Northern Virginia officials look elsewhere for streetcar funding

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Local,Virginia,Taylor Holland,Arlington,Fairfax County,Metro and Traffic

Northern Virginia lawmakers may try to tap into the state's new pot of transportation money to build a streetcar line along Columbia Pike after learning Friday that the federal government wouldn't fund the controversial plan.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's historic transportation package calls for a 0.7 percent sales tax increase in Northern Virginia to pay for long-stalled transportation projects, particularly roads, but Arlington County officials say they're confident they can find the rest of the money they need and avoid scrapping the $249 million streetcars.

"Arlington, in partnership with Fairfax County, is committed to building a modern streetcar line along Columbia Pike as the best long-term transit investment," Arlington County Board Chairman Walter Tejada said. "We will continue to explore all financing options."

The Federal Transit Administration announced late Friday that it didn't include the streetcar project on its 2014 Small Starts funding list, but officials in Arlington and Fairfax counties still do not know why they were denied the money.

Officials were hoping to get $75 million from the feds to combine with another $175 million in state and local funding. Lawmakers now face the daunting task of replacing the lost funding.

The nationwide fight for the federal transportation funding was highly competitive, officials said. The FTA did agree to fund the construction of Maryland's Purple Line and Baltimore's Red Line. It is also funding two other streetcar projects in Arizona and Florida.

Peter Rousselot, a member of Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit, a group pushing to study the use of rapid transit buses instead of streetcars along the highway, said the feds' ruling gives the county more time to reassess the project.

"This is just the latest wake-up call and negative assessment of this project," Rousselot said. "This is just the latest warning signal to Arlington that it is time to hit the pause button on the streetcar."

Fairfax County Supervisor Penny Gross said the county, like Arlington, remains committed to following through with its plans. The five-mile line is slated to run between Pentagon City and the Skyline area of Fairfax.

tholland@washingtonexaminer.com

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