Arlington streetcars draw bipartisan criticism

Local,Virginia,Transportation,Taylor Holland,Arlington

Opposition is mounting against Arlington County's plans for a pair of streetcar lines as members of all political parties are now urging the County Board to research cheaper alternatives.

A former chairman of the Arlington County Democratic Committee has helped create a group aimed at urging the board to take another look at operating a bus rapid transit system along Columbia Pike before continuing with its $249 million streetcar plan.

Members of the group, known as Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit, say the planned line was feasible when its idea was hatched nearly a decade ago, but that times have changed, and so should the county's plans.

"The idea had momentum, money was coming into Arlington and the Pike needed revitalization," said Peter Rousselot, the group's spokesman. "But now, we're getting closer to the time when real money needs to be spent ... and there are many other demands in our budget."

The group's formation comes nearly a month after the Arlington County Republican Committee began reaching out to the Virginia General Assembly in hopes that state lawmakers would step in and require the county to hold a referendum.

"If they use bonds to pay for this, it definitely needs to be brought to the voters of Arlington for approval," said Charles Hokanson, the committee's president. "I think the chances are fairly good that it'll be first bond to get shot down since 1979."

But the County Board, with the exception of Libby Garvey, who said she is advocating for a "good, robust, informed conversation" of alternatives, says streetcars are the best long-term option for the corridor and will integrate well with existing bus lines.

"The biggest, most immediate advantage would be that streetcars are much larger [than buses]," board member Mary Hynes said. "In the mornings, we're running buses every two-three minutes and moving 16,000 people a day. We literally can't get any more buses on the street."

County officials also are moving ahead with a second line, slated to link Pentagon City with Potomac Yard in Alexandria, just months after learning the city was delaying its participation on the project to better study its planned Potomac Yard Metro station.

Alexandria's decision left a $664,000 funding gap in a much-needed streetcar study, which the Arlington County Board voted to pay for in December.

"You have to think of this as an investment," Hynes said.

Board member Chris Zimmerman said both lines are in the best interest of the county's goal of being a successful transit-oriented community and will, in the long run, require less maintenance and cost less than a bus system.

"There are always going to be people who disagree," Zimmerman said. "But this is a key, strategic investment for the county."

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