75°Mostly Cloudy

County Staff Recommends Columbia Pike Streetcar

by Katie Pyzyk July 17, 2012 at 2:15 pm 5,278 108 Comments

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.

  • craig


  • South Awwlington

    Yeehaw!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 🙂

    • South Awwlington

      In 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…

  • Hokie

    I just didn’t see that one coming.

    • JamesE

      I am *shocked*

  • Cakes

    Getcher popcorn! Popcorn here!

    Good. I’m glad this looks like its on the way through.

    • you’re judging

      yeah in 10 years!

      • QuangTri1967

        The federal funds will most likely end up going to more deserving jurisdictions. You know, ones that are just trying to start up a new transit infrastructure and don’t rank among the wealthiest populations in the nation. Money is tight with the feds these days.

        • JohnB

          The start vs expansion and financial need are not decision metrics for the new start/small start program. But thanks for playing.

          • QuangTri1967

            Don’t fool yourself. Politics play.

  • Sinceriously

    This is long time coming for the {Pike} and much needed. I expect a 5-0 vote.

    • KalashniKEV

      A long time, you say?
      …since streetcars were a practical mode of transportation?

    • bystander

      I thought Garvey was against it.

      • South Awwlington

        Majority Rule? Walter and Libby can vote against it if they want. 2\=3.

        • bystander

          Sure, it’s going to pass, but I don’t think it will be 5-0.

          • South Awwlington

            Neither do I. Libby wants reelected and Walter is just now waking up to the reality of side-effects on transportation upgrades on low priced housing stock.

            Unless he is a clueless as we sometimes jest on here, I just don’t see how he is just no being clued into this.

  • Lee-n-Glebe

    Am I reading that right? “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”??

    It doesn’t say “annual” revenue, but that is my assumption. So before ground is even broken, it’s projected to lose a ton of money (>$6 million) every single year?

    Please tell me that there’s a typo / missing word(s) in there somewhere.

    • confused

      what do you suppose the net operating subsidy for articulated buses would be? or even for the current bus service?

      • yea


      • Westover

        Do you think that delta something that should be considered in this process?

        • confused

          sure the delta (which I think was in the alternatives analysis but I do not recall) should be considered along with other life cycle costs (vehicle replacement as well as upfront capital) in making the decision.

          But the comment above seemed to imply that only the street car had a net operating deficit.

    • Elmer

      Our new “Arlington Math” is even more innovative than “Arlington Speak”-and that takes some doing!

      • KalashniKEV

        Their budget is basically a Ponzi scheme involving Property Valuations and Personal Pet Projects.

        It’s the Arlington way!

    • FrenchyB

      That’s correct, and par for the course – virtually all public transit systems are heavily subsidized.

      • Neutrino

        As are roads.

        • Mane Rhodes

          I think what Frenchie meant was that the roads are paid for by people who use them and buy gasoline and diesel fuel, or buy goods and services from people who buy gasoline and diesel fuel.

          And then some of the money is taken out of the “roads” account and given to the “public transport” systems. While not fixing the roads.

          A ton of money could be saved if we made “public transport” “free” as then we wouldn’t have all the expense of collecting and accounting for all the money from the ridership at such a loss.

          • JohnB


          • Sherriff Gonna Getcha

            yeah pretty sure that Virginia hasnt raised the state gas tax in something like 20 years. And that portion of income taxes and sales taxes are funneled to roads as well. So even if someone doesnt have a car, they are indirectly paying for those people that do drive.

            Also- if you ever want to hate the way Virginia is run even more, go down to Southwest or Central Virginia. They have amazing brand new highways with plenty of room…..paid for by us in the North.

        • FrenchyB

          Yes, Neutrino, roads are subsidized too.

    • mrh5028

      No public transportation system on earth operates solely on the revenue collected from fares. This is a given with any mass transit project.

      Also, one thing the basic numbers don’t show are the hidden benefits, such as increased tax revenue from people shopping more in the area. A street car/public transit system can bring much economic development to an area, which in the end offsets a lot of the cost.

      • CW

        Yep. The impact is pretty easily quantifiable. Right now look at the density and average price of condos along the orange line versus the Pike. It’s pretty much ceteris paribus except for the transit. Do the math on the differential in value, then apply the property tax rate. That’s the additional revenue created.

        The streetcar won’t add as much value as a real subway would. But it’s a start. For one, it shows developers that the County is serious about investing in the area, which is a big deal for developers hesitant to pull the trigger on high-dollar projects.

      • Clarendon

        There’s hardly any transportation *system* period that operates without public funds. Ports, Airports, roads, bridges, etc

      • Ballstonian

        Does anyone have the amount of the projected increase in tax revenue the street car would bring in handy? Just curious.

        Personally, I don’t see myself using the street car (or a bus for that matter) on the Pike since I’d have to drive (or bus) to get there anyway, so on the off chance I had to make multiple stops on the Pike, i’d drive (or walk) between them.

