Columbia Pike streetcar not on federal funding list

The controversial Columbia Pike streetcar project, more than a decade in the making, will not get federal funding, Arlington and Fairfax county officials learned Friday, but they don’t know why.

The Federal Transit Administration did not list the $250 million streetcar project on its 2014 Small Starts funding list, which was released Friday without explanation. Arlington had hoped for as much as $75 million for the project.

“We are disappointed, no question about it, but we will not give up in searching for federal dollars,” said J. Walter Tejada (D), chairman of the Arlington County Board. “We might qualify for other federal funds . . . there’s some new state transportation funding. And it will be important for us to know why we were not selected.”

The impact of federal sequestration on transportation funding could be the culprit.

None of the projects that did receive federal funding are getting it for the first time, including the light-rail Purple Line in suburban Maryland; the light-rail Red Line in Baltimore; streetcars in Tempe, Ariz., and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; rail and subway projects; and multiple bus rapid-transit lines.

Tejada said the project will move forward. In fact, $80 million worth of street improvements along the Pike are underway, and a neighborhood redevelopment plan is also in the works. Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) recently signed into law a 0.7 percent sales tax increase in Northern Virginia to fund transportation projects.

“We are methodically executing a plan that has been developed over the years with much community input,” Tejada said. “We will not give up.”

The county hoped to pay for the project with the FTA grant, $35 million in state funds and $35 million from Fairfax County in a mix of state and local funds. Arlington’s $104 million contribution would come from a commercial and industrial real estate tax that can only be used for transportation and can’t be repurposed for other needs.

The proposed streetcar project would run from the Skyline area of Fairfax County up Columbia Pike to Pentagon City, where it’s expected to connect to Metrorail. The Pike is the busiest bus route in the state, with 16,000 riders each day, and many more mass-transit users are expected as development increases in the area.

“The Columbia Pike Streetcar Project is vitally important to the economic revitalization of Columbia Pike and the Skyline/Baileys Crossroads area of Fairfax County, which has long desired connection to a rail transit network,” Fairfax County Supervisor Penelope A. Gross (D-Mason) said in a statement.

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