(Updated at 2:30 p.m.) Democratic Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey is explaining in more depth why she has decided to endorse an independent candidate to fill the Board seat to be vacated by Democrat Chris Zimmerman at the end of January.
Garvey is endorsing self-identified Republican John Vihstadt, who announced last week that he would run as an independent in the spring 2014 special election.
Garvey stated that none of the three announced Democratic candidates likely will change the way the current Board members set priorities. She decided to endorse Vihstadt instead because she believes he can provide change.
“The issue is that I don’t think there is a Democratic candidate that has or is going to announce for the endorsement that is going to alter the dynamic on the County Board right now… Vihstadt by far is so much closer to my values, my way of working,” Garvey told ARLnow.com. “He’s going to be the one to help me take the county in the direction I think it needs to go and the others will not. I am a Democrat, but in this case there is not a Democratic candidate that can do what needs to be done for Arlington. John can do that. So I’ve got to support him, why would I not? That’s what’s right for Arlington.”
She said Vishstadt “gets it” and he can help change the way current Board members operate.
“My colleagues are all good people, but they’ve been doing things a certain way for a very long time,” Garvey said. “I think we need a new perspective and a fresh way of looking at things, and John will bring that.”
One of the key reasons Garvey will not provide support to a fellow Democrat is her opposition to the Columbia Pike streetcar. Vihstadt also opposes the streetcar, writing in his announcement of candidacy last week, “Now that the County’s application for federal funding has been rejected, Arlington taxpayers may be directly on the hook to finish a five mile line that will displace small businesses and affordable housing, will not connect to the Pentagon, and which fails to materially improve Pike transit.”
Although Arlington currently maintains a triple-A bond rating, Garvey believes the streetcar eventually could prove “financially disastrous” for the county. She noted that the project still can be re-evaluated considering it will be a while before final votes are taken.
“I know they all talk about how it’s a done deal, but it’s not a done deal until we sign a contract with a company and commit hundreds of millions of dollars to pay that company to build this thing. We’re not anywhere near that yet,” she said.
“The streetcar is useless and will actually make things worse on the Pike,” she continued. “A streetcar is nothing more than a bus on tracks with wires, but it costs a whole lot more… There are ways to accomplish what you want to for a whole lot less.”
Garvey believes a significant amount of money in the county’s Transportation Capital Fund that’s set aside for the streetcar could be used for more beneficial projects such as Metro funding and street paving.
“We’d have to raise taxes to do that right now because all of this money is sitting in a fund that is, as I understand it, reserved for the streetcar,” she said. “This is, again, why I’m supporting John, because I believe he will help me to get the Board to sort of re-examine some of these things and work through the community with it.”
Arlington County officials are pressing forward with plans for a Columbia Pike streetcar system, despite the federal government’s initial rejection of the county’s funding request due to projected cost overruns.
Officials explained last night, at a County Board meeting, that the Federal Transit Administration rejected its request for $75 million in grant funding because the total project cost was estimated to exceed the $250 million — the cap for projects to receive funding under the FTA’s Small Starts program.
Though pegged by the county at $245.9 million, a contractor hired by the FTA estimated the project cost to instead be between $255.9 and $402.4 million, including contingencies, and thus ineligible for a Small Starts grant. The contractor said $310.1 million was “a most likely cost.”
County officials said the contractor’s report and a subsequent in-person meeting with senior FTA staff lead them to believe the project is still likely to receive federal funding.
“They made it very clear that their action wasn’t based on the merits of the project,” Arlington County Transportation Director Dennis Leach told the Board. “It was really that technical factor that they felt our cost estimate was likely to be somewhat higher.”
Arlington will actually be eligible to receive more than the initially-requested $75 million in federal funding if it applies under the FTA’s New Starts program. Unlike Small Starts, New Starts doesn’t have a cap on total project cost.
“If the county were to choose to reapply as a New Start, the project could qualify for more federal funding,” said Stephen Del Giudice, Arlington County Transit Bureau Chief. ”We have a high likelihood of success in addressing the goals of the project.”
“What’s clear at this point is that changes to the evaluation criteria will most likely have a positive impact on FTA’s future rating of our project,” echoed Brian Stout, the county’s federal liaison. ”We’ll continue… to work with our partners at FTA to identify federal opportunities for them to support the Columbia Pike streetcar project.”
Even before the report on the FTA’s rationale for its decision, County Board Chair Walter Tejada said the county was not abandoning plans for the streetcar.
“Moving forward with a modern streetcar is our stated policy, and that’s what we’re committed to doing,” Tejada said. “We can repeat it many times, but nothing’s going to change.”
