No more ‘million dollar bus stops’ in Arlington


File: Arlington County's new $1 million bus stop on Columbia Pike and Walter Reed Drive. (Dayna Smith/For The Post)

The 23 successors to Columbia Pike’s “$1 million bus stop” will cost 40 percent less when they are built, Arlington County officials said Tuesday, after a year-long review and redesign of the bus-and-streetcar shelters.

County Manager Barbara Donnellan said that lowering and changing the angle of the canopy, simplifying the design and using standardized parts will drop the cost of the remaining stops from $20.9 million to $12.4 million. Donnellan, speaking at a news conference at Arlington Mill Community Center where county employees outnumbered reporters, said the county will take over construction management of the glass-and-steel transit stops, formerly known as “superstops,” from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

“The prototype cost too much, took too long to build and had design problems we needed to fix,” Donnellan said. “This is a vital transit corridor for us . . . it must be done right.”

The prices announced Tuesday are county estimates; prices could change when the project is put out to bid later this year.

The unveiling of the first superstop in 2013 resulted in an outcry from residents, visitors and passersby, who noted that despite the time and money it took to build, the shelter did not keep rain and snow off waiting passengers. The steel seats were freezing in winter and superheated in summer. The roof also leaked.

After local, national and international news media did articles and broadcasts from the scene, Donnellan ordered a halt to the remaining stops.

“This is not representative of how Arlington manages its capital projects,” Donnellan said Tuesday, pointing to several recent projects that came in on time and on budget. “We are accountable to the voters, and we are ready to move forward.”

The transit stops, usable by both bus and streetcar passengers, will be one of the more visible early indicators of progress in installing a 4.5-mile streetcar line from the Skyline area, just over the Fairfax County line, to the Pentagon City area.

After a survey and multiple community meetings, the county enlisted a consultant to help create a more functional and lower-cost shelter while remaining true to the sense of the original design, which was also a community effort, said Donnellan and Dennis Leach, the county’s deputy director of transportation and development.

The new stops will retain the planned 10-inch-high curbs, improved lighting and an electronic “Next Bus”-style display. But the redesign removed the heated concrete floor intended to melt ice and snow, reduced the angle of the roof canopy from 10 to 1.5 degrees, lowered the roof from 13 to about 10 feet, and extended it to cover another 50 feet. The steel seats will be replaced by concrete, probably topped with a plastic-covered steel seat.

A simplified, modular design will allow the county to build stations of four different sizes that can be expanded or contracted if necessary. The estimated cost differs depending on the station size, but the nine standard stops will cost $469,000 each for construction, design and project management. Officials said that instead of having a customized design for each stop, they expect that those four styles will be built with “off-the-shelf” components.

Federal funds will cover 52 percent of the cost of the stations. The state will pay 14 percent of the cost, and the local transportation capital fund, which is dedicated revenue from commercial and industrial real estate taxes and which can be used only for transportation projects, will cover 28 percent. The remaining 6 percent, or $800,000, will be paid from the local general obligation bond supported by all county taxpayers.

Almost 18,000 people ride the buses on the Pike on an average weekday, making it the busiest transit corridor in Virginia. A streetcar line is expected to spur development that will further increase the demand for mass transit options, county officials say.

As for the million-dollar station on Walter Reed Drive that started the uproar, the leaky roof has been fixed, a rain diverter has been added and the electronic message board has been improved.

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