ commutes. She also said supervisors would review the merits of building another Potomac River crossing between the American Legion Bridge and Point of Rocks, MD, but that Virginia’s businesses would have to take a lead in convincing Maryland authorities of the economic development benefits that could result from the additional connection.
In the end, it wasn’t talk about the region’s quality-of-life issues that grabbed headlines. Instead, it was the prospect of having the Ashburn-based Washington Redskins build the team’s next stadium in Virginia. Asked if that was a good idea, Fisette and Silberberg said it was—as long as it was built in Loudoun County. Was Prince William County in the mix? “No way,” Stewart said.
And Loudoun’s view? “I think we are not there in that conversation yet,” Randall said. “I think the question is a little premature for me to give an answer.”