Tejada’s vote of confidence for the project came after Libby Garvey, the lone streetcar critic on the five-member County Board, gave a PowerPoint highlighting problems with other streetcar systems around the country. News reports cited by Garvey include:
- Walking is often faster than riding streetcar in Portland (The Oregonian)
- Portland streetcar fare revenue nearly 50 percent below projections (The Oregonian)
- Tampa streetcars could require city subsidy (Tampa Tribune)
- Cincinnati streetcar facing $26 million cost overrun (Cincinnati Herald)
- Tucson streetcar operating costs 4 times initial estimate (Arizona Daily Star)
“I have not made up the articles, I have not made up the facts,” Garvey said. “These facts are facts. They’re inconvenient, but true.”
Arlington House Rededicated — Arlington House, the family home of Robert E. Lee and an iconic symbol of Arlington County, has been rededicated by the National Park Service following a six year restoration effort. The ceremony was held on Saturday, on the 152nd anniversary of Lee’s decision to lead the rebellion in the Civil War. [Sun Gazette]
County’s Bond Ratings Reaffirmed — Arlington County has had its top Aaa/AAA debt ratings reaffirmed by rating agencies Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s. The ratings will allow Arlington to borrow money at a lower interest rate. “The Aaa rating reflects the county’s strong long-term credit characteristics including a sizeable and affluent tax base, stable and carefully-managed financial operations with sound reserves, and moderate debt position with manageable future borrowing needs,” Moody’s wrote of Arlington. [Arlington County]
Garvey: Streetcars Fail Cost/Benefit Analysis — In an op-ed in the Washington Post, County Board member Libby Garvey says streetcars on Columbia Pike “are not a good investment for anyone.” Streetcars would not solve transportation challenges on the Pike, and would instead “siphon resources away from other important needs,” Garvey wrote. [Washington Post]
Arlington to Help Train Vets in IT — Arlington County has accepted a $150,000 state grant that will help train military veterans for high-demand Information Technology (IT) jobs. The grant will go to a joint Arlington/Alexandria job training program, which is expected to serve more than 50 veterans over an 18-month period. [Arlington County]
Now that a prototype has been built, and now that Arlington will be replacing WMATA as the project manager, the Columbia Pike Super Stop project should proceed in a much quicker, smoother and more cost-efficient manner, county officials said Tuesday.
The project will ultimately construct a network of 24 enhanced “Super Stop” bus stops along Columbia Pike, featuring real-time bus arrival screens, lighting, heating and a modern design. Arlington County officials briefed the County Board on the status of the project at its meeting yesterday (Tuesday) afternoon, following a minor public outcry about the over $1 million construction cost of the first stop.
(The county funded just over $200,000 of the construction budget, with the rest coming from state and federal sources.)
“This is perhaps the first of its type in the Commonwealth,” Arlington County Director of Transportation Dennis Leach said of the newly-completed Super Stop, at the corner of Columbia Pike and S. Walter Reed Drive. “In any new endeavor, you end up paying more in soft costs for the prototype. When you actually get the efficiency is… when you refine it and go out replicate the facilities.”
“This was a project that was a partnership between Arlington and WMATA,” he said. “Moving forward we are going to make a shift where these are going to be Arlington-managed construction projects. We hope to dramatically reduce the construction time, and we have already fine tuned the design… to make it easier to construct in the future.”
County Board member Chris Zimmerman said WMATA’s ability to run construction projects has been reduced over the past few years.
“Its capacity having been greatly diminished undoubtedly affected their ability to deal with a small project like this one,” he said.
Zimmerman said he believes the project is on track. Crews are expected to begin work this spring on a “Barton West” Super Stop near Penrose Square, followed by work on new stops at Columbus and Dinwiddie Streets later this summer.
“I’m a lot more confident going forward that we’ll be able to deliver these things on a reasonable basis in terms of time, budget and schedule,” he said.
Libby Garvey, a critic of the proposed Columbia Pike streetcar system (which will utilize the new stops, when built), asked a few tough questions about the project. She said she was still awaiting a breakdown of the costs of the project, and was skeptical that the open-air design would serve riders in bad weather.
“I did see the stop and it’s pretty, but I was struck by the fact that if it’s pouring rain i’m going to get wet, and if it’s cold the wind is going to be blowing on me,” she said. “It doesn’t seem to be much of a shelter.”
Zimmerman suggested there might be room for refining the design to provide more shelter in the rain, but said he was otherwise pleased with the distinctive design — which, he reminded the room, was chosen during a public process, with extensive input from residents.
“I personally think they’re extremely attractive,” he said. “Part of making people confident and comfortable using transit is creating places that they feel like they want to be, even in the dark.”
