Watchdog: Follow the Money

Buck halts at $1.1 million bus 'Super Stop'

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Virginia,Watchdog,Arlington,Waste and Fraud,Follow the Money,Transparency

Arlington County, Va., in suburban Washington, D.C., dubs itself a “world-class” community. Such hubris has led to a $1.1 million bus stop.

The so-called “Super Stop” was to be the first of 24 along the Columbia Pike corridor, but a torrent of bad publicity halted the $24 million program as local officials retrenched.

“Total expenditures, including local funds, are currently being examined,” Arlington spokesman Eric Balliet told Watchdog.org on Tuesday. An independent auditor has been called in to review the program.

The first Super Stop, installed at Columbia Pike and Walter Reed Drive last year, hasn’t fared well.

Last summer’s heat wave fried its electronic schedule board. Open at the back, the shelter allows wind, rain and snow to blow in behind the huddled masses.

By contrast, an older Metro bus stop across the street affords greater protection from the elements and more seating. And it was constructed for $30,000.

“This is such an embarrassment. It’s unbelievably stupid,” said Joseph Warren, a transportation economist and member of Arlington’s Transportation Advisory Committee.

Warren said his panel was initially told the Super Stop, which features a heated sidewalk, would run $500,000. “We were never apprised of the increased price,” he said in an interview with Watchdog.

Before county officials started deflecting blame on their consultants for the cost overruns, Warren said “no one was asking any questions.”

“They had the money,” he said.

But with an estimated $10.8 million sunk into the Super Stop project — and just one shelter to show for it — future funding is problematic.

Taxpayer groups, including Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit, have roundly criticized the program. Further federal and state funding is questionable in the wake of the public mockery.

Arlington Board Chairman Walter Tejada has called the Super Stop an isolated incident.

Balliet said the county spent “approximately $1.5 million in federal funds for planning and preliminary engineering” of new bus stops.

The figure includes “fabrication of three stations, and construction of the prototype,” he said.

“The new stations will accommodate growing transit service and ridership on Columbia Pike and also serve a future streetcar line,” Balliet stated.

But the county has yet to account for the whereabouts of the $10.8 million that Warren says has been expended so far.

J.T. Parmalee, who has used the million-dollar bus shelter, calls the Super Stop a poster child for government waste.

Parmalee, a conservative political consultant, said such pricey edifices only fuel a push by state Delegate Ben Cline, R-Richmond, to repeal the multi-billion-dollar transportation tax increase passed by the General Assembly last year.

Kenric Ward is a reporter for Virginia Watchdog, which is affiliated with the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.
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