Commentary: Underground Utilities Get Attention

Commentary: Underground Utilities Get Attention

The second to last week of the General Assembly session brought a conclusion to most committee work in the legislature, passage of several important bills and a fierce wind storm.

On Friday, a powerful wind storm struck Virginia and inflicted millions of dollars in damage to people and property, far more harm than most people anticipated. Many people lost electricity, some for several days. According to Dominion Energy, it was the fifth worst power outage in company history after Hurricanes Isabel, Floyd, Irene and the 2012 Derecho.

The mass destruction reaffirms my view that we need to invest in utility undergrounding immediately. The newer developed parts of Northern Virginia where power lines are underground did not suffer outages and while undergrounding is expensive, the disruption of people’s lives has great value also.

This week, the House of Delegates approved my legislation to give Fairfax County additional funding streams to facilitate utility undergrounding on U.S. 1. The bill provides that Fairfax and Prince William counties can use transportation dollars to fund underground utilities on U.S. 1 if they match it with local dollars. While the Prince William County Board of Supervisors has used local dollars to fund undergrounded utilities on their 14-mile stretch of U.S. 1, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors opposes using any local dollars for utility undergrounding. Perhaps this storm will help change their position.

I also supported the Dominion rate cap repeal bill which reaffirms and mandates broader investment in underground utilities in outage-prone areas such as most of eastern Fairfax and Prince William Counties, areas built out before underground utilities were required in new developments.

Budget negotiations have had a slow start due to the ongoing impasse over expanding Medicaid coverage. I expect this session with either go beyond the March 10 target adjournment date or we will have a special session since the two chambers are separated by $500 million in revenue before expenses are even discussed.

The House Appropriations Education Subcommittee killed my two education equity bills without explanation: One bill would allow free online classes and the second would require school districts which use electronic textbooks to provide a device for all free and reduced lunch students to access their textbooks from home. Local school systems complained about the budget impact. I told them they were violating the Virginia Constitution and federal law, but that apparently was not convincing. I will be back next year.

The House Commerce and Labor Committee unanimously approved my legislation to extend the coal ash moratorium. The bill will create a framework to set up a resolution of the coal ash storage problem next year. I am hopeful it will lead to recycling programs at all four Virginia coal ash sites, an approach that would solve this pollution problem once and for all.

In the forthcoming last week of this session, I am hoping we will send to Governor Northam for his signature several “big” bills, including ­­my coal ash bill, the Metro funding bill and the Dominion rate cap repeal.

I will soon meet with the Virginia Department of Transportation to review the latest redesign of U.S. 1 between Costco and Woodlawn in Fairfax County. Also, I am working with the Secretary of Transportation to prioritize 36th District improvements including widening I-95 from VA-123 to the Prince William Parkway, bus rapid transit from Huntington to the Woodbridge VRE station and U.S. 1 widening as part of the $300 million concession payment made by Transurban to extend the HOT lanes to Fredericksburg and Washington, D.C. These projects are squarely within the parameters of eligible projects.

Please email me at if you have feedback. It is an honor to serve as your state senator.