School Enrollment Surging – Enrollment in Arlington Public Schools is now projected to increase from 22,657 pre-K to 12th grade students today to 30,777 students by the 2023-24 school year. The projections suggest that enrollment will near 27,000 by the 2017-18 school year, breaking the previous record for APS enrollment. [Sun Gazette]
Ukrainian Mayor Presents Library With Sculpture – Viktor Anushkevychus, the mayor of Ivano-Frankivsk, Arlington’s sister city in Ukraine, presented Arlington Central Library with a metal sculpture of a tree yesterday. [Arlington Public Library]
Libby Garvey Looking for New Assistant — Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey is seeking a new aide in the County Board office, after her previous aide left for a new position in the county. “If you know of anyone who might be interested in the position, please encourage them to check out the announcement and apply,” she said in a recent email to supporters. The full-time job pays between $39,062 and $63,523, plus benefits. [Arlington County]
Model Bootcamp Coming to Pentagon City — A “bootcamp” for wanna-be models is coming to the Pentagon City mall on Saturday. From 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 pm, the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City will host a promotional event for “The Face,” a new modeling competition show on the Oxygen network. Participants will be put through a “casting session” that will include a short photo shoot; in the end, they’ll be emailed an animated GIF of photos from the shoot. [Oxygen]
Noted American statesman Ben Franklin stopped by to give a short speech before County Board member Libby Garvey’s swearing-in ceremony on Friday evening.
Garvey, who was elected to her first full term on the Board in November, invited Franklin to the ceremony. Franklin, played by Arlington resident Barry Stevens, was modest about his presence at the event but spoke in grand terms about the ceremony itself.
“It is my great pleasure to be here this afternoon,” he said. “Actually, at my age, it’s a great pleasure to be anywhere.”
“Today we recognize a commitment by a local citizen to serve in our government [and] celebrate the voice of an electorate in bringing this citizen into public office,” Franklin continued. “And so today we consummate our republic and our democratic process.”
Garvey spoke after Franklin and noted that she and President Barack Obama, who also was re-elected in November, could never have been elected in Franklin’s time, since women and African Americans were not allowed to vote or run for public office in the U.S.
“We as a nation have come very, very far in a few hundred years,” she said.
Wreath Laying at Arlington Nat’l Cemetery — Some 20,000 volunteers placed more than 110,000 wreaths on graves at Arlington National Cemetery on Saturday. It was the 21st annual wreath-laying event at the cemetery, and the largest number of wreaths ever delivered for the event. [Stars and Stripes, Wreaths Across America]
Donations for Secret Santa Due Tomorrow — Those who want to donate gift cards to the Arlington Department of Human Services’ “Secret Santa” program are asked to do so by tomorrow. The program provides a bit of holiday joy to children in foster care, people with disabilities, low income seniors and needy families. [Arlington County]
Garvey Sworn In — Libby Garvey was sworn in for her first full term on the Arlington County Board Friday evening. The event was complete with a reception and a Benjamin Franklin impersonator. County Board member Chris Zimmerman — whose consulting work was publicly scrutinized by Garvey recently — was not in attendance. [Sun Gazette]
Flickr pool photo by Sunday Money
In a statement released to reporters Saturday afternoon (below), Board Chair Mary Hynes and members Jay Fisette and Walter Tejada said they were “dismayed” that Garvey released an internal email she sent to them regarding what she saw as a possible conflict of interest in Board member Chris Zimmerman’s business dealings.
The Board is set to vote Monday on adoption of Virginia’s Public-Private Transportation Act (PPTA), which would allow the county to seek a public-private partnership for its streetcar project. Garvey asked whether Zimmerman should recuse himself, since he recently started doing consulting work for AECOM, a large planning, design and construction conglomerate that has worked on numerous streetcar and light rail project.
Hynes, Fisette and Tejada say that Zimmerman properly disclosed his work, and that Garvey’s “allegation that Mr. Zimmerman has a conflict of interest… has no basis in Virginia law.”
We are dismayed by recently-elected County Board member Libby Garvey’s public release of her email correspondence to us dated December 5. Her allegation that Mr. Zimmerman has a conflict of interest when it comes to voting on a change to our purchasing procedures for transportation projects has no basis in Virginia law or in fact – as the County Attorney has clearly laid out.
Mrs. Garvey strives to connect the Board’s consideration of the Virginia Public-Private Transportation Act (PPTA) to the possibility of a future conflict due to Mr. Zimmerman’s recent work with AECom Canada East as a consultant on projects limited by his contract to the greater Montreal area. Being a County Board member is classified as a “part-time” job and each of us has, from time to time, done other work for which we have been paid. Each of us has disclosed that income as required by Virginia law. Mr. Zimmerman’s October letter is a reflection of his commitment to transparency, filed with the Board Clerk and given to each of us in advance of any legal requirement so that all could be aware of his limited contract with AECom Canada East.
