Arlington, VA

There has been much discussion about the planned Columbia Pike streetcar, but there’s another streetcar project in Arlington that’s looking more likely to get built sooner than the Pike streetcar.

Arlington and Alexandria are jointly planning a five-mile streetcar line to run from the Pentagon City Metro station, across 12th Street to Crystal Drive, down Crystal Drive to Potomac Yard, and then down Route 1 to the Braddock Road Metro Station.

The Route 1 Corridor Streetcar Conversion Project, as it’s called, is currently in the environmental assessment, alternative analysis and conceptual engineering phase. That phase of the project should wrap up around mid-2013, we’re told. Roadwork on Crystal Drive set to begin this summer, meanwhile, will quietly begin to set the stage for what will eventually be a dedicated bus transitway along Crystal Drive, an interim step before the streetcar becomes operational.

Work on the Crystal City and Columbia Pike streetcar projects is running in parallel, meaning construction on each could theoretically take place at the same time. The projects are separate in an organizational sense, but connected physically. The streetcar lines will connect at the Pentagon City Metro station.

One big difference between the streetcar projects is financing. The $250 million Columbia Pike streetcar plan relies heavily on financing from the federal government, which is far from certain given the current budget crunch on Capitol Hill. Financing for the Crystal City streetcar, meanwhile, is more or less in place — it’s coming from the Crystal City tax increment financing area (TIF) that was approved by the County Board in 2010.

In a recent interview with ARLnow.com, Arlington County Board Chair Mary Hynes said the Crystal City streetcar could very well open before the more-publicized Columbia Pike line.

“I think it’s actually more likely that we’ll get the Crystal City segment built first, because we know how we’re paying for it.” Hynes said. “We were hoping 2016, 2017 to have that segment open.”

Arlington County Director of Transportation Dennis Leach says work on the Crystal City streetcar is moving forward, and that a project to construct certain facilities that will be used by the streetcar will be going out for bid this summer. Leach, however, refused to speculate on when the project may be completed.

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