“My perspective is it’s a waste of money,” he said.
Arlington County Board member Chris Zimmerman said Page and others who share his perspective are mired in outdated memories and are thinking too narrowly.
“People are remembering old systems that had been built in the teens and ’20s and neglected for decades,” Zimmerman said. “Part of this is ensuring the long-term fiscal viability of our county. It’s an investment that has a return.”
When he and other officials from Arlington and Fairfax counties talk about the decade-old plans to run a streetcar from the Skyline area of Baileys Crossroads in Fairfax northeast along Columbia Pike to the Pentagon City Metro station, they are not talking about mere transportation.
They are trying to put into place a vision that would turn the traffic-clogged, sun-blasted camino of concrete into a tree-lined boulevard fronted by a diverse set of businesses. They also want to entice new businesses that will cater to the 7,000-plus new residents expected to move into 3,900 new apartments over the next 30 years.
They are talking about preserving affordable housing amid growing development pressures and expanding the counties’ tax bases. Last but not least, they want to change societal behavior by coaxing residents and commuters out of their cars and into public transit.
Ultimately, Arlington wants a Columbia Pike streetcar line to connect to its planned streetcar line down the U.S. 1 corridor, where it might connect to public transit in Alexandria. Fairfax residents for years have harbored hopes of a streetcar along Leesburg Pike, and a Columbia Pike streetcar with a terminus at the Skyline mall would be a place to start.
The Arlington County Board and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will vote on a staff recommendation in July to reaffirm their 2006 support to build the Columbia Pike streetcar line or to opt for other choices, including the use of longer, articulated buses. Those buses, which are in use on some District routes, can carry almost as many passengers as a streetcar and would cost far less initially, an estimated $50 million.
Elected officials have to vote again because they are seeking $75 million in funds from the Federal Transit Administration, which requires proof that local governments considered alternatives.
Virginia is expected to provide $35 million from its transportation budget, and a tax on local commercial property owners would cover the remaining $140 million in capital costs. Because most of the project is in Arlington, the taxpayers there would cover 80 percent of the $140 million. Operating costs would come out of the counties’ general funds, which is another way of saying that all property owners, including homeowners, would share those costs.