$1 million bus stop opens in Arlington

The new “super stop” in Arlington, Va., has a stainless steel design, heated concrete floors, a state-of-the-art computerized bus schedule... and a price tag of $1 million. Post humorist Alexandra Petri hits the streets to ask bus riders what they think about it. (The Fold/The Washington Post)

The glass-and-steel roof swoops up like a bird taking flight. A wall made of etched glass opens the rear vista to newly planted landscaping. Embedded in the floor are heating elements intended to ward off the cold weather and keep winter-weary feet cozy.

The location, near Columbia Pike and Walter Reed Drive, is perfectly positioned to take advantage of Arlington County’s growing night life and ethnic restaurants.

And the price tag: $1 million.

“Is this made of gold?” asked commuter Yohannes Kaleab, examining the concrete-and-stainless-steel bench that is part of the new, seven-figure bus shelter.

“What?” asked Robin Stewart as he learned of the cost of the structure while waiting for a bus there last week. “That’s ridiculous. From a citizen, from a voter, whoever put that budget through needs to get their butt canned. It’s an outrage.”


Arlington County's new $1 million bus stop at Walter Reed Drive and Columbia Pike, features an electronic bus tracking map and posts arrival times. (Dayna Smith/For The Washington Post)

The “super stop,” which opened March 11, is the first of 24 new bus stops that will also accommodate Arlington’s long-planned streetcars. It has 10-inch high curbs and 90 feet of concrete, large enough for two buses to pull up at once. It will shelter 15 people at a time, an important benefit for the 16,000 people who each day take the Columbia Pike buses to work, school, shopping and entertainment spots.

“I like it, but whoa — $1 million?” said Abeshire Mehaba, as she boarded a bus bound for the Pentagon.

Arlington’s transportation officials, anticipating the public outcry, said in interviews and to the County Board last week that the bus stop is “an investment in infrastructure to support the [Columbia] Pike’s renewal.”

“When you do a prototype, you end up heavily front-loading on the costs,” said Dennis Leach, Arlington’s transportation director. “These are more like high-capacity bus or rail stops.”

New and densely developed housing is expected to be built in the area in the next 20 years, and the county is building a 4.5-mile streetcar line down Columbia Pike, from Fairfax County to the Pentagon, to help transport the new residents. The streetcar is estimated to cost about $250 million, and county officials are awaiting word from the federal government about whether it will receive funding to cover 30 percent of the cost.

But the need for buses will not abate; they will share many stops with the streetcars.

Leach said Metro handled the bus shelter’s construction, which took 18 months — longer than expected. The design was chosen after a public review process, and County Board member Chris Zimmerman (D) said multiple issues delayed the start of construction, including a lengthy environmental assessment required by the state.

In the end, the new stop cost $575,000 for construction and fabrication and $440,000 for construction management and inspections, officials said. Federal and state transportation money paid 80 percent of the costs.

Arlington is taking over construction, and Leach said he expects to “drastically reduce” the time it will take to complete it. Construction of the next bus shelter is expected to start this month.

“Our goal if at all possible is to do it for less,” Leach said. The county has budgeted $20.8 million for the remaining 23 stops, or about $904,000 for each one.

County Board member Libby Garvey (D) asked Leach for a more complete cost breakdown, saying the bus shelter is “pretty, but I was struck by the fact that if it’s pouring rain, I’m going to get wet, and if it’s cold, the wind is going to be blowing on me. It doesn’t seem to be a shelter. It doesn’t really shelter you very much . . . you can get pretty soaked in two minutes.”

Her opinion was shared by some on Columbia Pike trying it out.

“Oh my God. How much steel? How much cement? How much glass? One million? Bring them to court,” said Husain Hamid, unwinding a scarf that he had wrapped around his head in the chilly wind. “People are hungry. People are sleeping on the street. It doesn’t need $1 million.”

“Where I come from, it sounds a bit expensive,” said Soos Attila of Budapest. “It’s very flashy, but the [next bus schedule] screen is not working. I’d prefer to have a proper shelter out of the wind, not a flashy one.”

Other visitors, from Menomonie, Wis., agreed.

“We don’t even have public transportation in Menomonie, much less $1 million to spend on it,” said Jolene Neisius, who was waiting with her son and a friend for the bus to Washington.

“You’d think for $1 million they’d have a heated bench and a restroom,” Jon Fisher said. “Where we’re from, they built a whole highway rest stop for $1.5 million.”

Patricia Sullivan seeks out news about Alexandria and Arlington County for the Washington Post.
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