Metro is planning to launch a new bus line, the 9X line, to run in dedicated transit lanes between parts of south Arlington and Alexandria. The Alexandria portion — to run from the Braddock Road Metro station to Potomac Yard via Route 1 — is expected to open in spring 2014. The Arlington portion — from the Pentagon City Metro station to the Crystal City Metro station to Potomac Yard — is expected to open in summer or fall 2014, according to Arlington County Senior Transit Engineer Matthew Huston.
At first, the line will travel in mixed traffic on 15th Street Pentagon City and Crystal City. Eventually it will utilize the extended and contiguous 12th Street. The line will travel south in new dedicated bus lanes along S. Clark and S. Bell Street, and north along Crystal Drive.
The bus lanes will take the place of an existing, standard travel lane. They will be reserved for buses and emergency vehicles only during the morning and evening rush hours, but will be open to mixed traffic during all other times. Street parking will not be impacted by the changes.
As part of the still-evolving plan for what’s called the Crystal City-Potomac Yard Transitway, the existing 9S bus line will be extended to Potomac Yard and will run along the new dedicated lanes. The 9X and 9S will provide frequent service — every 6 minutes — and will serve a consolidated list of stops.
There will be seven new stops built in Arlington between Crystal City and Potomac Yard. Those stops will feature electronic information displays and other enhanced features. The buses will still serve on-street stops between the Crystal City and Pentagon City Metro stations.
The dedicated bus lanes will eventually be used as the right-of-way for the new Crystal City streetcar, though so far county officials aren’t providing a timeline for its eventual construction.
Planning, design and construction of Arlington’s portion of the transitway, which will also include the construction of new dedicated lanes between 26th Street and Glebe Road, is expected to cost the county about $17.5 million. Metro will pick up the tab for 13 new BRT-style buses, at a cost of about $650,000 apiece.
Metro is currently conducting an online survey about the design and branding of the buses. Possible names for the bus service include “Metro Beat” and “Metro Way.” It also asks about possible nicknames for the bus line, with options like: Crystal to Brad Line, Power House Corridor, City to the Yard Corridor, Potomac Yard Corridor, Tower Corridor, and Jeff Davis Corridor.
In an introduction, the survey emphasized that this would be Metro’s first BRT service.
Metro, in conjunction with Arlington County and the City of Alexandria will be introducing a new unique bus service to the region. Special stops and bus-only lanes will be introduced that will allow the bus to run on a very tight schedule. This corridor will be the first such service in the Washington region. Below is a map that shows the new route. The new service (sometimes called Bus Rapid Transit) will be different than anything the Washington region has seen before.
The counterpoint to the anti-streetcar group Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit, Arlington Streetcar Now says the proposed Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcar systems will be a boon for residents and businesses along those respective corridors.
From a press release:
A pro-streetcar group, Arlington Streetcar Now, announced its formation at the Arlington County Board meeting on Saturday, February 23. Longtime Arlington resident and civic activist John Snyder made the announcement and presented the Board with a list of principles the group will promote in support of the proposed streetcar system that would link Fairfax County and Alexandra through Columbia Pike and Crystal City.
Arlington Streetcar Now is a growing group of Arlington residents and other strong supporters of the streetcar system. Calling the redevelopment plans for South Arlington “an exciting vision for the future,” Snyder called the streetcar system “the best way to achieve that vision.” Arlington’s vision for Columbia Pike and Crystal City depends on a qualitative upgrade and an increase in transit capacity which cannot be achieved merely by enhancing existing bus service.
Arlington Streetcar Now has been formed, Snyder said, to help “explain how a modern streetcar operates, how it is integral to growth of a locally-oriented business district, to affordable housing preservation on the Pike, and to environmental stewardship.”
Mary Margaret Whipple, former Arlington County Board member and state senator, pointed out that opposition today is similar to resistance to the installation of the Metrorail system in Arlington. “They made similar claims then – that it cost too much, that we should use buses instead, that kind of thing. It doesn’t matter how sensible or popular a transit proposal is,” said Whipple. “There are always going to be a few people who make it their mission to oppose it.” Today, Arlington’s investment in the rail system is widely regarded as a principal factor propelling Arlington from a community in economic decline in the 1970s to one of the most desirable locations in the region to live and work.
