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Arlington County approves Columbia Pike 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,Kytja Weir

Arlington County cleared a key hurdle early Tuesday in its quest to build a 4.9-mile streetcar line along Columbia Pike, the latest contemporary streetcar system to move forward in the region.

The line would run from Pentagon City to the Skyline area of Fairfax County as approved by the Arlington County Board, with four board members favoring the line and the fifth, Libby Garvey, abstaining about 1:30 a.m. in the dragged-out meeting.

"It's great to get the locally preferred alternative adopted by the board, but there's a lot of work to do," said Arlington County Transit Bureau Chief Stephen Del Giudice.

D.C. councilman fighting streetcar barn site
Kenyan McDuffie is continuing an uphill fight against a proposed car barn for the future D.C. streetcar system, despite the city's plans to move forward with it to meet a July 2013 start date for the first trolley line.
The recently elected D.C. Council member representing Ward 5 wrote a letter to Mayor Vincent Gray last week asking him to reconsider plans for putting the storage and maintenance facility on the campus of Spingarn Senior High School at Benning Road and 26th Street in Northeast because of neighborhood opposition.
He said the Hopscotch Bridge, just north of Union Station, could serve as a storage site instead for the H Street-Benning Road line, which is slated to end at the bridge in the short term. McDuffie also questioned why the facility could not be built among the parking lots at RFK Stadium, and said the city should do more to negotiate with the National Park Service.
But District Department of Transportation spokesman John Lisle said both of those sites have their own challenges. The space near the Hopscotch Bridge could only fit five streetcars, the total ordered so far, meaning the system couldn't expand or fit the proposed training center.
The RFK site isn't owned by the city or zoned for that use, Lisle said, and is restricted for "recreational" use only. It would take years to negotiate the required permission, he said, and that area also has nearby homes that would be affected.

Next, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors needs to approve it, with a vote scheduled for Tuesday. Then, Arlington can apply this fall for up to $75 million in federal funding for the proposed $249 million construction project.

The sequence may seem familiar. Like the D.C. streetcar system, it has been years in the making but faced setbacks. The idea for a streetcar along Columbia Pike has been discussed in the county since 1998. It came close to moving forward in 2006, after both Arlington and Fairfax counties signed off on a similar plan, Del Giudice said.

But then the Virginia Supreme Court rejected locally imposed fees, which the counties were counting on to pay for the project. Local officials then had to redraft the plans to comply with federal funding rules.

Under the new plan, the $75 million in federal funding would pay for about 30 percent of the construction costs, then an additional 14 percent, or $35 million, would come from the state, while the remaining $140 million would be divvied up between the two counties.

Arlington County plans to use its transportation capital fund, which comes from a 12.5-cent tax on commercial and industrial property, Del Giudice said.

The two counties have not yet decided how to pay for operating expenses, though.

The corridor already is home to the busiest bus route in Virginia, with 16,000 trips daily. So the proposed line would augment the transit options but not replace all the buses running that stretch, Del Giudice said. The proposed line would move an estimated 10,000 additional daily riders along the corridor.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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