County Board members hit decision to hire management firm to tackle streetcar plans


In the Pentagon City area, on South Hayes Street near the Metro station, the streetcar is planned to run along the median. (Newlands & Company Inc.)

Two anti-streetcar Arlington County Board members have objected to Arlington and Fairfax counties’ plan to hire a Pasadena, Calif.-based firm to help manage the Columbia Pike streetcar project and the Crystal City-Potomac Yard streetcar project.

Libby Garvey (D), who has battled the Columbia Pike streetcar plans since being elected to the County Board two years ago, and John Vihstadt (I), who was elected partly on his opposition to the project, said the decision to hire the Parsons Transportation Group for $7 million to $8 million for the first year of a multiyear contract “throws good money after bad and flies in the face of growing community sentiment against the streetcar.”

Arlington County, which announced the award, said the money will come from state reimbursements and commercial real estate tax revenue that can be spent only for new transportation projects. The cost of the contract for each subsequent year will be negotiated annually. A separate contract for design and engineering is now out for bidding and is expected to be awarded in the fall. The Crystal City multi-modal project is already underway, although the streetcar portion of it has not yet started.

“This is a major step forward for the streetcar project,” Jay Fisette (D), Arlington County Board chairman, said in a statement. “Parsons has a wealth of experience in delivering transportation projects, including rail projects, around the world. In the coming months, one of their primary tasks for our program will be to provide an objective review of the project and assess options for cost reduction, including exploring potential public-private partnerships.”

The Columbia Pike streetcar, planned to run from the Skyline area of Fairfax County to the Pentagon, and then to the Crystal City Metro station, has been under discussion for a decade and has recently caught more controversy. Several local officials have called for a public vote on the project. The five-member Arlington County Board has not officially responded to that request. County Manager Barbara Donnellan recently wrote a letter to the editor of The Washington Post defending the project, as well as Arlington’s “smart-growth” policies and practices.

It has not generated the same controversy in Fairfax, perhaps because the route just crosses the county line to its expected termination across Leesburg Pike.

“Fairfax County supports the Columbia Pike Streetcar project and appreciates this partnership with Arlington to enhance transit in the Baileys and Skyline area of Fairfax,” said Sharon Bulova (D), chairman of the County Board of Supervisors, last week. “This area was once meant to be served by the Metro system, and the streetcar will deliver on this vision of transit-oriented development. The Columbia Pike Streetcar is an enormous revitalization and economic development opportunity for this area of the county.”

But Garvey said the $358 million estimated cost of the Columbia Pike project and the $227 million cost of the 2.4-mile Crystal City segment was “costly and ill-advised.”

“Arlington voters deserve to know what other transit projects and community priorities will be sacrificed outright or delayed as a result of streetcar spending,” Vihstadt said Monday. “We can implement a form of bus rapid transit service in both corridors for a fraction of the streetcar’s cost, much more quickly, with much greater regional connectivity, more flexibility, less business disruption and displacement, at virtually the same capacity and with comparable economic development benefits.”

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