Local businesses have come out in strong support of this system and the vision for growth and sustainability it represents. Chamber of Commerce member David DeCamp, also a founding member of Arlington Streetcar Now, strongly agrees with the group’s mission. “The investment in the Streetcar will induce mixed-use development and pay us back with growing annual revenues as new buildings are developed – in much the same way that development along Arlington’s Metro corridors has produced a virtuous circle of growing tax receipts that keep a lid on our tax rates and contribute enormously to the quality of life in Arlington.”
Va. Senate Passes Transportation Bill — The Virginia state Senate yesterday passed a Democrat-backed transportation bill that would raise gas taxes and index them to inflation, impose a gas wholesale tax, and would allow Northern Virginia localities to impose a sales tax surcharge to pay for transportation projects. Unlike a version of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s transportation plan that passed the House of Delegates, it does not increase the overall statewide sales tax rate. [Washington Post]
House Rejects Income Tax Proposal — A bill that would have allowed Arlington and other Virginia localities to impose a one percent income tax in order to pay for transportation improvements has failed in the House of Delegates. The House Committee on Finance voted to reject the bill. [Sun Gazette]
GGW: Pike Bus Proposal is Not BRT — Those who are proposing a more modern bus system for Columbia Pike as an alternative to the county’s streetcar plan are falsely calling calling it Bus Rapid Transit, writes David Alpert. Also, the proposed bus system might be just as expensive as the streetcar, Alpert said. [Greater Greater Washington]
Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann
Man Sentenced for Harassing Arlington Woman — A 47-year-old I.T. worker from New England has been sentenced to 7 years in prison for stalking and harassing an Arlington mom and her 16-year-old daughter. Bruce Stimon was accused of emailing the woman’s friends and saying she had an STD; posting her name, photo and work phone number on prostitution sites, secretly recording a video of them having sex, posting it on porn sites, and sending it to her daughter’s Twitter friends; and repeatedly slashing her tires. [WJLA]
Arlington Hotel Tax Passes House — A bill that would restore Arlington’s authority to levy a 0.25 percent hotel tax surcharge has narrowly passed the Virginia House of Delegates. The bill earlier passed the state Senate, but the House bill contains a three year sunset provision that wasn’t in the Senate version, meaning the House and the Senate will need to hash out a combined bill in order for it to reach the governor’s desk. [Richmond Sunlight]
Navy Sets USS Arlington Commissioning Date — The new USS Arlington will be commissioned in Norfolk on April 6, the Navy has announced. [Sun Gazette]
Tejada Says No to Anti-Streetcar Groups — Arlington County Board Chairman Walter Tejada has declined requests from groups critical of the Columbia Pike streetcar seeking to make presentations at an upcoming streetcar community forum. Tejada said the purpose of the forum, on March 27, is to “update the community” on the streetcar project, not to debate the Board’s decision to build the streetcar. [Sun Gazette]
Board Members Want More Capital Projects — Arlington County Board members don’t want to stop new capital spending projects, saying that “now is not the time to stop investing in the future of the community.” Board members say that interest rates are low and the construction market is competitive making new building projects cheaper than they might be in the future. [Sun Gazette]
Reporter Peeved About FOIA Fees — Connection Newspapers reporter Michael Lee Pope is continuing his crusade against public records practices at the Arlington County Police Department. This time around, Pope notes that the police department has charged or threaten to charge between $31.16 and $573.25 for his Freedom of Information Act requests. Pope writes that “Arlington County’s system of nickel-and-diming the public and the press serves as a barrier to public access.” [Arlington Connection]
Tea Party Wants to Weigh in on Streetcar — The Arlington County Tea Party says it wants to make a presentation at the upcoming March 27 community forum on the planned Columbia Pike streetcar. At least one other anti-streetcar organization has made a similar request. [Sun Gazette]
Moran: Vaccinations Save Lives — Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) is encouraging constituents to get vaccinated. “As Chairman of the Congressional Prevention Caucus, I understand the important role prevention plays in reducing contagious diseases,” Moran wrote in his weekly newspaper column. “Due to the Affordable Care Act, signed into law in 2009, most health insurance companies, including Medicare, are now required to cover recommended vaccinations… with no out of pocket cost. Increased coverage for preventive measures is a significant step towards a health care system that truly improves the health of the American people.” [Falls Church News-Press]
Flickr pool photo by Ddimick
A long-range strategic plan for Metro, released today, includes the possibility of two new stations in Arlington, a new tunnel from Rosslyn to Georgetown, and a new streetcar bridge from Arlington to D.C.
