Arlington approves Metro upgrade funds

By Christy Goodman
Thursday, June 24, 2010; VA19

The Arlington County Board unanimously approved $121.6 million in funding over six years for upgrades to the Metro system, making the county the first jurisdiction to agree to the transit agency's $5 billion, six-year funding plan.

Chris Zimmerman (D) an Arlington County Board and Metro board member, said that the county has a history of supporting the transit agency and that it is a wise use of county funds to contribute to much-needed improvements.

"Right now the Metro system, more than anything else, needs an infusion of investment in both the rail and bus system," Zimmerman said at the board's June 15 meeting. The agreement "won't solve all the problems, but it is an important, necessary step to get us moving in that direction."

The transit agency's $5 billion plan, which relies on federal, state and local funding, includes purchasing rail cars, escalator rehabilitation and track upgrades, among other projects.

Alexandria was scheduled to consider its portion of the capital funding formula, $62.6 million over six years, at a meeting Tuesday.

In addition to the Metro funding, Arlington's six-year $1.2 billion capital improvement plan includes funding for paving, storm-water projects and neighborhood conservation.

Officials earmarked $165.5 million for school capital projects, including funding to build a new Wakefield High School. Construction of the school was moved up two years and is scheduled to begin in July 2011, pending approval of a bond measure in a referendum.

The plan also calls for spending $20 million, beginning in fiscal 2014, for infrastructure improvements in Crystal City. Those include examining the feasibility of a streetcar line and continuing construction of the Long Bridge aquatics and fitness facility.

"We have a fabulous community, but if our infrastructure falls apart, if our buildings leak, if our trails have holes in them, then we are not doing our full job, and we've got to focus on that," said County Board member Mary H. Hynes (D).

Hynes said the plan is about finishing projects that have been started, maintaining county facilities and building for the future. The Crystal City and transit improvements have "the potential to strengthen our whole community" by attracting residents and businesses, she said.

The plan funds the redesign of Tyrol Hills Park in fiscal 2012 but moves construction to fiscal 2104, said Michelle Cowan, the county's deputy director of management and finance. Funding for the Boundary Channel Interchange at Old Jefferson Davis Highway also is scheduled for fiscal 2014.

The action on the capital program also established which projects and bond amounts residents will vote on in the November bond referendum, although the board will take a formal vote on the issues at its July meeting.

The $161 million bond measure, which includes the Wakefield High project, would split land acquisition funds into two groups, one for parks and open space and one for all other county facilities, action that was requested by many residents. If voters approve, $2 million would go toward the purchase of parkland and $6.4 million toward buying other land. That funding would increase through the course of the six-year plan.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company