Virginia announces big plans for cleaner transportation, economy

Richmond’s Main Street Station will see even more passengers once Virginia implements a newly-announced package to significantly expand its rail system.

In two separate announcements, Virginia leaders introduced plans yesterday to dramatically improve and expand the state’s rail network and legislation to cut the state’s carbon emissions by encouraging energy efficiency, rooftop solar, and joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

The rail agreement between Virginia, Amtrak, and freight rail provider CSX includes doubling capacity at a notorious bottleneck and the state taking ownership of hundreds of miles of track and rail right-of-way to facilitate expanded service. A key component of the initiative will be much more frequent passenger rail service between Richmond and D.C., which is projected to reduce traffic and vehicle emissions on the notoriously clogged stretch of I-95 between the two capitals. By comparison, a recent Virginia analysis found that adding new lanes to I-95 would be prohibitively expensive and do very little to address rush-hour congestion.

Another stretch of rail right-of-way to be acquired by Virginia could host high speed rail from Richmond to Raleigh, while an additional rail line to be acquired could be a key component of a new east-west rail service SELC proposed in a report we co-authored in September.

“Transportation is Virginia’s leading source of climate pollution,” said Trip Pollard, SELC’s Land & Community Program leader. “We’ve got to provide cleaner transportation options, and this agreement is a bold effort that could transform rail in Virginia, cutting pollution while also reducing congestion.”

Earlier in the day, a group of legislators and supporters announced the Virginia Clean Economy Act, which aims to tackle climate pollution from the utility sector by getting Virginia to a 100% carbon-free electricity grid and eliminating emissions by Virginia’s utilities by 2050. It would also realize the goal of making Virginia an official member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI.  

“Climate change is a real problem that needs real solutions,” said Senior Attorney Will Cleveland. “This legislation meets the problem head on with the right package of solutions. First, we must decarbonize our power sector. Next we must reduce our consumption through cost-effective energy efficiency. Finally, after we’ve deployed as much distributed generation as possible, we must build the right combination of utility-scale resources solar and wind resources necessary to keep Virginia’s economy vibrant and growing.”

The bill is the result of a multi-month process where the conservation community worked together with the clean energy community to create a bill that works to ensure no community bears a disproportionate impact in the transition away from fossil fuels. It has built-in protections for consumers, will create good-quality, well-paying jobs, and will make Virginia a leader in the fight against climate change.  

SELC looks forward to being actively engaged in getting these projects from idea to reality.

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