The proposal to consider the PPTA guidelines has been up on the County website since November 9. Consideration by the County Board, scheduled for late November, was delayed to December 10 at Mrs. Garvey’s request with an invitation for outstanding issues and questions to be identified for staff and Board review. To date, the Board has received two letters — both supportive of adopting the guidelines.
In an effort to provide greater clarity to the community, the Board has drafted and made public a resolution for consideration on December 10, that accompanies the PPTA guidelines and gives further direction to the Manager. This resolution requires the Manager to provide information about any unsolicited proposals to the Board at key junctures – including posting them on the County website – and to implement a plan for public review should any proposal be deemed worthy of further consideration. Because the PPTA can be used for any transportation facility, the public review would be tailored to the specific project. All of these procedures are consistent with Arlington’s practice of checks and balances to protect the integrity of our processes.
We have every confidence that this level of transparency will provide the Board, County staff and interested Arlingtonians with the information they need to consider whether any PPTA proposal meets our goals in a way that is fiscally prudent and operationally efficient. Despite Ms. Garvey’s allegations, Monday’s proposed action presents no conflict of interest for County Board members and, again, have no basis in Virginia law.
(Updated at 2:35 p.m. on 12/7/12) County Board Member Libby Garvey was recently reelected, having run on a platform of being an independent voice on the Board. True to that promise, today Garvey raised questions about the propriety of another Board member’s business dealings, given a matter currently before the Board.
Garvey is calling for the Board to delay its scheduled vote on adoption of Virginia’s Public-Private Transportation Act (PPTA). The vote is currently scheduled for Monday, after being deferred at the Nov. 27 Board meeting.
The County Board is considering using a private-public partnership for the design, construction and operation of the planned Crystal City streetcar. The Board would need to adopt the state PPTA in order to enter such a partnership.
Garvey, however, has expressed concerns about the PPTA, maintaining that additional public interest safeguards are needed. She cited “problems with the PPTA procurement for the [Metro] Silver Line,” and a recent report by the Southern Environmental Law Center that found “flaws” in the Virginia PPTA, as reasons why the Board needs “more time to study the implications of adopting the PPTA guidelines and to consider safeguards that will ensure full and open competition and true risk-sharing by the private sector.”
In an email sent to the rest of the Board this morning, Garvey took her concerns a step further, raising questions about whether Board member Chris Zimmerman should be voting on the PPTA, given that he recently disclosed that he’s working as a consultant for AECOM, a large construction, design and transportation conglomerate. AECOM has worked on streetcar and light rail projects in a number of U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, Atlanta, New Orleans, Minneapolis and Grand Rapids.
(A representative from the Minneapolis project spoke at a County Board work session last month about the city’s experience with its public-private partnership.)
In the email, Garvey asked Zimmerman to consider recusing himself from the PPTA vote given the appearance of a conflict of interest.
I spoke with Chris briefly yesterday afternoon about our possible vote on Monday concerning the PPTA and asked if he would consider delaying and then if he would recuse himself from the vote. At the moment, Chris sees no reason to delay or recuse himself.
So I am writing to all of you because I am very concerned about how this could look to our public and this concerns us all. Chris sent us a letter on October 25, 2012, notifying the Board of his consultant contract with AECOM Canada East. In that letter, Chris stated that “there is the possibility that at a future point it may be necessary for me to disclose my affiliation with the company in matters coming before the Board . . . and to even disqualify myself from participation in those matters.” In the letter, Chris also states that he wants “to be certain to anticipate any potential conflict of interest (or appearance of conflict) that could arise.” I think with the PPTA issue we are at that point and hope Chris will reconsider, and that we all can take a step back here.
Since I am new to the Board, I have only recently become aware of the extensive contractual relationships that have existed between AECOM and Arlington County Government for at least the last few years. With respect to Columbia Pike, AECOM has participated in the Transit Initiative Traffic Report, the peer review of capital cost estimates for the streetcar, the Columbia Pike Land Use and Housing Study and the Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Plan. AECOM also has worked on the Crystal City Multimodal Transportation Study, the Four Mile Run Demonstration Project, and the Crystal City Second Entrance and Access Study. AECOM has several offices in Arlington, briefed us tonight on streetcar vehicles, and was one of the companies to brief us about public private partnerships — the exact issue we will be voting on. I think anyone would assume that it is quite likely they will be doing additional work for the County and, should we adopt the PPTA, they will be submitting an unsolicited bid.
