Arlington County plans to spend billions on capital improvements

The Arlington County Board voted unanimously Saturday to spend $2.4 billion over the next 10 years to build schools, improve water and sewer infrastructure, support Metro and invest in two streetcar lines, on Route 1 and along Columbia Pike.

County Board members also accelerated plans to build an aquatics and fitness center and a playground at the nine-month-old Long Bridge Park. The construction of an indoor soccer field at the park was not included in the 10-year capital budget and sparked a disagreement between board members.

Still, board Chair Mary H. Hynes (D) emphasized the high level of consensus in the inch-thick capital improvement plan, which took many months and multiple public meetings to create.

“This CIP is both a financially sustainable plan that strikes a balance between maintaining our existing infrastructure and making strategic investments” that will help maintain the county’s triple-A bond rating, she said in a prepared statement.

Arlington voters will be asked Nov. 6 to approve $153.4 million in general obligation bonds to finance some of those projects.

Voters will be able to approve or deny ballot proposals in each of four categories — $50.5 million for parks and recreation; $42.6 million for school construction; $31.9 million for transportation projects; and $28.3 for community infrastructure. They won’t be able to pick and choose projects within those categories, which infuriates opponents of the Columbia Pike streetcar.

The County Board is scheduled to vote Monday on whether to endorse the construction of a streetcar line along Columbia Pike. Supporters hope to use a mix of federal, state and local funds to pay for it. The project’s estimated cost to Arlington has grown to $199 million, according to the capital budget. In December, the Columbia Pike Transit Advisory Committee said that the total cost could be as high as $261 million and that Arlington’s share would be $112 million.

County officials would be able to reallocate bond money within a category but not between categories; the law would prohibit spending money approved for schools on parks, for instance. Although the budget is a 10-year plan, it will be revised every two years.

One project likely to be revisited is the indoor soccer field, which is not among those proposals that made the cut. Board member J. Walter Tejada (D) wanted to know why a playground was deemed more important than indoor soccer, especially when local athletes have to pay other counties to use their indoor fields.

“It’s a sheer fantasy to think an indoor facility will happen once the aquatic center is open,” Tejada said.

County Manager Barbara Donnellan said the playground was sought by parents for the use of children who had nothing to do while their siblings were playing on the outdoor soccer fields. It will cost about $1.4 million, officials said; an indoor soccer field would run about $80 million.

Board member Chris Zimmerman (D) joined Tejada in pushing for a decision on the Reevesland homestead and property. Arlington has owned the site, which was the county’s last working dairy farm, since 2001.

For the past two years, a community group has been using some of the Reevesland property to teach children how to garden, but the house needs about $1 million in renovations.

Preservation advocates want the county to pay for renovations, but Donnellan said the staff is examining other options, including asking private organizations to foot the bill.

Before the board takes its traditional month-long summer recess, members are expected to vote Tuesday on a proposed sign ordinance and a giant mixed-use development proposed for Rosslyn: JBG Co.’s Rosslyn Gateway.

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