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Arlington Responds to Route 1 Transit Controversy

by ARLnow.com — April 26, 2012 at 2:55 pm 4,419 46 Comments

A report that Arlington backed out of an agreement with Alexandria to conduct an environmental assessment for the Route 1 transit corridor project is incorrect, according to a county government spokeswoman.

The two jurisdictions have been cooperating on a transit project that will bring bus rapid transit and, ultimately, a streetcar to the Route 1 corridor of Crystal City and Potomac Yard. But today Connection Newspapers reported that Alexandria officials were upset because Arlington supposedly withdrew from an agreement to pay $2.4 million of the $3.4 million cost of an environmental analysis.

In reality, says Arlington County spokeswoman Mary Curtius, the environmental analysis is currently underway and Arlington County is paying its $1.78 million share of the $3.56 million cost. The Arlington county manager and the Alexandria city manager signed an agreement to split the cost of the analysis in 2010, she said.

At issue, according to Curtius, is an “Alternatives Analysis” that was optional under the agreement.

“Arlington recently informed Alexandria that we do not intend to do an Alternatives Analysis,” Curtius told ARLnow.com. “Such an analysis is required in order to apply for federal small/new starts funding. Arlington does not intend to apply for such funding for Route 1. We are continuing to work with Alexandria on how to proceed in a way that enables Alexandria to apply for federal funding for its part of the transit project, should it choose to do so.”

In an apparent effort to dispute the report about rising tensions between the two jurisdictions, Arlington County Board Chair Mary Hynes and Alexandria Mayor William Euille have issued a joint statement regarding their transit partnership.

Arlington County and the City of Alexandria have been transit partners for more than 35 years. Together, we’ve ensured safe, efficient transit options for hundreds of thousands of people … every day.

Throughout our region’s history, federal and state transportation funding has been the backbone of supporting transit projects. Unfortunately, that landscape has changed dramatically in just the last few years, greatly impacting local transit planning across the country. All of us have to reassess transportation projects, determine how we can fund them, and make some tough strategic decisions.

The City of Alexandria has decided to focus its attention and its funding on the planned infill Metrorail station; this investment will benefit not only the City, but the entire region.

Arlington needs a streetcar system in Crystal City to support development there — and has funding available through a special tax district.

We are both committed to providing more transit options for people who live and work in the Route 1 corridor. Our strategies are not exactly the same at this point in time. We look forward to working together collaboratively as we continue to move people efficiently through our communities and the region.

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  • drax

    So the facts were not true facts.

    • SomeGuy

      drax, since you weren’t there when any agreements were or were not made, I’m not sure you can really weigh in on what the facts are. Unless, of course, you’re going to trust someone else’s reporting of the facts, which you usually dismiss when a fellow commenter does.

      • drax

        I was referring to a previous discussion about the meaning of the word “fact.”

        • WeiQiang

          the MOST true facts

  • South Awwlington

    I hope this is correct. Regionalism is highly important in a county as small as Arlington.

  • StAsaphSt

    Nice spin by your county. This goes back to the disagreement over bus vs. trolley. Alexandria wants the corridor to be BRT, Arlington is now pulling their financial support for that to occur via the alternatives study, essentially forcing the project scope. They’ve cut Alexandria out of the process, taken their toys and went home. The trolley fetishists in Arlington will build what they want, and Alexandria will have to fend for themselves.

    • David Potomac Yard

      Horrible decision by Arlington if this happens. Having to transfer from a bus to a streetcar will make it less usable and a far less attractive option to both Alexandria and Arlington residents.

      • Josh

        Yes, but everyone will blame Alexandria b/c Arlington will have the nicer toys… you might disagree which truely is nicer, but public perception will slight Alexandria on this one.

        • randomGUlawperson

          No, when the streetcar becomes a subsidy-sucking white elephant Alexandria will look like the government with slicker fiduciary skills.

      • Fairfaxian for transit

        the transit way will start as a busway. IIUC even after street cars are added, buses will still share that lane. It will be a combined street car/bus transit way.

        IIUC the City of Alexandria expects to eventually add a street car as well.

        The difference is over timing, and funding. Arlington, with the TIF funding, doesnt want to bother with the Feds. Alexandria does. Not clear what alex will do if the feds say no to the street car. If they decide to not do the street car without federal funds, then there would still be through buses, but the street car would end at the county line.

  • Consider the acoustics!

    Mike Pope – He can’t get anything right.

    • Bender

      **Mike Pope – He can’t get anything right**
      _________________

      You mean he got the quotes wrong?