The “next generation” plan, dubbed “Momentum,” would expand the Metro system to “help ensure the long-term competitiveness of the National Capital Region and keep pace with demand from expected population growth,” according to WMATA.
The plan calls for the following to be completed by 2025:
- Upgrade of Metro’s electrical system to allow the system to operate 100% 8-car trains. (Cost: $2 billion)
- New connection from the Orange/Silver Line to the Blue Line, bypassing Rosslyn station. Alternatively, the plan calls for a new Rosslyn Metro station. (Cost: $1 billion)
The plan calls for the following to be completed by 2040:
- New Pentagon Metro station that would allow Orange/Silver Line trains to reach D.C. via the Yellow Line bridge. (Cost: $600 million)
- Orange/Silver Line “express track” from West Falls Church to a second Rosslyn Metro station. (Cost: $2.3 billion)
- Extending the Orange Line to Centreville and Bowie, and the Blue Line to Potomac Mills. (Cost: $6.8 billion)
- New Yellow Line alignment from Pentagon to Thomas Circle via tunnel under 10th Street. (Cost: $2.7 billion)
- New Blue Line tunnel from Rosslyn to Georgetown, new tunnel from Georgetown to Thomas Circle via M Street. (Cost: $3.3 billion)
- MARC commuter rail extension from Union Station to Crystal City. (Cost: TBD)
- Connection between Columbia Pike/Crystal City streetcar and D.C., across the Potomac. (Cost: $200 million)
WMATA, which is funded by contributions from the federal government and D.C. area localities like Arlington, says it would need an addition $500 million in funding per year to accomplish its 2025 goals, and an additional $740 million per year for the 2040 projects. That’s on top of the $1 billion per year it needs just to maintain the existing system.
Without the pricey improvements, Metro officials say the system will soon run out of ridership capacity.
“Our customers know that many trains, stations and buses are already crowded and we need to begin planning now to prevent that from worsening and prepare for more riders,” Metro General Manager and CEO Richard Sarles said in a statement. “As the jurisdictions plan various expansion projects, we also need to make sure that we have a seamless, multimodal, transit network and Metro is in a unique position to serve as the transit planner for the national capital region.”
The Washington Post has additional details about the Metro Momentum plan, including D.C. improvements to Metrorail and regional improvements to Metrobus.
The following op-ed is written by Chris Slatt, an advocate for streetcars in Arlington County. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
I’m Chris Slatt, a supporter of Arlington Streetcar Now — a group of local citizens committed to seeing Arlington County continue its investment in high quality transit through the installation of a modern streetcar network. There are many reasons that Streetcars are the right transportation system for Columbia Pike, and we highlight many of them on our web site, but for me it all comes down to one main reason, ridership.
What good is a transit system if few people ride it? People, at least in US, seem to prefer rail transit even in cases where it isn’t faster or more frequent than equivalent buses. For instance:
- When Seattle temporarily substituted buses for streetcars on its Waterfront line while the streetcar vehicles were being overhauled, ridership dropped to 1/15th of what it had been with Streetcars, despite the buses providing “equivalent service”.
- When Memphis surveyed its transit riders it found that 83% of those who rode their streetcar system didn’t utilize any other form of public transit — it was the streetcar or nothing at all.
- In 2003 the City of Tacoma converted an existing bus line that ran every 12 minutes to a streetcar line that runs every 10 minutes. Despite that only being a small increase in “performance,” ridership increased by 500%.
- The Arlington County Resident Study, a survey that was completed in 2009, found that while 36% of Pike residents use the current bus system at least once a week, 59% of respondents indicated they would use a proposed streetcar at least once a week.
Some folks may note that Arlington’s own Alternatives Analysis shows only a small ridership benefit for the Streetcar Alternative. This is because it is Federal Transit Administration policy to only allow a 5% “mode factor” for rail in federal alternatives analyses — despite many examples like those above that would indicate that it should be much higher.
Last week, ARLnow reported on the formation of a new citizens’ advocacy group: Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit (AST).
AST’s mission is to convince the Arlington County Board to do something it has not yet done:
- hire truly independent experts to do a cost-benefit analysis of the Columbia Pike (CP) streetcar compared to a modern bus rapid transit system (BRT) and other alternatives,
- share the results with the community, and then
- have a community conversation about whether the CP streetcar really is the best transit choice in these challenging economic times.