AECOM has been and continues to work on streetcar projects and other transportation projects in the United States, Canada and elsewhere. Its website includes a section on public private partnerships (P3) and states: “AECOM has been involved in at least 90 percent of the Unites States P3 transportation projects.” The company states that P3 projects work well when, among other factors, there is “political support from the top.”
As you well know, the Board had on its November 27th agenda adoption of guidelines for public-private partnerships, pursuant to Virginia’s Public-Private Transportation Act (PPTA). This Act, and our proposed guidelines, would allow a company to present an unsolicited bid to construct and manage major transportation projects, including the streetcar. Given the current economy and limits of federal and state funding, the Board has been receiving information about the possibility of a public-private partnership to fund the streetcar. Last week, I asked that we not act on the proposed guidelines because the PPTA has been flagged as having flaws that (contrary to what we have been told to expect) can allow, and have allowed, the shift of risk from the private to the public sector. These are serious concerns affecting not only our streetcar decision, but also decisions on large projects in the future. We did not have sufficient information to make such a significant decision then. We still do not have sufficient information to act on this, either about necessary safeguards we should implement, nor about Chris’ relationship with AECOM should he continue to decide he need not recuse himself.
A thorough understanding about necessary safeguards aside, in light of Chris’s letter regarding his consultant relationship with AECOM Canada East, I believe that the Board should not act at this time on guidelines that address the selection of contractors on transportation projects and the risks to be borne by the contractor and taxpayers. Chris notes in his letter his desire to anticipate any future conflict of interest or appearance of conflict of interest. I believe we all want that. I also believe there clearly could be an appearance of a conflict with the vote on the PPTA guidelines. I believe we all need to know the facts regarding the County’s contractual and other business relationships with AECOM and all the pertinent details regarding Chris’s consulting relationship with AECOM Canada East. Without these kinds of disclosures, it is not possible to determine the degree to which a conflict of interest, or the appearance of conflict of interest, may exist. As we all know, in the public realm, the appearance of a conflict is as important as the facts. Perceptions are everything.
Finally, I know that we all value the excellent reputation that Arlington has earned for good government and understand that even an appearance of impropriety can tarnish that reputation. That result can easily be avoided in this situation either by waiting to vote on the guidelines until all the facts are disclosed or by Chris deciding not to vote on the PPTA guidelines. Finally, since there are reasons other than those relating to an actual or potential conflict of interest to defer voting on the guidelines, that necessary delay would also allow us the time to obtain and review the facts relating to the conflict issues.
As always, I am happy to discuss this. Libby
Arlington County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac tells ARLnow.com he doesn’t see any reason Zimmerman would need to recuse himself. He pointed out that the vote pertains to adopting guidelines, not awarding a contract. Because no contract is being awarded and there’s no financial benefit to Zimmerman, he says there’s no conflict of interest.
“My advice to Zimmerman is he doesn’t have a conflict and he doesn’t need to recuse himself. I think all five Board members are eligible to vote on this,” said MacIsaac. “There’s certainly no reason for Zimmerman to recuse himself.”
MacIsaac adds that Zimmerman didn’t immediately have to inform his fellow Board members of his work as an AECOM consultant, but he appears to have done so to allow for transparency.
“He could have just kept it to himself and not said a word and worked out the conflicts when and if one arises,” said MacIsaac.
MacIsaac noted that there may be conflicts related to Zimmerman’s consulting in the future, but they will be dealt with should they arise. He stresses that currently no issue has been found.
“I think it’s unfortunate the Conflicts Act would be raised under these circumstances,” MacIsaac said. “It just doesn’t seem fair.”
MacIsaac sent a memo to the Board yesterday (Thursday) explaining his view. An excerpt from the memo reads:
“The claim of impropriety appears to be based on a projection into the future about what an entity related to the AE Com subsidiary with which Mr. Zimmerman has an employment relationship might do in the future. Such speculative forecasting about potential conflicts in the future creates a standard few elective officials can meet, because it is not grounded in actual facts. It suggests a rule that would prohibit Board members from participating in transactions coming before the Board because their personal interests or those of their family members might one day in the future intersect with County business.”
Here is the unedited response from incumbent Libby Garvey (D):
I am a proven collaborative leader and have helped lead change in Arlington for over 15 years, first on the School Board and now on the County Board. I’ve helped make our schools among the best in the nation. I know how to do the work of a board member and have already established important relationships around the region and across the state. The relationships and networks I’ve built will continue to serve Arlington well as we work on issues like transit, affordable housing and development.
I believe my priorities fit Arlington’s needs at this time very well. I will continue to focus on:
1. Setting Strategic Priorities: I am concentrating on core services: infrastructure; public safety; transit; education; a strong social safety net. We cannot do everything, but we need to support our most important services and values well.
