Arlington plans to spend $2.7 billion for infrastructure in the next 10 years


An artist’s rendering of Columbia Pike with the proposed streetcar superimposed. Last week, the Arlington County Board decided to pay for the trolley with a combination of state and commercial taxpayer revenues in the fiscal 2015-2024 Capital Improvement Plan. (Steve Price)

High-speed, high-security, fiber-optic Internet connections for business and government. A billion-dollar investment in the Metrorail, bus, bike and street projects. Hundreds of millions of dollars for expanding overcrowded schools.

In the next decade, Arlington County will spend $2.7 billion on the kinds of things that mean a lot to residents who have been around a while — reinvesting in aging parks, repaving streets, improving the water and sewer systems, and building a new fire station.

The budget for all this, known as the Capital Improvement Plan, is Arlington’s “most important planning document,” said County Manager Barbara Donnellan, who added that it “reflects our courage to take reasonable risks, to take the long view, to maintain steadfast direction on our smart growth journey, and to continue to innovate. These are all the hallmarks of a healthy community that is not content to stand still.”

The most controversial part of the fiscal 2015-2024 CIP, which claimed the lion’s share of public discussion, was the County Board’s decision last week to pay for the Columbia Pike streetcar with a combination of state and commercial taxpayer revenues.

While debate on the value of a streetcar rages on, the business of keeping the infrastructure intact and up-to-date rolls on. Still, other issues also sparked controversy.

Efforts to move a fire station from Lee Highway to the Old Dominion area near Marymount University caused a backlash from residents unhappy with the lack of notice and potential loss of green space in their neighborhood. Parents of public school children also urged faster construction of sorely needed middle-school classrooms, and other residents argued against the county turning green space into schools or affordable housing sites.

The location of the fire station in the northern part of the county is now undetermined, and board members assured parents that they will accelerate the school construction as much as possible. The affordable housing sites are not yet settled, board members and staff said.

The county plans to ask voters to approve $219 million in bonds during the Nov. 4 general election, including
$105.8 million for schools, $60.2 million for Metro and transportation,
$39.9 million for community infrastructure needs, and $13 million for local parks and recreation.

The county conducts this exercise every two years, updating the 10-year CIP on a rolling basis.

Donnellan said in a May overview of the CIP that much of her time in the previous six months was spent on economic competitiveness “in light of our high commercial office vacancy rates due to the effects of BRAC (Base Realignment & Closure) and federal budget decisions. . . . The County’s upfront infrastructure investments can provide the stimulus for long-term economic growth and ultimately will pay for themselves.”

In addition to schools, Metro, fire stations and streetcars, the CIP also calls for spending $28 million in construction to speed up the replacement of the Lubber Run Community Center, one of the oldest such centers in Arlington. The street-paving budget will see a $14.1 million increase in the next 10 years, to $128.3 million. The cost of water and sewers and storm-water management will claim another $379 million and pedestrian safety measures around the East Falls Church Metro station will cost $1 million.

The full CIP can be read online at www.budget.arlingtonva.us/capital-improvement-program.

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