Several streetcar supporters posted comments to last week’s ARLnow story saying the streetcar has been studied for years, and it’s time to move on. However, the vital studies AST recommends have never been performed. Because these studies have never been performed and shared with the community, the “Arlington Way” has not been followed appropriately. Moreover, the CP streetcar’s price tag has soared during these years, as ARLnow has documented .
AST supporters have identified quite a few misunderstandings and misconceptions about both the CP streetcar and alternative BRT systems. Several of the comments posted to last week’s ARLnow story reflected misunderstandings and misconceptions like these:
- You can only have a BRT service if you have a dedicated lane for it
- White collar professionals will ride streetcars but not BRT
- Given projected density on the Pike, only streetcars will be able to handle the anticipated increase in ridership
- Streetcars, but not BRT, will attract needed economic development to the Pike
- BRT service on the Pike really wouldn’t be any different from current bus service
Every one of the above statements is incorrect. To learn why, check out the Get the Facts, Resources, and FAQ sections of the AST website.
BOTTOM LINE: if you think that all or some of the above statements are correct, while AST does not, that’s one more reason why the Arlington County Board needs to hire independent experts to study and report back on all these issues, and share their conclusions with the Arlington community.
Peter Rousselot is a member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.
The Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit (AST) website lists its goals as educating residents about the streetcar, offering a bus rapid transit (BRT) system as a streetcar alternative and encouraging community discussion about a BRT versus a streetcar system. The group contends the County Board didn’t hire “truly independent contractors” to do a cost-benefit analysis of the two systems, and didn’t engage in a community conversation about whether the streetcar is the best transit choice. It’s asking the Board to perform both of those tasks.
“The CP streetcar was conceived many years ago in a rosier economy. Since then, the CP streetcar’s price tag has soared,” AST spokesman Peter Rousselot said in a statement. “We now have substantial new experience and data regarding the relative economic and operating performance of both modern streetcars and modern BRT systems. In light of these changed circumstances, our community needs to examine and discuss this new information before making an irrevocable commitment to a project now estimated to cost over a quarter of a billion dollars.”
AST reports having the support of more than 125 citizens, business owners and community leaders from all points along the political spectrum.
“We are Democrats, Republicans, independents and those with no political affiliation,” Rousselot’s written statement said. “We are united by our desire to improve our community and to make sensible budget choices.”
County Board members participated in a work session last month to discuss the specifications of the streetcar design. At that time, it was noted that the county expects to initially purchase 13 streetcar vehicles to run along Columbia Pike. Each streetcar is expected to cost between $3.5 and $4 million, compared with $700,000 to $800,000 for a 40-foot, natural gas-powered Metrobus. Streetcars have an operating life expectancy between 30 and 35 years, compared to about 12 years for a bus.
The county is currently waiting to hear if it will receive up to $75 million in federal funding for the streetcar project. Some county staff members have suggested that a referendum may be necessary to fund the $250 million project.
The Right Note is a weekly opinion column by published on Thursdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
A major source of opposition to trolley-driven development on Columbia Pike is that it will destroy the last corridor of market rate affordable housing in Arlington. Board Chairman Walter Tejada has cited this concern in the past as giving him pause about supporting the project.
Enter a tax increment financing district (TIF).
Earlier this month, Chairman Tejada announced he would seek a new TIF on Columbia Pike to create a fund for replacing affordable housing along the corridor. And, other Board Members voiced support for his 2013 agenda.
Just like that — a virtually done deal.
The TIF concept has been used by local governments across the country to finance pet projects for some time – Chicago has well over 100 of them — but it is a relatively new concept here in Arlington. The Board created the first TIF in Arlington in Crystal City, in large part to use as a financing mechanism for that portion of the trolley.
So how does a TIF work?
Essentially, Arlington County freezes the tax base of a defined area and dedicates tax revenue from that base to the general fund. The additional future revenue, or a percentage of it, is then earmarked to spend solely in that area, presumably with a pet project in mind.
The general fund, on the other hand, is used to pay for the ongoing county services we all use: schools, transportation, police, fire, parks, and other services. Absent future board action to reverse course, none of these priorities will receive consideration for future TIF revenue in either Crystal City, or presumably Columbia Pike, districts over the next 20 years.
Arlington needs to stop creating TIFs before the practice becomes ingrained in our way of doing business.