        • confused

          “Property Premiums: A range of property premiums was applied to parcels adjacent to the corridor,
          ranging from a conservative 4% to a maximum of 10%. The increase in property value associated with the
          range is $126.2 million to $315.6 million in 2011 dollars. The property tax revenues that result from the
          increase in property value at the same range in premiums would be $36.5 million to $91.2 million ($ 2011)
          over a 30-year period.
           Acceleration in the Pace of Development: The presence of the streetcar would increase the pace of
          development by an estimated 2.0 to 3.5 years. This would result in increased value to developers and
          additional property tax revenues.
           New Development in the Counties: Just as the streetcar would increase the value and pace of
          development in the corridor, it will also increase the development intensity. A 10% increase in
          development intensity was applied to the share of development that is net new to the corridor and
          counties, resulting in $1,005.9 million in building stock over what is project to take place in the corridor
          over time, translating into an addition $156.2 million in property tax revenue over a 30 year period at
          2011 rates.
           Additional Tax Revenue: Additional tax revenues can be expected of about $82.8 million over a 30 year
          period in 2011 dollars across a variety of tax types, such as business and professional licenses, retail sales,
          and other business taxes associated with the incremental gain in commercial activity due to the streetcar.
           Additional Public Benefits. In addition to the property-related impacts, the streetcar’s implementation
          would generate a variety of public impacts including travel time savings, avoided injuries, a cleaner
          environment and travel cost savings that make the cost of living in the corridor more affordable. All
          combined, these benefits total $252.9 million ($ 2011) over a 30 year period.”

          • Ballstonian

            So it looks like they’re projecting about $8.4 million per year in benefits, which roughly cancels out the operating costs. So, all things told, it should add (projected of course) about $2.5-3 million per year at a projected cost of $250 million, if i’m reading this all correctly.

          • Sherriff Gonna Getcha

            right, so if you discount that $2.5MM projected over 30 years at 10%, you get approx $411MM.

    • CW

      @Lee-n-Glebe – do you understand how government works? If you think that the streetcar “losing” $6 million a year is bad, you had better sit down before I tell you about the Defense Department…

      • Sherriff Gonna Getcha


        • Oliver

          that^ and the other thing

  • Hank

    Do they keep re-posting the same article every three days?

    • Neutrino

      Yes, sir. It’s called the piss-off-the-local-libertarian-minority go-to article.

      • Westover Leftover

        see comment below

      • Hank

        Yes, streetcars = socialism!!!

        • lohad

          Sooooooo. What is wrong with that? Most of our govt provided bennies could be construed as socialism. Highways, the Metro, the Fire Dept, Public Schools, clean and and water. Besides what is wrong with socialism, I mean you say streetcars = socialism as if there is something bad about that.

          • Hank

            I was being sarcastic. It seems that any time the local, state, or federal government spend taxes on anything non-military related, someone screams socialism. I like the streetcar.

            Again, we need a sarcastic font. Sorry for the confusion.

          • KalashniKEV

            What bennies???

            I want my free entitlements!

          • lohad

            dough! sorry Hank….keep up the good work

    • LuLu

      Bad staff work…

  • novasteve

    Can we just buy a model street car set and give it to the board, maybe that will satisfy their choo choo train fetish?

  • RightWingWhacko

    It will work.
    Stop whining.

  • Westover Leftover

    Yes I am pissed

  • So, either I’m bad at math, or this is going to take over a hundred years to pay off IF it stays within budget and revenues are at projected levels?

    • poiuytr

      Wrong, it will never pay off. You forgot to include the $8.9 million in operating costs. If it was free to operate it would pay back in about a hundred years. Since it isn’t free to operate, it will lose $6.4 million a year.

      • confused

        metrorail will also never pay off

        except it has in terms of user benefits (in excess of fares), in terms of avoided highway investment, and in terms of development.

        Not the antis make a reasonable case that those benefits can be obtained more cheaply with articulated bus (the user benefits) and that the development will not increase from street cars as it does from metrorail Thats fair (though there are counterarguments) But estimating the payout like this was a business does not make sense.

        • South Awwlington

          Don’t forget added mobility when roads and automobiles are unavailable. This is not the final element in our much needed increase of transportation alternatives. Image that if Metrorail was underground from Van Dorn to Reagan and West Falls Church to Ballston – We would have been much better off in the recent severe weather events. We would also benefit in terms of evacuation from the core of all rail lines were underground.

          This is a step in the right direction and you don’t reach a destination without steps.

          An added thought here — Tysons will never realize what the RB Corridor has because of their selection of elevated rail. It is sad but maybe this will make folks realize that sometimes the long game is the only game worthwhile.

          • confused

            Tysons will not be RBC because its further out, and even with a street grid, its still placed in the middle of autocentric areas, whereas RBC fits into other girddy places.

            I dont think the elevated is that big a problem. The number of snowstorms that shut the elevated parts of metro is small. and the negative impact of an elevated on adjacent properties is limited in Tysons – the roads (rte 7 and rte 123) the els are on are “traffic sewers”, and under VDOT rules will continue to be traffic sewers. I think the els actually make the area MORE attractive.

