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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Arlington puts the brakes on Columbia Pike Streetcar project

Fairfax County officials expressed disappointment at the Nov. 18 decision by the Arlington County Board to cancel the Columbia Pike Streetcar project.

“Although we believe the decision to end the project is short-sighted, we recognize that the project cannot happen without the support of the Arlington Board,” says a joint statement by Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova and Mason Supervisor Penny Gross, vice chair of the board.

The Arlington County Board voted 4 to 1 to terminate all streetcar projects and withdraw or modify applications for federal and state grants. The $333 million streetcar would have run along Columbia Pike between the Potomac Yard and the Skyline Center in Bailey’s Crossroads. Only a small portion of the project, about 20 percent, would have been in Fairfax County.

Bulova and Gross “remain committed to providing high-quality transit for the residents, workers, and businesses in the Bailey’s Crossroads area,” according to the statement. “Such transit is important to unlocking the potential in this area of Fairfax County and will assist the area in transforming itself into an  attractive, urban destination with a supportive transportation system.”  

“More than a decade of work has gone into the project, and the streetcar alternative for Columbia Pike has been approved by both the Arlington and Fairfax County boards on multiple occasions,” Bulova and Gross note. “Recently, considerable progress has been made toward completing the project in 2020. We continue to believe that the implementation of the streetcar would provide both transportation and economic development benefits to the corridor, as demonstrated repeatedly through multiple analyses. In addition, businesses and residents in both counties have been eagerly waiting its arrival.”

Gross, a longtime advocate for the streetcar, is exploring the idea of transferring state funds already committed for the project to a mass transit line that would connect Alexandria and Tysons along Route 7.

Two of three three pro-streetcar members of the Arlington Board – Board Chair Jay Fisette and Vice Chair Mary Hynes – announced that the program had to be canceled to heal divisions that were distracting the board from other pressing issues, says a statement from the Arlington board.

“This was a painful decision for me and Ms. Hynes,” Fisette said. “Both of us continue to believe that the streetcar is the best long-term transit option for the two corridors that are expected to absorb much of Arlington’s population and job growth in the coming decades. We both still believe that fixed rail would both transform Columbia Pike and attract development that would generate the revenue necessary to support our excellent community services and enhance our regional competitiveness.”

However, Fisette said, “We must deal with political realities,” noting that voters re-elected the candidate (John Vihstadt) “who made opposition to the streetcar a centerpiece of his campaign. This was a serious message. Debating the streetcar issue further – with continued discord and dueling facts – will not serve our community and will distract us from addressing the other pressing issues before us,” such as growing school enrollment, a historically high office vacancy rate, and a lack of affordable housing.

20 comments:

  1. This decision has saved Columbia Pike from become a two lane parking lot. In today's world if the transit is not below or above street level, it is not mass transit. Period.

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    1. Your comment shows a shocking lack of knowledge about the state of light rail transit elsewhere in the world. Shared right-of-way works in many cities far more crowded than metropolitan Washington.

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    2. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/key-questions-still-surround-planned-opening-of-dc-streetcar-line/2014/10/22/ed4d23f8-4f19-11e4-8c24-487e92bc997b_story.html

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    3. Arlington made a big mistake. The voters which are most ignorant to the feasibility of streetcars don't get it. This is the metro story all over again when it was proposed for skyline.....uninformed people making the same poor judgements. I'm disappointed that leadership of both counties did not fight more for it.

      Street cars are cool, the millenniums and elders love this form of commuting. This form of transit is civilized and works best in tight places. Has anyone in this baron wasteland been to Europe, the street cars in Germany are wonderful.

      For a country that was once the envy of the world we have become more provincial and regressive in our ability to govern and compete with other progressive countries such as China that will shortly outpace our economic and military superiority.

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    4. When you identify China as a "progressive" country, not only do you demonstrate the warped mindset of American liberals/progressives, you also undermined any credibility you may have had.