2. Effective Citizen Involvement: Citizen involvement has made Arlington what it is. As we set our priorities and tackle difficult challenges, we need effective and inclusive citizen involvement more than ever. The County Board is known to change recommendations at the last minute, despite months–or even years–of having committees and our staff working together on finding the best solutions for everyone. Interest groups and committed citizens feel they must come and speak for hours at a meeting: either to try to sway the Board at the last minute or to prevent the Board from making a last minute change. Last minute changes need to become very rare. I will work to see that the current PLACE initiative not only sets up good processes for citizen involvement, but also that the Board commits to those processes itself
3. Sensible Transit: I questioned the decision to build a streetcar from the beginning of my campaign in the special election last spring. In July, as my doubts grew, I abstained on the votes supporting a streetcar and set out my concerns . My major concern is that a real cost benefit analysis of the streetcar project has not been done. On October 9, the County Board received a cost benefit analysis done by Peter Rousselot. That analysis showed clearly that a streetcar makes no sense for Arlington financially, and is likely an inferior vehicle for Arlington to use in the modern transit system we have been designing for some time. There is no question that we need to move forward with a modern transit system for the County. However, the citizens of Arlington need to be fully informed about the relative costs and performance of a streetcar compared to a modern bus rapid transit system (BRT), and the County needs to take a close look at the comparison. I will advocate hard for a robust and informed community dialog about what vehicle to use in our next transit system and am confident that my colleagues will agree that this is needed after they’ve had time to look at the new information we’ve received.
Finally, I believe ArlNow’s readers should vote for me because of some key differences between me and my opponents. I have a much greater depth and quality of experience. I have lived in Arlington for 35 years and served as an elected official for 15 years. I will work independently as I always have to serve this community where I settled in 1977 and raised my children. Arlington is my home.
It has been a true honor and privilege to serve this community as an elected official for 16 years. Please vote for me on November 6. To learn more, please visit my campaign website at www.libbygarvey.com
Despite statements to the contrary by each of the three candidates for Arlington County Board (see below), the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization says a modern streetcar system is a better option for Columbia Pike than a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system.
Last night CPRO issued the following press release, explaining its support for the streetcar.
Recent publications suggest that Bus Rapid System would be superior to a Streetcar serving the transit needs of our area. The Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization takes this opportunity to reaffirm support for a modern Streetcar.
In July 2012, the Arlington County Board and Fairfax County Board chose a modern Streetcar as the preferred transit alternative in our corridor. This decision was correct and well informed.
The rationale in support of a BRT alternative has been exhaustively discussed during the many years of public process preceding the aforementioned decisions.
Among many other benefits, a modern streetcar system:
- Commits the land use and economic development for decades to come. The sense of permanency and the corresponding growth dynamics that rail based transportation conveys to investors and businesses cannot be matched by a BRT system.
- Serves important destinations that focuses on corridors, connectors and regional development nodes. By contrast, BRT would serve a constellation of ever changing destinations and routes, leaving the network design, scope and functionality at the whim of political and market changes.
- Offers superior passenger capacity and superior economies of scale in the network both on Columbia Pike and on top-capacity corridors (like Route 1) where streetcar trains outperform BRT.
- Provides superior comfort to passengers. Comfort is not an optional luxury. It is a critical parameter that determines the level of ridership.
- Improves traffic safety in mixed traffic by keeping the largest vehicles on predictable tracks free from random lane-changes, which, combined with the narrower width of streetcars improves overall flow in a congested corridor.
- Supports our community’s goal to preserve affordable housing by having the proven potential to create enough real estate value to cross-subsidize committed affordable units.
The Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization applauds the Arlington County Board and the Fairfax County Board for upholding their commitment to the community’s long standing vision for Columbia Pike.
The decision has been made. It is time to move forward.
Incumbent Democratic County Board candidate Libby Garvey, meanwhile, is doubling down on her support for a BRT system. In an email to supporters this morning, Garvey said BRT won out over the streetcar in a recent cost benefit analysis conducted by Peter Rousselot, former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.
The participants were the three candidates for Arlington County Board: incumbent Democrat Libby Garvey, Green Party candidate Audrey Clement and Republican Matt Wavro.
Despite the fact that the audience lives north of Route 50, in a neighborhood that has plenty of concerns about traffic, development, aircraft noise and other issues, the main topic of the debate was the Columbia Pike streetcar. The streetcar so dominated the first half of the debate that the moderator had to eventually ask the audience to refrain from asking about it.
It’s ironic, then, that the candidates all essentially agreed with one another.
“We need sensible transit,” said Garvey, in her opening remarks. “I have been working deliberately to gather more information about the proposed streetcar and the more I look at it the more convinced I am that what we need is a bus rapid transit system, or BRT. That is by far the best solution for us at this point.”
