Arlington forges ahead with Route 1 streetcar line

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Photo - An Arlington County rendering of the proposed streetcar line along Columbia Pike.
An Arlington County rendering of the proposed streetcar line along Columbia Pike.
Local,Virginia,Transportation,Taylor Holland

Arlington and Alexandria officials insist that they'll move ahead with plans to build a streetcar line along Route 1 despite community opposition to the project and disputes between the supporters themselves over how to pay for it.

Arlington leaders will meet Tuesday to unveil their latest plans for the line, which would link Pentagon City with Potomac Yard in Alexandria. Residents will be able to offer opinions about the project during the three-hour session.

Arlington is moving ahead with the streetcar line just months after surprising Alexandria officials with its decision not to seek federal funding for the Route 1 line. Without federal funding, most of the cost of the streetcar line would have to be paid by the city and county. The county's portion of the five-mile line is projected to be about $144 million, which it expects to pay with state and local funding.

Arlington is relying heavily on federal funding for a second streetcar line it is building, a $249 million project along Columbia Pike. The county said it expects that there will be enough new development along the Route 1 line that tax revenues will increase enough to pay for the project.

"This mechanism will help us fund a streetcar and other infrastructure improvements that will help transform Crystal City, an area vital to the ongoing economic health of the county," said board member Jay Fisette. "This reflects our commitment to turn our vision for Crystal City into a reality."

Alexandria approved plans to apply for federal funds because it's already on the hook to fund construction of the Potomac Yard Metro station. The latest city estimate revealed the station could cost as much as $538 million to complete, more than double the original $240 million estimate, and that ongoing environmental impact studies would prevent Alexandria from picking a location for the station for at least another year.

City officials said they won't begin their studies on the Route 1 line, or even commit to replacing the buses that will be used at first with streetcars, until they've settled questions surrounding the Potomac Yard station and other transportation projects.

"We will continue to coordinate the city's transportation network -- including streetcar options -- into our collective, long-term plan," said Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille. "However, our immediate attention and funding is focused on completing work toward a new Metrorail station at Potomac Yard."

Rich Baier, Alexandria's director of transportation and environmental services, said the city still plans to connect to Arlington's portion of the transit line, and that bus service will begin by early 2014.

The community-wide meeting in Arlington will begin Tuesday at 5 p.m. in the Crystal Park Condominium Meeting Room at 1805 Crystal Drive.

tholland@washingtonexaminer.com

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Taylor Holland

Staff writer
The Washington Examiner