We have a long tradition of bringing funding projects through the traditional budget process, seeking public input. We also have a tradition of putting bonding authority before the voters. It is supposed to be the Arlington Way.
Our Board has already packaged bonding authority together to avoid straight up or down votes on big or controversial projects. For example, the aquatics center in November was voted on as part of a parks and recreation bond.
Our Board has already put the trolley on a path to be financed, at least primarily, by revenue bonds backed by the Crystal City TIF and commercial property tax surcharge. These bonds require no public vote.
The use of special interest TIFs to avoid future public debate, scrutiny, and up or down votes on such projects is a bad idea, plain and simple. It will not only avoid additional public input, but it will inevitably lead to higher tax rates for all of us. When schools, roads, public safety and other services face a squeeze in future budgets, the Board will tell voters they simply have to raise taxes to pay for it.
The County Board should not lock Arlingtonians into this fiscally irresponsible path.
Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.
Streetcar Referendum Might Be Necessary — Arlington County might be forced to hold a bond referendum for the Columbia Pike streetcar if it’s unable to sell a certain type of revenue bond to partially fund the $250 million project. For now, the project is awaiting word on whether it will receive up to $75 million in federal funding. [Sun Gazette]
Higher-End Stores at Pentagon City Mall — The Fashion Centre at Pentagon City has undergone a transformation that brought higher-end “aspirational luxury” stores to the mall. Recent addition to the malls include Oakley, Sperry, Mezlan and Cole Haan. Among the stores that have recently left is Aeropostale, which was forced out by a Microsoft Store. [Washington Post]
‘Dooring’ Law Proposed in Richmond — A law has been proposed for the upcoming Virginia General Assembly session (which starts tomorrow) that would make a vehicle occupant liable in the event they open their car door in the path of a cyclist, causing an accident. Similar laws are already on the books in Maryland and D.C. [WTOP]
State Dept. Cancels Search for Lease in Rosslyn — The State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, based on Lynn Street in Rosslyn, has canceled a search for a new lease. The agency is now looking for a building to buy, raising the prospect that it may be looking to move into the District. [Washington Business Journal]
Flickr pool photo by Jkurl11
Arlington County Board is mulling over possible design specifications of the streetcars that will one day traverse Columbia Pike.
At a work session earlier this month, the Board was presented with a number of streetcar vehicle design considerations, including the width, length, layout and emergency power capacity of the streetcar.
On the topic of streetcar width, Board members seemed to prefer the wider of three options. At 2.65 meters (8 feet and 8 inches), the wider streetcar would be only slightly more broad than the standard Metrobus, at 8 feet and 6 inches. The 2.65 meter streetcar could accommodate four seats and an aisle across, whereas another option, a 2.4 meter streetcar, would only be able to seat three across.
The wider streetcar would cost roughly the same as the narrower streetcar and would still fit within a 11-foot travel lane along Columbia Pike, the Board was told. A 2.65 meter light rail vehicle is also being considered for Maryland’s Purple Line, opening up the possibility of cost savings through joint purchasing.
“I don’t know why you’d go with the narrower one,” County Board member Jay Fisette remarked.
Depending on the length and width of the streetcar, each vehicle could have a total capacity of between 92 and 231 riders. A streetcar could thus have three times the capacity of a bus, but with only one driver, lowering operating costs.
While a longer streetcar could seat more riders, the streetscape along Columbia Pike would have to be designed to accommodate the longer length, potentially a daunting task for the longest of streetcar designs. Board member Chris Zimmerman asked Board members to think long-term when they ultimately select a length. He said that ridership will likely increase over time, necessitating higher vehicle capacities. To illustrate the point, he recounted how Metro ran 2- and 4-car trains when it started running in the 70s.
County staff projects that average weekday streetcar ridership will increase from 14,433 to 16,580 between the system’s first year in operation and 2030. Total Columbia Pike transit ridership in 2016 is projected at 17,802 without the streetcar and 26,155 with the streetcar and buses, rising to 30,457 with streetcars and buses in 2030.
Another design consideration has to do with the interior floor layout. Most streetcars have a “partial low floor,” with a low-floor middle section and two end sections with steps leading up to a higher floor, somewhat like current Metrobuses. The higher floor better accommodates the streetcar’s wheels, or running gear. Streetcars can also be built with the low floor throughout the vehicle — like a Metrorail train — but that would raise maintenance costs and possibly make the ride a bit rougher due to a shorter suspension system.
