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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Columbia Pike Streetcar 'not dead,' says Fairfax County official

The Columbia Pike Streetcar line would serve the Skyline Center in Bailey's Crossroads.

The Columbia Pike Streetcar project is “not dead,” even though the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) turned down a request for funding, Fairfax County transportation planning director Leonard Wolfenstein told participants at a Bailey’s Crossroads Business Breakfast April 24.

Arlington and Fairfax counties had jointly requested $75 million from the FTA’s Small Starts program.

The two counties “struggled to bring the costs down” so the project would fit into the Small Starts program, which funds projects with a total cost of $250 million or less, Wolfenstein said. The FTA reviewed the cost estimates, and “they think there’s enough uncertainty” that the project would cost more than $250 million so they recommended it be resubmitted to the New Starts program, which doesn’t have a minimum funding limit.

“The project is continuing at this time,” Wolfenstein said. Both Fairfax and Arlington are still committed to the project. “It’s common for proposed projects to go through several rounds before funding is approved,” he said. Due to the funding constraints at FTA because of sequestration, he added, the agency is only approving funds for ongoing projects in the current round, rather than new ones.

Another factor is the transportation authorization bill passed by Congress last summer, which requires the FTA to issue new regulations. The Columbia Pike streetcar funding application was submitted under the old rules and will have to be revised to conform with the new rules, which are expected to be published this summer.

Fairfax County will work with Arlington on how to proceed, he said. Arlington County is taking the lead on the project because that’s where the bulk of the streetcar line would be located. A small section along South Jefferson Street and the terminal at the Skyline Center in Bailey’s Crossroads would be in Fairfax County.

In response to a question from the audience about why the streetcar line is worth doing, Wolfenstein said, “It’s really about the future.” Bailey’s Crossroads is one of Fairfax County’s major “activity centers,” which is expected to experience strong population growth and new business investment.

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