$100 Million for Undergrounding U.S. 1 Utilities; General Assembly Session Ends

We have completed the 2023 Session of the General Assembly, but our work is not done. Legislating has ended for now, but we did not finalize the state budget and will likely return for a special session to complete that work.

Of my 31 bills, 19 are with the Governor and one additional bill could be considered in a special session. All of my bills passed with bipartisan support and I am hopeful that the Governor will sign them.

Most importantly, we made significant progress in obtaining funding for undergrounding utilities on U.S. 1. Del. Paul Krizek, Sen. Adam Ebbin and I amended a bill addressing a new Fauquier County transmission line to add a first-ever pilot program for an underground electric distribution line on the U.S. 1 corridor if Fairfax County requests the funding as part of the U.S 1 widening and bus rapid transit project. The bill is now on the Governor's desk.

Dominion Power would fund and build the infrastructure and the cost would be recovered over time from all Dominion ratepayers through rates subject to Dominion’s standard ratemaking process. This would cost ratepayers about $0.20 per month for every $100 million expended. Del. Krizek and I previously secured a commitment from Verizon to fund the installation of buried Verizon fiber optic cables provided that the duct bank was expanded to include conduit for Verizon’s lines. Coupled with the standard contribution from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), this should fund the lion’s share of cost for burying all lines.

We will now work with Fairfax County and VDOT to make this happens assuming the Governor signs the bill. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) confirmed to Krizek and me that a project delay relating to adding underground utilities would not jeopardize its $460 million FTA grant to construct bus rapid transit. Adding underground utilities to this project would require updated environmental assessments, engineering and a longer construction period which could drive project costs up and require additional funding. Since the Dulles Corridor has seen $6.8 billion of investment in the Metro Silver Line project, $1.4 billion for the I-495 HOT Lanes, $3.7 billion for the I-66 HOT Lanes, we hope that some increases to this $900 million project can be accommodated.

Both chambers passed my legislation to revitalize our Commission on Utility Regulation (CUR) to help oversee our transition to clean energy. My bill requires the CUR to have regular meetings, receive updates regarding implementation of legislation and hire at least four full-time, nonpartisan policy staffers to advise us on utility policy. This will make future legislation less reliant on industry lobbyists and interest groups, which can only mean better results for Virginians. 

Fairness for Local Dealers

My bill to rebalance the relationship between Virginia’s locally-owned vehicle dealerships and vehicle manufacturers passed unanimously. Manufacturers have sought to exert increased control over vehicle sale processes like mandating significant investments to gain access to electric vehicle inventories. Ensuring dealers’ independence means more variety in selection, lower prices through competition and the survival of thriving community businesses. I was proud to work with them to craft nation-leading legislation. 

I also passed legislation that will authorize Virginians to recover damages against local governments that bring enforcement actions that violate state laws or local ordinances and recover their attorney’s fees. It is often currently impractical for Virginians to challenge enforcement actions that localities bring in violation of state laws or local ordinances. My bill passed the House of Delegates unanimously and the Senate 39-1. 

Unlike other states, Virginia does not have recall elections, but instead authorizes legal actions to remove local elected officials under a voter petition process. State elected officials can only be removed by impeachment or the legislative body in which they serve. Recently, many local elected officials have been subjected to frivolous removal actions under this old Virginia law. Nearly all actions have been dismissed without an evidentiary hearing. I carried legislation drafted by the Boyd-Graves Commission, a group that recommended changes to reflect five state Supreme Court opinions back through the 1920s that clarify the law’s meaning. My bill will reduce confusion. It passed unanimously.

Next week, I will write about more bills I authored, other bills we passed and the status of the state budget. Please share your views with me at scott@scottsurovell.org.