Opponents say the $140 million streetcar project is a waste of tax dollars and will impede other traffic along the road. But county staff and supporters say the streetcars will move more people more efficiently and help drive economic development along the pike.
"Without any question at all, there were no transit improvements with the streetcar compared to bus service," said John Warren, a member of the Transit Advisory Committee that voted against the streetcar project in 2006. "The sentiment against it has been growing."
"There's a lot of development coming anyway," said Jeff Miller, spokesman for Arlington County Republicans. "Their whole argument that you need this for development is completely wrong."
But county projects take time, and usually draw naysayers, said County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman.
"We are planning for a future in which we need to move more people on public transportation, in which we need to take more cars off the road, in which we need to deal with our air quality problems, where the price of energy is going to continue to rise," he said. "There's only so far you can go with buses. It's not the most efficient way to do things."
Zimmerman said the streetcars would provide "high quality, frequent, attractive public transportation."
The Columbia Pike street cars are also a target for one influential group that wants to see Arlington punished for stopping its portion of the Interstate 95/395 High-Occupancy Toll lanes project.
The Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance recently asked state officials to cut off funding to the Columbia Pike streetcar and any other Arlington transportation projects as a way to punish Arlington for undermining the HOT lanes project.
So far the state has provided $1.5 million for Columbia Pike streetcar project's environmental study. Arlington plans to use local and federal funds to finance the construction and maintenance.