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County Staff Recommends Columbia Pike Streetcar

County staff members reviewing the Columbia Pike streetcar plan believe the County Board should give the go ahead for the project at its meeting on Monday, July 23.

An Alternative Analysis/Environmental Analysis (AA/EA) was performed as part of the Columbia Pike Transit Initiative, examining transit along the five mile corridor from the Pentagon City area to the Skyline area in Fairfax. The AA/EA included three options besides the streetcar; two involved improving bus service and the final one involved taking no action. The project team recommends the County Board supports the “Streetcar Build Alternative.”

The staff report states that improved mobility along Columbia Pike would have positive economic impacts such as increased property values, an increased pace of development and additional tax revenues. It says the streetcar will attract new riders and encourage more residents to incorporate public transit into their daily lives. The report says the streetcar plan “will best achieve the vision for the Columbia Pike corridor as a vibrant, diverse, and pedestrian and transit oriented community.”

Staff members say their research indicates more residents will take rail transit over buses, and articulated buses won’t create enough ridership. They report that streetcars provide greater capacity than articulated buses, and would more easily and reasonably allow for expansion in the future.

During a 30-day information gathering process from May through June, the county collected public feedback on the AA/EA via the mail, email and at two public meetings. Results are available in the Locally Preferred Alternative Report released yesterday (Monday).

For those commenters opposed to the streetcar plan, the main reason is the cost of and funding for the project. Other opponents believe it will worsen traffic, that the current transportation system capacity along the corridor is sufficient and that it’s unclear how the streetcar would increase ridership. Proponents liked the idea of the streetcar supporting economic development, being environmentally sustainable and offering a long-term transit solution.

The report acknowledges that the streetcar development would likely add pressure to rents, raising concerns about affordable housing along the project corridor. The recently released Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Area Plan addresses some of the issues, and aims to preserve affordable housing along the streetcar route.

The staff report lists the cost for the streetcar at about $249 million, and annual operating costs at about $8.9 million. Fares are expected to be comparable to bus fares, and revenue is projected to be $2.5 million.

The County Board will take the staff report into consideration when voting on the matter at its meeting on Monday. The board needs to formally accept the information gathered in the AA/EA and adopt the streetcar plan as the locally preferred alternative in order to proceed with an application for federal funding.

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