      “There’s been no dialogue between myself as the mayor and the chair of the Arlington Board of Supervisors on this topic at all,” said Mayor Bill Euille Tuesday night. “That’s not how you do business.”
      “I think that it is a show of bad faith on the part of the Arlington County Board,” said Councilwoman Alicia Hughes. “That is not the way you operate in a regional cooperative.”
      “If we actually walk away from the alternatives analysis, we forever close the door on those federal funds,” said Rich Baier, director of the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services. “So that alternatives analysis is a necessary precursor step in order to be able to apply for future federal funds.”
      “If we are going to continue on this alternative I think Arlington definitely needs to be on board because they’ve got us to this point,” said Councilman Frank Fannon. “They can’t just walk away.”
      _____________

      Note that Baier specifies that what is at issue is the alternative analysis, so the story did not get anything wrong. Rather, it is Arlington County that is trying to confuse and twist the facts here.

  • John Fontain

    In substance, is this how the process works?

    Step 1. Pay millions of dollars to commission a study.

    Step 2. Get results of study.

    Step 3. Proceed with project regardless of study results.

    • drax

      No?

  • Rick

    So wait, the County has the opportunity for the federal government to help pay for this, but instead will foot the bill themselves? Shouldn’t we be more upset at this?

    • South Awwlington

      One would think…

      • Josh

        Actually the property owners in Crystal City have agreed a special tax district to foot the bill. Hence the need for no federal money. Those property owners who want bigger buildings have said they’ll give money so they can build higher and nicer… seems win win for everyone.

        • Anonymous

          Actually Josh, the businesses are not paying an extra tax to fund the street car. They pay their regular real estate tax and the county diverts 33% of any tax above the 2011 level into the TIF (AKA trolly fund). So yes you should be upset. the more they divert the more other tax revenue must be used to cover increases in costs for everything else in the county.

          • Sri

            Thank you for correcting the nonsense that gets posted by some people on here.

          • South Awwlington

            Thank you for the sunlight.

  • asd33

    “Arlington needs a streetcar system in Crystal City to support development there”

    I find it hard to believe that there are no other alternatives to supporting development in Crystal City than a streetcar. Is Crystal City development even hurting? Have we not seen how much retail/residential/office growth has occurred in the last 10 years there?

    • drax

      Um, BRAC?

      • randomGUlawperson

        I thought BRAC wasnt that big a deal.

        • asdf322323

          It wasnt a big deal– Crystal City development has been impacted at all by BRAC

          • asdf322323

            *hasn’t been impacted

          • drax

            Yeah, I’d say indirectly it has been affected by BRAC. Existing buildings lose lots of tenants = affect on new developments.

          • WeiQiang

            I’ve worked in Crystal City for a couple of decades and have leased space in a few buildings. BRAC has affected redevelopment plans … actually it probably created/accelerated re-development [necessity being the mother of invention and all]. The county and developers are on a course to make CC more upscale than it might have been otherwise. In addition, new urban planning models [upscale residential over upscale retail mixed in with commercial office] support a transition. Until or unless the undeveloped [under-development] south end of CC can be made closer to a Metro stop, the desirability of that area for commercial tenants is somewhat lessened. For better or worse, there is a bias against using Metro buses for … either because of the wait-time/travel-time ratio or because – let’s be honest – some people don’t feel like being “reduced” to riding the Metro bus. Some sort of high-capacity, different-appearing solution is what you wind up with.

  • Truthi

    Alexandria would not buy into Zimmerman’s trolley folly so Arlington took its marbles and went home. NIO ONE defies the great Zimmie and gets away with it even when they are right.

  • Roquer

    Way back in the 1800s, Alexandria decided to take back part of its land. Thus, Arlington began. For that, now’s the time for payback in the transit system.Maybe Arlington should go back to Alexandria now.

    • South Awwlington

      Virginia has independent cities of the counties in which they are located. Alexandria City and Alexandria County had existed separate of each other with distinct municipal governments. Alexandria County was renamed Arlington County to prevent any further confusion of the two and in honor of Arlington House (of the Lee family.)

  • Jeff Miller

    The Connection article on the Crystal City-Potomac Yard trolley correctly analyzed the situation. The joint Hynes-Euillie statement is little more than double-speak from the Arlington County government spin machine. It deliberately seeks to confuse the “alternatives analysis” ( cost study, which was subject of the article) with an “environmental analysis” (which studies other factors).

    But even the PR-spin statement concedes that Arlington and Alexandria strategies are “not exactly the same”. That’s confirmation of the disagreement between the two jurisdictions.

    The fact is that Arlington County broke its commitment to conduct an alternatives analysis, which would examine the cost of the County’s proposed rail trolley in the CCPY corridor, as compared to a more cost-effective bus transit system.

