Democratic delegate candidate calls for public vote on Columbia Pike streetcar


Arlington plans to build a 4.9 mile streetcar line that will run along Columbia Pike from Skyline Plaza in Fairfax County to the Pentagon. (Joseph Victor Stefanchik/For The Washington Post)

Richard “Rip” Sullivan, the Democratic candidate for Virginia’s 48th House District, on Saturday joined a small crowd of other Arlington politicians calling for a voter referendum on the Columbia Pike streetcar.

Sullivan, who is running in a special election Aug. 19 against Republican David Foster for the seat vacated by Del. Robert Brink (D), told The Washington Post that if elected, he would seek General Assembly authorization to put an advisory referendum on the Columbia Pike streetcar on the ballot. Foster made an identical declaration July 6 when he announced his nomination, although Foster added that he’s against the project.

Sullivan called the streetcar “an important driver of revitalization and redevelopment” in the region but added that it is not up to him to decide its merits. “It will be decided by the county board, but I think voters should have the opportunity to weigh in and have their voices heard, which is why I support a General Assembly-authorized advisory referendum.”

The 48th district, which runs along the Potomac River from Reagan National Airport to Chain Bridge, then into a portion of McLean, touches on the easternmost edge of where the Columbia Pike streetcar would be built.

Sullivan joins Del. Patrick Hope (D), county board candidate Alan Howze (D), former county treasurer Frank O’Leary (D) and Commissioner of Revenue Ingrid Morroy (D) in seeking the public’s opinion on the long-planned project to run a streetcar along 4.9 miles of Columbia Pike. The majority of the county board dismissed that call last month because it does not have the legal authority to stage an advisory referendum without tying it to the use of local homeowners’ taxes, which the board does not want to do. The General Assembly could authorize an advisory vote, but it’s unlikely that could be done before January.

Late this week, the state promised to add as much as $65 million to the streetcar funding, which county board members believe will let them avoid federal funding. The county has already begun a $650,000 communications campaign promoting the value of the streetcar project.

Two of the five county board members are against the streetcar, including Libby Garvey (D), who warned fellow Democrats Friday that “I am pretty sure that within 2 years the wise voters of Arlington will have voted out board members who support the streetcar.” She rose to the board in a special spring election two years without taking a position on the streetcar, then abstained from endorsing it in July 2012. She came out in opposition two months later, in the throes of a general election campaign, and has stuck with that position ever since.

John Vihstadt, a Republican who ran as an independent in an April special election for the county board, defeated Howze largely on the basis of his opposition to the streetcar and other large spending projects in the county. He was the first non-Democrat elected to the county board in 15 years and is the only non-Democrat holding any elected office in the strongly Democratic county.

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