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Vangie Williams challenges incumbent Rob Wittman for the First Congressional District seat this November.

Vangie Williams challenges incumbent Rob Wittman for the First Congressional District seat this November.

Courtesy Vangie Williams for Congress

One-on-One with Vangie Williams, Candidate for the 1st Congressional District in Virginia

Name: Vangie Williams

Home: King George, Va.

Occupation: Government Contractor / Democratic Candidate for the 1st Congressional District of Virginia

Recently in the news for: Becoming the first black woman to earn the Democratic nomination in the First District. She’ll face GOP incumbent Rob Wittman in November. Dems last won the First District in 1974.

You might not know: She’s pursuing a doctorate in project management.

Democratic congressional candidate Vangie Williams greets slugs.

Democratic congressional candidate Vangie Williams greets slugs.

Courtesy Vangie Williams for Congress

1) What is your plan for transportation in the First Congressional District?

People must have a way to get around, and have options to get to and from work, school and even medical services. Right now, transportation and infrastructure is a bottleneck for economic vitality in the region. Between long commutes on I-95, limited public transportation, stalled railway improvements and crumbling infrastructure such as the Norris Bridge, it’s clear that we need a game plan to improve our infrastructure and transportation system.

Additionally, population growth will bring more cars and people to the region. Instead of piecemealing solutions, we have to create long-term solutions that will reduce congestion and promote economic opportunities.

As congresswoman, I will commission a comprehensive transportation study that includes the entire I-95, I-295 and I-64 corridor, as well as the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula. When traffic backs up on major highways, it spills over onto other routes such as 301 and 17 and impacts the entire region. Instead of patching up one problem at a time, let’s take a comprehensive look at how our bridges, roads and waterways affect commerce in the community. Right now, we haven’t looked at our transportation problems outside of I-95, which is a shortsighted approach for residents, businesses and visitors that use various modes of transport to get around the district.

2) In a survey conducted last year by the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, respondents’ greatest concern was reducing traffic congestion and improving transportation options in the region. If elected, what are the first three steps you would take to achieve these goals in the First District?

Most traffic management has focused on the supply side of transportation. This means widening of roads, more lanes and more routes. This is a temporary solution because when the supply increases, the demand soon follows and we wind up in the same place every few years. I want to do more on the demand side of the equation. Partnering with cities in Virginia as well as Congressional delegations from neighboring states to reduce the demand for single-person automotive transportation. Reducing the demand will allow our existing infrastructure to work better for us.

We can accomplish demand-side transportation solutions by:

  1. Focusing on greater broadband infrastructure that allows more people to telecommute;
  2. Incentivizing flexible hours so that 2 million people are not flooding into the D.C. area all at once; and
  3. Promoting greater use of ride-sharing.

3) What would be your transportation priorities for the First District?

My priority is to build an economy that works for everyone, and transportation plays a vital role in the economic development for our communities. Improved accessibility provides employment, added value and activity for businesses. Transportation also opens new markets for business. Congestion and accessibility affects our productivity and development.

Traffic is a major issue in the D.C.-area, but I do want to point out that many smaller and rural communities also have a different set of transportation issues, where limited or no public transportation affects if people can get to work or a doctor’s appointment. This once again affects productivity in the region.

People have to be able to get around their own communities, and they have to be able to do it safely. Investing in infrastructure is key to economic success. The 1st District is home to a large population of federal government employees, three military installations and a major agriculture and aquaculture workforce. It’s essential that we are committed to innovative solutions that will help us in the long run.

4) In past interviews, you’ve discussed the glaring lack of transportation options in some parts of the First District? making jobs, health care and schools inaccessible to many people. Buses support the lion’s share of transit for residents in your district. How do you propose filling these gaps in transit service?

I return to the demand-side of transportation in my earlier equation. By reducing the demand on our roads, those that must travel are in a better situation to do so. As part of my broadband proposals, thousands of people in my district will be able to have greater access to information and infrastructure at the tip of their fingers. Imagine not travelling an hour round trip for a 20-minute follow-up with a doctor?

5) Congestion is a perennial concern in the DMV, not only along the I-95 corridor, but in the southern portions of the First District as well. Last year, the I-95 Fredericksburg interchange had the dubious honor of making the INRIX Top 25 Worst Traffic Hotspots among U.S. cities. You’ve previously suggested commissioning a detailed study of traffic along I-295, I-95 and I-64. What do you hope to find out with this study?

I want to know how we enhance transit, reduce demand on roadways and increase public safety. We need to determine if we need new bus services or modifications to existing routes to serve areas with increasing populations, and what funding needs to be set aside for capitol improvement projects that has the best value and effectiveness for transit in the region. That includes building shelters for commuters waiting at the SLUG line or for the bus, figuring out what it will take to improve railways and even looking at ways to reduce carbon emissions.

6) Some frustrated commuters suggested greater investment in the Virginia Railway Express as a means of providing additional options that could change commuting behaviors. Do you agree? Why or why not?

I absolutely support rail travel that is safe and reliable. Unfortunately, in most places of the district, the VRE shares tracks with CSX which takes priority. We need to explore public-private partnerships to increase the number of rail lines so that both goods and people can travel more efficiently.

7) You worked in government contracting for decades. Tell us about your most challenging commute. What made it difficult? Did you drive, take a commuter bus or VRE? How long did it take?

Anyone who lives and works in the D.C. area understands the frustrations of sitting in traffic, waiting for delayed trains or even missing their bus to get home. It’s a science trying to figure out the best options and alternative routes to get to and from work. For me, there have been too many challenging commutes to pick. But, since my office is in Vienna, I am forced to drive when I have to go in the office. I live in King George. Here’s how I arrived at this option:

  • Driving = 1 hour, 45 minutes (on average) one way
  • Commute = 3 hours, 20 minutes (on average) one way

Here’s the breakdown:

  • 45-minute drive to the VRE (I try to take Amtrak for the power and internet)
  • 1.5 hours riding the VRE to metro / 1 hour if riding Amtrak
  • 35 minutes on the metro
  • 20 minutes on the bus
  • 10-minute walk to the office

I currently benefit from being able to telecommute and work from home and believe other workers should have the same option as well.

8) If you’re on a bus or train ride, do you pop in earphones to zone out? If so, what do you listen to? Why?

I do like to zone out and listen to Spotify or audio books. I also like to maximize my time as much as possible since I’m in the process of completing my Doctor of Business Administration in project management. So, I use the time to work on my dissertation or research.

9) What app do you use for directions? Or are you old school and pull over at gas stations?

I use Waze and Google Maps together. I really don’t like sitting in traffic so I tend to take the back roads, giving me time to explore the district and meet new people.

10) What’s the most useful thing in your car trunk?

First-aid kit, water, car blankets and a change of clothes. All are equally important to have for emergency purposes.

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