Wavro also advocated for enhanced bus service along Columbia Pike instead of the streetcar, but he blasted Garvey for abstaining during a vote on the streetcar in July.
“We’ve had studies, more studies, then more studies on the Columbia Pike trolley,” he said. “With that amount of information out there, [Garvey] should be able to make a decision against the trolley.”
Clement echoed Wavro’s criticism.
“Board members are elected to take stands on controversial issues, not back away from them,” she said, adding that the streetcar will absorb tax dollars that could be used for capital improvements to Arlington’s existing transportation network and service enhancements like expanded weekend ART bus service.
There was disagreement over whether the Pike streetcar is a decision that can be reversed or not. Wavro argued that a lone board member would and should not be able to reverse the community process that led to the streetcar vote this summer. Garvey said the board only approved a “transit system” and that the “vehicle” for that system is a decision that will be made “down the line.”
“I think this will probably be the most important vote that I’m going to take in my time on the Board, and I’m hoping to be on the Board for about 12 years,” she said.
In addition to speaking out about the Columbia Pike streetcar, Clement also criticized Garvey’s vote to approve the Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Area Plan, which she said will eliminate affordable housing and “will transform the Pike into a gentrified urban canyon.” Wavro, meanwhile, spoke of the need to preserve market rate affordable housing — housing that’s affordable without government intervention — along the Pike and throughout the county.
Wavro made fiscal responsibility a pillar of his platform, saying the Board shouldn’t need to raise property tax rates — like it did this spring — on top of increases in property assessments.
“We should be able to fund our priorities through the increased assessments,” he said. “What we’ve seen from the County Board… is a trajectory of spending on capital projects that includes a tax or rent increase for every Arlington resident each year for the next ten years in order to maintain our AAA bond rating. I think we should have a much more responsible capital spending plan.”
Clement again agreed with Wavro, but delivered a sharper attack on Garvey and the Democrat-controlled County Board.
“In the current uncertain financial climate spurred by BRAC closures and the federal deficit, I view spending for key products in the [Capital Improvement Plan], including the [Long Bridge Park] aquatic center and the trolley, as reckless and irresponsible, and will oppose them unless the county’s economic outlook improves” she said. “In addition to opposing profligate capital spending, I have a specific plan for action to promote fiscal responsibility that emphasizes funding basic needs and investment in sustainable infrastructure.”
Last Chance to Comment on Bikeshare Plan — Today is the last day to comment on Arlington’s Capital Bikeshare Expansion Plan. Comments on the six year strategic growth plan can be submitted online through the end of the day today. [Arlington Transportation Partners]
Republicans Pounce on Garvey’s Streetcar Abstention — Hoping to capture a seat on the County Board this November, Republicans are planning on hammering away at the current all-Democrat Board for approving the Columbia Pike streetcar. The GOP is also planning to pounce on their Democratic opponent, Libby Garvey, for abstaining from the streetcar vote while expressing skepticism about the plan. Republican Matt Wavro will face Garvey and Green Party candidate Audrey Clement on the Nov. 6 ballot. [Sun Gazette]
Arlington Officials Puzzled by Estate Gift — Arlington officials can’t fathom why a late resident left the county five percent of his estate in his will. The County Board had to vote to refund some of the money after whoever is in charge of executing the will made an error and sent the county $51,000 more than it was actually owed. [Patch]
Paisano’s Named Best Pizza by WTOP — Paisano’s has been named the best pizza in the D.C. area by WTOP listeners and website visitors. The local chain has a location near Crystal City at 3650 South Glebe Road. Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza, which has a location in Clarendon, placed #4 in the voting. [WTOP]
Flickr pool photo by Christaki
The Board followed county staff’s recommendation in endorsing the streetcar over enhanced or articulated bus service. Many speakers, including Pike residents plus Republican and Green Party members, urged the Board to consider enhanced or articulated bus service as a cheaper alternative to increasing transit capacity along the Pike.
“I do not believe in the trolley because I just don’t think we have the money,” said resident Paulette Gray. “When you lose your income you don’t keep the cable and you don’t build the big addition.”
Other streetcar opponents said bus service would be more reliable, since it doesn’t rely on rails that could be blocked by accidents or electricity that would get cut off during storms.
“Can’t we come up with something much more inventive for our transportation, other than a trolley?” asked resident Antonios Perros, who recounted how streetcars in D.C. in the 1950s would get stranded during big storms. “It just doesn’t seem feasible that we should have a trolley in the 21st century.”
Other speakers, including residents, real estate developers, business boosters, and county transportation committee members, stated their support for the streetcar, saying it would bring needed development and revitalization to the Columbia Pike corridor.