The above photo on the left shows the Clarendon Metro station under construction, before it opened in December 1979. Clarendon first became part of a streetcar line in 1896, as a transfer point between the Rosslyn-Clarendon line and the D.C.-Falls Church line. The current Metro Orange Line closely follows the old Rosslyn-Clarendon route.
In 1920, the same year the Virginia legislature officially named Arlington (previously known as Alexandria County) to avoid confusion with the City of Alexandria, there was an effort to incorporate Clarendon as a town. The courts eventually prevented it from going through. Under current Virginia law, counties that have population densities greater than 1,000 people per square mile cannot create a new municipality within the county.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Clarendon affectionately became known as “Little Saigon” due to a number of Vietnamese restaurants opening in the neighborhood. Queen Bee is one of those restaurants, pictured in the late 1980s photo on the above right.
Below is a photo of how that section of Clarendon looks today. Spider Kelly’s now occupies 3181 Wilson Blvd, which is where Queen Bee was located until it closed in 2006.
Historic photos courtesy Arlington Public Library’s Virginia Room
(Updated at 2:15 p.m.) Following a heated debate, last night the Arlington County Board adopted guidelines allowing the county to enter into public-private partnerships for transportation projects like the planned Crystal City streetcar.
The Board spent hours discussing and hearing testimony about the Virginia Public-Private Transportation Act of 1995 (PPTA) before ultimately adopting the guidelines in a 4-1 vote. Board member Libby Garvey was the lone dissenter, raising numerous questions about the PPTA and its safeguards. She reiterated previous statements she made about wishing for more time to examine the implications of adopting the guidelines.
“This is an incredibly complex legal document here and I don’t know that we should be doing it on the fly,” Garvey said.
“We’re not doing it on the fly,” countered Board Chair Mary Hynes. “You’ve had it since November 9. We’ve all spent time on it and have been briefed on it.”
Last week, Garvey brought up a concern regarding Board member Chris Zimmerman’s participation in the PPTA vote, claiming it was a conflict of interest due to his consulting work with AECOM, a large construction, design and transportation conglomerate. Arlington County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac informed the Board there was no conflict of interest, and the three other Board members spoke out on Saturday (December 8) against Garvey’s request for Zimmerman to recuse himself from the vote.
Audrey Clement, who ran for County Board as a Green Party member, spoke to the Board in support of Zimmerman recusing himself.
“The matter before the Board tonight involves no monetary transaction. Nevertheless, Mr. Zimmerman may well have the appearance of a conflict of interest because his employer, or client, will undoubtedly seek a contract in the future,” said Clement. “The guidance to be adopted by the county tonight will be the vehicle by which it secures the county’s business. Therefore, I think Mr. Zimmerman, and I agree with Libby Garvey on this point, ought to recuse himself from tonight’s vote.”
Clement further suggested that the county’s desire to adopt the PPTA indicates it doesn’t have enough other funding to construct the streetcar without help from the private sector.
Current state senator and former Board member Barbara Favola also took to the podium. She congratulated the Board for considering the guidelines.
“I see no reason why you would not pursue this additional tool,” said Favola. “Of course, you have to work at it, you have to make it work for you. You have to remember your job, you have to remember that you are responsible for being transparent. But I have confidence that you will do that.”
Garvey, who has previously expressed reservations regarding the streetcar project, said she believed Monday’s vote brings the county one step closer to implementing the streetcar plan.
“If we vote today we are one vote away from awarding the contract for the streetcar,” Garvey said.
She was reminded that the vote was about adopting guidelines, not making a decision about the streetcar construction.
“I would respectfully disagree with your interpretation, Mrs. Garvey, of what this Board has just talked about,” said Hynes.
Zimmerman largely refrained from participating in the debate, only offering a statement immediately before the vote. He noted his disclosure of his consulting work in order to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, and re-stated the County Attorney’s view on the matter.
“I take very seriously my obligation to maintain the highest ethical standards, to which I have held myself since I took office,” said Zimmerman. “I have been advised in consultation with the County Attorney that I do not have a conflict of interest arising out of my professional work that would require me to make a formal disclosure or would disqualify me from participating in the consideration of the PPTA guidelines now before the Board.”
The guidelines will go into effect on April 1, 2013. Until that time, the county will work on putting in place the necessary processes and resources for considering proposals under the PPTA.
(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.”