    Several years ago, Arlington and Alexandria agreed jointly to build a bus transitway in that corridor. That was based on a comprehensive “alternatives analysis” in 2003, showing that a bus transit system was much less expensive, and far more cost-effective, than a rail trolley system. (See http://www.ccpytransit.com/ccpy_aa_1-4.pdf)

    But in 2010, Arlington County unilaterally decided to commit to a more expensive rail trolley — despite the prior study on cost, and ignoring the joint commitment with Alexandria to a bus system. The County buried the transit change in a larger Crystal City redevelopment package, so there was litlte public scrutiny or debate. The County Board failed to consult with Alexandria before changing the plans for the transitway. The Board also failed to consult with its own citizen Transit Advisory Committee. (See http://washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/editorials/2011/07/examiner-local-editorial-arlington-streetcar-program-keeps-public-dark)

    The County Board then lured Alexandria to consider the idea for a rail trolley, based in part on Arlington’s commitment to a new study of costs. In 2011, the Board even approved a contract for such an analysis (see http://arlington.granicus.com/GeneratedAgendaViewer.php?view_id=2&event_id=424). But now, Arlington has broken its commitment to a new cost study, leaving Alexandria in the lurch. This is classic bait-and-switch.

    Arlington’s underhanded actions on this project are an insult, both to Alexandria City government and to Arlington County residents. The County Board is hellbent on building TWO costly rail trolleys — one on Columbia Pike and one in Crystal City — without regard to the high cost of both systems, despite the burden on local taxpayers, ignoring widespread opposition from County residents and businesses, and running roughshod over Alexandria City. The latest news of reneging on the cost study is further evidence of bad faith by the Arlington County government.

  • John Andre

    Oh my gosh! I thought at first that something was being said about Arlington & Alexandria conducting an environmental ASSAULT on the Route #1 transit corridor!

  • Mike

    Of COURSE Arlington (aka Zimmerman) doesn’t want an alternatives analysis conducted. When WMATA conducted an alternatives analysis for the Pike streetcar it determined that articulated bus service would cost 1/5 of what a streetcar system would cost and provide the same quality service.

    • drax

      Could you post that link please? Thanks.

    • Josh S

      Well, not the *same* quality service. The projection is still for the streetcar to provide the best quality service.

      Also, note that the projection for articulated bus operating costs is nearly the same as for the streetcar. So, the difference in overall project costs would slowly decline over time. Given that a bus lasts ten years at most, while streetcars can last much longer than that, this must also be taken into account.

      • Sandy

        Is there any objective data in the study that elevates the trolley’s “quality of service” over the new articulated bus option? Or is it possible they just embellished their preferred choice to make it better just because they say so.

  • LIAM

    You are all missing the point. For what is will cost to fund the environmental impact study, they could buy a fleet of natural gas powered buses (they could even get busses that look like street cars) and start the transit service between Crystal City and Alexandria. They could do the same thing on Columbia Pike, too. The Arlington Board just wants to spend money. If they build that Columbia Pike Street car, it will probably bankrupt the County.

    • Johan Spetzer

      It has become a matter of political pride and antagonism at this point. If the Board does not follow through with the streetcar they think it will be seen as a victory for political opponents who are calling for the articulated bus alternatives. It is simply politics at this point, using tax payer’s money to wage their political battle.

      Same thing with Artisphere. Closing it is empirically the most responsible decision, before it continues to cost more and more money while being economically non-viable. But to close it would seem like an admission of defeat. Simply politics, at our cost.

      • Josh S

        I suppose if you choose to see it that way, then it is that way.

        Others do not see it that way.

        • South Awwlington

          I support the lightrail for my own greedy, financial gains. Not because anything about the service will be better than articulated bus.

          If others would be so honest about their views, perhaps we’d all get along a little better.

          Some folks would debate the color of the sky if the County Board didn’t declare it blue. Our County Board has a long-standing, publicly known stance on the streetcar issue. They invited Alexandria to the dance and then they stood them up. The only thing more shameful than Arlington’s actions is Alexandria’s foolish belief that Arlington was intending to be an honest partner. The entire debacle has possible ramifications for the Columbia Pike streetcar as well. Will Fairfax want to play with the dog that bites?

    • Fairfaxian for transit

      buses dont involve the upfront capital of LRT. But they require more frequent vehicle replacement, and the articulated buses needed to match the capacity of LRT are more expensive to maintain/replace than regular buses. And still do not provide the ride quality of LRT.

    • drax

      Wow, buses. There are already bus lines running between CC and Alex.

    • Josh S

      I’m not sure that is “the” point. It may be “your” point, however……

  • Cyrus

    Drugs are baaad, mmmmkay?

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