City’s new state senator eyes transportation improvements


After years spent dabbling in local government and civic groups, state Sen. George Barkers neighbors sent him to Richmond to represent the 39th District, a sprawling constituency that now includes six Alexandria precincts. 
Barker, a Clifton resident, narrowly beat out Republican incumbent James K. OBrien in 2007 despite an expensive primary battle with fellow Democrat Gregory John Galligan. He has since gained recognition as one of the General Assemblys most productive members, shepherding 20 bills through passage in the last legislative session. 
Its a feat thats garnered Del. Charniele Herrings (D-46) attention. Her House district overlaps with the newly redrawn state Senate seat, and the two have worked together on public safety issues. 
Hes very strong and knowledgeable about policy issues and has a good track record, a high success rate, Herring said. Hes able to work with legislators across the aisle. He wouldnt have that track record if he was extreme one way or the other.
Among other bills Barker sponsored in 2011, he backed legislation requiring state contractors use an E-Verify program to ensure their employees are legally eligible to work. Barker introduced another law change allowing foster children to stay at their original school after being placed in a home if deemed in the childs best interest.
But his priority remains transportation. Prior to his introduction to Richmond, Barker served as chair of Fairfax Countys transportation advisory commission, where he helped overhaul Tysons Corner. 
Hes long kept his eyes on the rising Defense Department buildings in Alexandrias Mark Center neighborhood. Now that hes representing precincts in the citys West End Cameron Station, Beatley Library, Patrick Henry Recreation Center, Temple Beth El and Polk and Tucker elementary schools the federal project has come forefront. 
Clearly one of the things Ill be working with is how do we try to deal with that locally, making sure our communities arent overwhelmed, Barker said. Its a commuting issue and a local road issue. We have to tackle both of those, and having dealt with all of those issues [before], Im very familiar with some of the options and alternatives available to come up with the best [solution]. 
Step one is delaying opening the buildings, which are expected to draw about 6,400 new commuters to the region come September, he said. Next, officials must look to mitigate the predicted traffic snarls, including expanded exit ramps on Interstate 395, Barker said. 
Mark Center aside, transportation infrastructure remains the top concern for Northern Virginia, according to Barker. Old roads are crumbling, and the money isnt there to repair them. Meeting the demands of the regions aging roadways must remain a priority, he said.  
Thats likely welcome news to a city with plans for a new Metro station in Potomac Yard, expansion of the King Street trolley and debating whether to set aside bus lanes and build streetcar routes. 
His presence already is welcome news to Clark Mercer, Alexandria Democratic Committee chairman.
Were excited to have him. Whenever you can have another senator representing your jurisdiction, thats a good thing, Mercer said. He represents Fairfax as well, and he understands transportation is an important issue.
And the citys Democrats arent alone. Thomas Fulton, chair of Alexandrias Republican committee, sees Barkers arrival as another seat with the potential to swing under GOP control. Barker is waiting to see whether Scott Martin or Miller Baker will emerge from the Republican primary to challenge him in his first reelection bid. 
In the matter of having an additional Senate seat down in Richmond, that should always be something Northern Virginians look forward to, Fulton said. Our view would always be that this provides another opportunity [for us], but were a scrappy little committee and each one of these races is a hard fought effort for us.
New constituents will have a chance to meet Barker at a reception held by the West End Business Association at Clydes restaurant Wednesday.