Arlington officials agree to meet with streetcar naysayers

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Local,Virginia,Taylor Holland,Arlington

The Arlington County Board has agreed to meet with a group of residents opposed to spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a pair of streetcar lines that the county has been planning for years.

County officials have yet to poll residents about the two lines -- one along Columbia Pike and the other down Route 1 -- and calls for a public meeting have been delayed because the board already applied for federal funding and voted to move ahead with the lines.

But now county board members say they're willing to at least discuss the status and future of both lines and clarify residents' questions about the massive undertakings.

"Every process we have is critical," said board Chairman J. Walter Tejada. "As we hammer out the specifics, there needs to be a time for a factual presentation and ample time for folks to provide [their own viewpoints]."

Plans for the 5-mile Columbia Pike streetcar line have been on the table for a decade, though it has yet to receive the federal funding on which the county is depending. Meanwhile, Arlington and Alexandria agreed in 2011 to jointly build another streetcar line along Route 1 between Pentagon City and Potomac Yard. That project was halted at least temporarily when Alexandria announced it would focus on building the Potomac Yard Metro station instead of the streetcar line.

Some of the streetcars' harshest critics are already speaking out against the planned public meeting, however, saying it may turn into a one-sided discussion that tells residents what's happening rather than allowing them to air their opinions.

Former Arlington County Democratic Committee Chairman Peter Rousselot, who now runs a group that wants to use buses rather than the more expensive streetcars along Columbia Pike, said the meeting could further divide the community.

"If it's anything like previous meetings where the county board comes in and says, 'This is the presentation, now let's take questions,' it won't achieve its stated goal," Rousselot said. "I think both sides should get a shot."

So rather than allow only the county to present its views on the project, he wants time for a presentation against streetcars.

"I'm feeling optimistic," Rousselot said of his chances.

Also hopeful is board member Libby Garvey, who has long asked her fellow board members to re-examine viable alternatives for the $249 million Columbia Pike streetcar plan.

"This would be good for conversations and promote a fair and balanced discussion," she said.

Tejada said all residents -- Rousselot included -- will have "ample time" to discuss the streetcar lines, though he didn't directly address the county's former Democratic Committee chairman's request for equal time.

The streetcar meeting is set for March 27 at 7 p.m. at Kenmore Middle School, 200 S. Carlin Springs Road.

tholland@washingtonexaminer.com

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Taylor Holland

Staff writer
The Washington Examiner