“We think it is critical to expand Arlington’s core transit options for the future,” said Mitch Bonanno, an executive with Vornado/Charles E. Smith.
“Small businesses [along Columbia Pike] feel that what they are lacking today is enough customer traffic,” said Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization Executive Director Takis Karantonis, who argued the streetcar would bring additional restaurant and retail customers to the Pike.
In addition to the development potential of fixed rail infrastructure, other arguments for the streetcar include increased travel capacity, ease of boarding, and the regional connectivity to Fairfax County. The Pike streetcar line is expected to extend five miles from the Skyline area of Fairfax County in the west to the Pentagon City Metro station in the east.
Some streetcar skeptics weren’t convinced of the economic development potential of streetcars versus buses. Others weren’t convinced that new development was necessarily a good thing.
“It is clear that the County Board’s goal here is not to put efficient transit on the Pike, your goal is to completely and massively redevelop the Pike,” said perennial county government critic Jim Hurysz.
“News flash folks, we could CUT commercial property taxes to invigorate the local economy rather than pay for a trolley,” said former Republican County Board candidate Mark Kelly, on Twitter.
By our count, there were 11 speakers in favor of the streetcar, and 12 against. The speeches went into the early morning hours, and the Board’s ultimate vote on the matter didn’t take place until around 1:30 a.m.
The Board voted 4-0 in favor of the streetcar. Libby Garvey, who’s been on the Board for about 4 months following a special election earlier this year, abstained. In announcing her abstention — saying she “didn’t have enough time” to fully consider the matter – Garvey stated she had significant reservations about the streetcar.
“I cannot see how a streetcar is anything more than a bus with tracks and overhead wires,” she said. “At the moment my common sense is telling me modern bus transit systems are actually better.”
In the end, other Board members disagreed, and voted essentially the same way they did in 2006, when the Board first approved a streetcar system for Columbia Pike.
“I see the… streetcar as the next generation of a regional rail system,” said Jay Fisette. ”To me this is an investment.”
The streetcar project is expected to cost $250 million. Of those costs, Arlington County will be responsible for 80 percent, while Fairfax County will be on the hook for 20 percent. Of Arlington’s share, officials are hoping successful grant applications will result in 30 percent being paid for by the federal government, with another 14 percent being paid by the state. Arlington County commercial and industrial taxpayers are expected to pay 56 percent of the costs.
Annual operating costs are estimated at between $22 and $26 million.
County staff said the cost of the streetcar line could be recouped via additional tax revenues attributable to streetcar-fueled development along the Pike. A “conservative estimate” of the tax boost suggests the county could collect $291 million in additional revenue over 30 years.
The Board’s vote — to accept an Alternatives Analysis and Environmental Assessment and adopt the streetcar as the preferred alternative — will pave the way for the County Manager to apply for federal New Starts/Small Starts transit funding. The application process is expected to begin in September.
Before considering the streetcar, the Board approved the sweeping Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Area Plan, which is expected to bring more development and affordable housing to the Columbia Pike corridor.
It’s an important matter for Garvey, whose husband of 34 years died suddenly from a heart attack in 2008. Some of his tissue was donated, and Garvey says knowing he helped others in need helped her deal with the grief from his passing.
“It went to dozens of surgeries in many states across the nation and helped around 100 people… and it’s very good to know what a difference that makes,” Garvey said.
Garvey also mentioned how the relationship she developed with the Washington Regional Transplant Community helped her family “through a very difficult time.”
She then read the following proclamation on behalf of the board:
“WHEREAS nearly 2,000 people in the Washington, DC metropolitan area are currently waiting for a life saving organ transplant, and thousands more need a tissue transplant this year; and
WHEREAS every day 18 of the more than 112,000 Americans awaiting an organ transplant will die before they receive a second chance at life; and
WHEREAS, the Washington Regional Transplant Community is observing more than 25 years of educating Arlington County citizens about saying yes to donation, thereby giving the gift of live through organ, eye and tissue recovery; and
WHEREAS, Arlington County citizens can make their donation decision by either designating donation on their drivers licenses, or signing up at www.donatelifevirginia.org; and
WHEREAS, during Donate Life Month we honor our county’s eye, organ and tissue donors and their families, whose decision to share the gift of life through America’s donor program serves as a positive example for all our citizens.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, Mary Hughes Hynes, Chair of the Arlington County Board, Virginia, do hereby proclaim April 2012 as DONATE LIFE MONTH in Arlington County, and urge all citizens to sign up as organ, eye and tissue donors, to inform their family of their decision, and raise awareness of the important need for organ, eye and tissue donation in our community.