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Arlington to Vote on Streetcar Agreement with Alexandria

by ARLnow.com June 12, 2012 at 10:00 am 5,780 31 Comments

After reports of disagreements over the planning for a Route 1 corridor streetcar, Arlington and Alexandria are poised to sign an agreement that would move the project forward.

The Arlington County Board is expected to vote Saturday on the agreement, which would implement the streetcar as a two-phase project. County staff has recommended it be approved.

Under the proposed agreement, Arlington would proceed with the construction of a streetcar line in Crystal City while Alexandria focuses on building a new Potomac Yard Metro station. Arlington would complete an Environmental Assessment for the streetcar project in late 2013, while Alexandria would begin an Alternatives Analysis and environmental studies for its potential extension of the streetcar line in early 2014, after the final location of the Potomac Yard station has been decided.

County staff anticipate the Crystal City streetcar would be built and under operation by 2019. An Alexandria extension could be built as soon as two years later.

While Alexandria’s streetcar extension will depend largely on federal funding, Arlington would fund the streetcar using state funds and the Crystal City tax increment financing area (TIF) that was approved by the County Board in 2010. Unlike Alexandria, Arlington will not perform an Alternatives Analysis, which is required in order to seek federal funding.

The project restructuring will likely increase Arlington’s costs for the environmental work, but it should put to rest any disagreements over how the jurisdictions will split the expense of the various studies involved.

“It ends up being a win-win situation for both of us, and I think everybody is quite pleased,” said Arlington County spokeswoman Mary Curtius. She added that the fact that Arlington is moving forward with the project first should boost Alexandria’s chances of receiving federal funding.

“We think this will strengthen Alexandria’s application,” Curtius said.

  • No sense

    Arlington and “Alexandra?” Hope she’s game…

  • Trolly Troll

    “Unlike Alexandria, Arlington will not perform an Alternatives Analysis, which is required in order to seek federal funding.”


    • Arlingtarian

      WTF indeed. Is Arlington afraid a study may recommend another solution?

    • Chris Slatt

      Alternatives Analyses are expensive and since Arlington isn’t seeking federal funding for the Crystal City Streetcar it doesn’t need to do one. Wouldn’t it be kinda stupid to spend a bunch of money on an unnecessary study?

  • Becoming indifferent

    It’s the Arlington Way!

  • Pie

    Hope there are bollards installed

  • Arlgirl


  • my gosh the news story that never ends but also never further develops.

  • JimPB

    Arlington County will build its part of the streetcar line, using local and state funds.

    Alexandria City will build if Federal funds materialize from a Federal budget increasingly under siege.

    What is the utility and viability of a streetcar line only within Arlington County?

  • Wayne Kubicki

    Noteworthy here is Arlington’s local funding source for the Crystal City streetcar.

    The Crystal City TIF is NOT a separate, new tax (like the commercial real estate tax surcharge tax that is proposed to be used for the Columbia Pike streetcar). The Crystal City TIF is really real estate taxes that would have been part of the general fund (and therefore available for generic things like the schools, county salaries, etc). The TIF diverts some of the real estate taxes from the Crystal City area into a separate fund. The County seems to repeatedly try to suggest that the Crystal City streetcar will not have a direct cost to homeowners on their real estate tax bills – that is not the case.

    • Patrick

      Thank you Wayne for cutting through Arlington’s usual misdirection to explain where these funds are really coming from. I’m interested given Arlington’s current relationship with Richmond how likely the county is to secure state funding for this?

      • marie antoinette

        Patrick, you raise an interesting point. Richmond is slow to forgive, particularly after Fisette’s antics in going after Edward Sundra in both his official and individual capacities. The Arlington delegation was slapped across the face at the last General Assembly…it would not surprise me at all that if Arlington attempted to secure state funds, they would be rebuffed.

        Though I am sure Arlington would have no problem going it alone (everyone grab your wallet and hold on tight) and Richmond would be happy to oblige since Arlingtonians were the ones who voted him into office in the 1st place.

      • Mary-Austin

        The House of Delegates will never go for this and senate Democrats showed they totally caved to Republicans on the power sharing thing. Arlington’s influence on Richmond is a joke.
        I would not be surprised if the state decides to go back on the funding it committed to the Columbia Pike streetcar. I can see Tim Hugo having a field day with that. Of course the county would gladly pick up that tab on that as well (about 40 million).

        • marie antoinette


    • er,wait

      theres new development in CC, generating incremental revenue. Do the homeowners thank the County Board for that?

    • drax

      So the county did NOT raise taxes. Got it.

      • Patrick

        The county DID raise taxes this year. I know you don’t believe taxes have been raised unless tax rates are raised regardless of increased assessments. So just to be clear the county raised tax RATES in addition to the increased assessments.

