A unilateral action by the Arlington County Board has destroyed 15 years of joint effort to bring streetcar service to the Columbia Pike corridor, abrogated a longtime partnership between Arlington and Fairfax Counties, and set back transit options in this part of the region, possibly for generations.
The streetcar project began in 1999, as a line on a regional transportation map. Through multiple analyses conducted over a period of years, the streetcar alternative was identified as the best option to provide transportation and economic development benefits to the aging corridor. Both Boards had approved the locally preferred alternative and, more recently, had entered into a joint agreement to move forward in financing and design goals, including purchase of streetcars themselves. Land use planning has been based on the streetcar option coming to the Skyline area in Fairfax County, and businesses and residents in both counties have been eagerly awaiting its arrival.
Economic analysis indicated that streetcar would generate $2.2 billion to $3 billion more in incremental benefits to both counties than would be generated by enhanced bus service over a 30 year period. The streetcar also would attract 6,600 more new jobs to the corridor than the number that would exist under baseline conditions, and more than three times the incremental employment supported by enhanced bus, approximately 10 years after construction.
Earlier this year, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and his Transportation Secretary, Aubrey Layne, provided tremendous support for the streetcar project by allocating $65 million in state transportation funds to move the project forward. They recognized the importance of the streetcar as a transportation priority for Eastern Fairfax County, and deserve thanks for their far-sightedness.
Slightly more than 80% of the project is in Arlington County. The Fairfax portion, about 20%, would bring the streetcar from Columbia Pike to Route 7, into the vibrant commercial area of Skyline, which was built in the 1970s to Metro densities – residential, retail, and office – when there was a Metro stop planned for a line through Skyline via Columbia Pike. Sadly, that line also was removed from the plan due to opposition by Arlington.
Arlington’s decision to end the streetcar project is severely short-sighted, but the project realistically, cannot proceed without the firm support of the Arlington County Board, which has been fractured recently by two minority members who oppose the project and the regional collaboration behind it.
Nonetheless, Fairfax County remains committed to providing high-quality transit for the residents, workers, and businesses in the Bailey’s Crossroads/Skyline area. Such transit is important to transforming eastern Fairfax County into an attractive urban destination with a supportive multi-modal transportation system.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]