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    5. China is progressive in their urban and infrastructure development, albeit they have other issues and ideaologies that are terribly warped. However, the US has not been flexible to adjust to those warped norms because it continues on a path of ideologies that people have been holding onto despite that these are not working, i.e. shutting down the trolley plan because it may inconvenience those who travel by car. Getting know where is exactly what the Chinese want, and we play very well into their hand.

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  2. This incident merely reinforces how ineffectual Penelope Gross has been over the 20 years as a supervisor. The folly of this project was apparent from the outset and Fairfax residents should be grateful to the voters of Arlington for rescuing them from an egregiously expensive capital project that was never going to pay for itself. It's high time Penny Gross realized she lacks the sophistication to lead Mason District in increasingly complex times.

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  3. Again.. Your comments are off base and ill-informed. This project could have served to revitalize the underdeveloped/ declining areas that you rant about in this blog. (see H Street Corridor in DC amkng others)

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    1. Are you referring to the over time, over budget H St project that has been scaled back from 34 miles to 2.7 miles with 4 stops total? Brilliant!

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    2. Check out the property value appreciation on H Street and compare it to the marginal increase in value of most homes in Mason. Without infrastructure improvements by municipalities developers will go elsewhere. Mason's older communities are stuck between their phenomenal growth in the 50 and 60s and their increasing decline post 2000.

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  4. maybe they can use the money they saved and do the longer buses or things that will actually work better to move people vs the street car which would have been a total waste of money. the county and penny gross needs a real plan on how to fix the area not just their current plan on letting developers do what ever they want

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  5. Irrespective the merits of the project, this embarrassing episode should serve as a warning to Super Gross who has attempted to discreetly manage ambitious FFX development initiatives without building sufficient public support within affected communities.

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  6. So, the Arlington NIMBYs screwed over FFX and in particular Mason district . I invite FFX to instead focus on the Rte 7 transitway, which can be done in collaboration with the City of Alexandria.

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    1. I agree with you completely. I hope Gross and Bulova will now concentrate heavily on route 7 transitway. Enough time has been wasted.

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    2. The problem you will I counter is Alexandria NIMBYs, especially those who live along Route 7 from the Old Town Metro station to the Alexandria/Arlington/Fairfax border. If you thought Arlington NIMBYs are bad, you have no idea what is in store if you push streetcar from Old Town to Baileys Crossroads to Seven Corners. Odds are high the Alexandria City Council would throw Gross and Bulova out the door if they seriously proposed this after seeing the political beating Democrats have taken in one-party Arlington.

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    3. Yes, yes, yes. In fact, it's arguable that connecting inner suburbs directly the business center of Tysons is a more critical transit need than another spoke toward Washington. But I'd have loved to have both.

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  7. I love streetcars but not sure how they're an improvement over buses. I would like to see more sidewalks (I think we have some in the pipeline-yay!) and designated bike lanes Getting people off their butts and out of cars would be good for our health and the environment.

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    1. Not sure how they're an improvement over buses? Let me try: they carry more people; they accelerate more quickly so there's less traffic delay behind them; fare collection is done before boarding, also reducing stop times; they they don't have a stigma attached to them, so people who won't take buses will get out of their cars for streetcars; property values increase along streetcar routes, and development tends to follow.

      That's how.

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    2. Anonymous, 11/20/14, 10:28AM,

      Your response makes a great deal of sense. Unfortunately, the voters of formerly one-party Arlington (who did vote overwhelmingly for Democrat Mark Warner) abandoned their party to signify they strongly opposed the Streetcar on Columbia Pike.

      I find it ironic that the voters of Arlington, whose way of life is funded almost entirely by American taxpayers, revolted against an infrastructure project because it was not a good use of their taxes.

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    3. It should not have been left to the voters, it should have been implemented. This Country is stuck is some much vote de jour and opinion for the moment, nothing is getting done.

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