        • DCBuff

          Patrick, when addressing drax, you must repeat the word “fact” several times. Otherwise, anything you write is not a fact. Factually speaking.

          • drax

            That’s the fact, Jack.

        • drax


          Follow the conversation, Patrick. I was talking about the streetcar revenue source. I’m aware of the overall tax increase.

          “I know you don’t believe taxes have been raised unless tax rates are raised regardless of increased assessments.”

          That’s an indisputable fact, not a belief.

    • speonjosh

      I stands for Increment.

      The funds tagged for infrastructure improvements in Crystal City are only that portion of property taxes that are above and beyond what was collected prior to Jan 1, 2011. In addition, the Crystal City TIF only diverts 33% (for now) of that increment – the rest goes into the general fund.

      So technically, it is not a separate, new tax but it is a pre-determined diversion of increased tax revenues based on increasing assessments/collections which are presumably dependent, in part, on the increased / improved infrastructure paid for with the TIF.

      Since there is no alteration of the tax rate for the parcels on which the TIF will be based, there is, in fact, no direct cost to homeowners – they will continue to pay the same property taxes they would have paid without the TIF being in place.

      Also, don’t forget the boundary area for this TIF is Crystal City and Pentagon City.

      • Elmer

        Blah, blah, blah, etc.
        But in plain English-not Arlington Speak- doesn’t this mean Wayne is correct.
        Increased tax revenue that could have gone into the general fund is being (and more will be) diverted, leaving guess who to pick up the difference, i.e., the amount that was diverted from the general fund.

        • drax

          So what? It’s a shift in funding priorities, with no increase in burden on the taxpayers. What matters is what exactly is cut to pay for it.

          • Elmer

            “What matters is what exactly is cut to pay for it.”

            Extra, Extra!
            Yes folks, We’ve a headline here:

            Drax recognizes need to cut county budget to offset loss of revenue due to funding of Crystal City streetcar.

          • Josh S

            Boy, I’m sure you practically jumped out of your seat when reading that from drax.

            But the fact is you can’t “cut” something that doesn’t exist. Any discussion of the TIF monies collected has to start with a firm understanding that these are only projected future increases we’re talking about. There is no cutting of anything involved. Even if the TIF takes $100 million dollars, there will be no need to “cut” anything, at any time.

            Perhaps the word “increment” is the stumbling block. Instead, think about all of this as happening on the margin. A portion of the marginal increase in taxes will be devoted to infrastructure improvements. The rest of the marginal increase in taxes (from this corner of the county) will be available to the general fund.

        • Josh S

          “Blah, blah, blah”?

          That’s the best you got?

    • Elmer

      Wayne, Thank you being on the case.
      Someone has to be a voice for fiscal sanity.

    • Wayne is my hero

      Thank you, Wayne, for exposing the Board’s smoke-and-mirrors. There are better uses for taxes in Arlington; these streetcars are egregiously expensive vanity projects to suit the Board’s ego and pander to developers.

      I’m all for public transit, but the proposed Crystal City stops are never more than a few blocks from Metro. In addition, according to the county the Colombia Pike streetcar is 5x the cost of new bendy buses to install (and is more expensive to operate and maintain). New buses would provide essentially identical carrying capacity and transit times with much greater route flexibility and much less disruption during installation.

      “But what about development?” comes the cry from developers and some locals eyeing their property values.
      Don’t confuse correlation with causation, folks. The Pike’s developing because it’s close/convenient to DC, form-based code makes development easier, land is cheap relative to R-B and Crystal City, and the County is making a series of other improvements including lighting, sidewalks, bikeshare, etc.

      I don’t dispute that a streetcar would accelerate development faster than sleek new buses, but I personally think it’s an unnecessary waste of funds that the Board will struggle to obtain federal support for. Moreover, we’d be far better off starting with better buses in a year or two as opposed to waiting 10+ years for a streetcar.

  • Enough already

    The street car program gives me a headache. I hope the county board gets on the maiden voyage and rides off into the sunset……..

    • HighViewPunk

      That would be a great Morning Notes photo.

  • er,wait

    “I’m all for public transit, but the proposed Crystal City stops are never more than a few blocks from Metro. In addition, according to the county the Colombia Pike streetcar is 5x the cost of new bendy buses to install (and is more expensive to operate and maintain). ”

    This isnt about columbia pike, its about CC. There are, IIUC, already buses that carry people locally in that area – so I think the “metro stations” are enough argument fails. When the transitway is in place, we will probably see more people riding the bus locally there. Since this will dedicated right of way, the cost benefit for street cars vs articulated buses will probably be more favorable than on Col Pike.

    It really seems unreasonable to expect more development there, and not allocate anything to transport infrastructure to support that.


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