          • South Awwlington

            Part fact and a lot of my opinion here but, Tyson’s leaders have long argued for a tunnel that would achieve a similar effect that the OL had on RB. Surface and elevated rail are obstructionist in view and mobility. The density is such and will be even greater in the future that Tyson’s would in fact be very similar to RB with density along the corridor and a block or two deep and tapering.

            As for weather, I was considering all types during all seasons, not only snow — though as a Northeasterner, it is my favorite.

            Subway design is protected from all weather extremes, including today’s heat restrictions.

          • confused

            In terms of stopping operations, its really only heavy snow that matters. In terms of comfort, since we are expecting people to (mostly) walk to the station, I’m not sure the exposure on the (covered) platform really matters that much. So I don’t think there’s much loss in comfort (and on nice days its much more pleasant on an outdoor platform than in a tunnel)

            As for views, I really think you need to spend some time on rte 7 in Tysons to judge. You will note that several recent buildings were built facing away from rte 7 – in one place a new stone wall faces rte 7.

        • poiuytr

          I am aware that most public transportation projects never pay off. I was not making an argument pro or anti streetcar, just answering his question. I am anti-street car, but it has little to do with the operating cost which if the $8.9M is correct would be close to the TSM2 option.

          • confused

            thats fair – I lean towards the street car, but I think TSM 2 is a viable option, and if the costs for the street car increase much further, I would lean to TSM2. I just thought the conversation was going in a “transit is bad cause it doesnt recover farebox” direction.

  • novasteve

    Is anyone planning on suing to stop this collosal waste of money? Can we at least offer the board to name some building after themselves so that constitutes a vastly less expensive way for them to feed their narcisisstic egoes? Maybe we can name buildings after each board member if they’ll stop this insanity?

    • novastephanie

      Yes, let’s tie it up in court for years on end. That will certainly save the taxpayers money.

      • KalashniKEV


        These corrupt local Democrat politicians need harsh swift justice, not a lawsuit.

        One member of the County Board will be in Prison in the next 5 years, I GUARANTEE it.

      • novasteve

        Can’t cost more than actually building this monstrosity that has no function other than to have a “legacy”

  • Gentry

    I live on Columbia Pike and my household has a car but also relies on the buses. Assuming north/south bus routes are retained, I expect that my life would be better with the streetcar than without.

    On the other hand, I am very worried about traffic congestion being worse during construction, and that will greatly influence my decision to renew my lease next Spring.

  • poiuytr

    I am confused as to how they arrived at annual operating costs of $8.9 million. That is lower than the low number in the Alternatives Analysis/Environmental Assessment (AA/EA). For “Annual Streetcar Operating Costs”, the AA/AE had $9M as the low, $11.6M as the mid point, and $15.1M as the high number. What changed since then?

    • bystander

      They had the team that assessed Artisphere’s projected costs re-do the numbers.

  • lohad

    Um Hank?…What’s wrong
    with that?

  • Speaking of vibrant

    What’s the conventional wisdom on the chances that the feds and state will pay for the portions the Board and County staff hopes they will?

    And what happens if they don’t? Another bond issue? Is that when county residents see it on the ballot?

    • UA

      What are the odds of someone living on the Pike is actually one of those approving Feds???


      • South Awwlington

        Very good?? If I were a betting man…

      • Id

        What happens if Federal funds get yanked if there is a changing of the guard on the Federal level?

        • Id

          in November?

          • South Awwlington

            Didn’t Mitt spend a bazzillion dollars burying a highway? Really?

            Don’t we have a reasonably transit friendly Governor (for a Republican)?

            Not gonna happen bud.

  • Kim Un Arl

    Argument: No public transportation system on earth operates solely on the revenue collected from fares.

    Reality: Yes, there are public transportation systems (on earth) that pay their own way. Toll roads are one example. Also Tax Increment Financing (TIF) provides for increasing taxes inside a zone, here Columbia Pike, to use the increased taxes to pay for the improvement. A TIF zone would require public policy decision making, which our dear leaders lack.

    • dk (not DK)

      Please provide an example of a US toll road that was constructed (including property acquisition) and operates solely on revenue collected from tolls. Thanks.

      • AL

        Dulles Greenway?!

        • South Awwlington

          I thought that was a state road originally owned by the state and improved and tolled by a private company.

          • QuangTri1967

            Nope. Google could help you out.

          • Sherriff Gonna Getcha
          • South Awwlington

            Isn’t it supposed to Google that phrase or item that I was supposed to Google for myself? If so, Fail.

            If not, why not just http://www.google.com?

          • dk (not DK)

            No, but the company that originally built the road filed for bankruptcy. The company that owns it now operates it solely through user fees. What I don’t know is if they also acquired the original construction debt. Obviously that is an important distinction in the question of whether a US toll road can cover its operating AND capital costs solely on the revenue collected from tolls.

      • UA

        The Kansas Turnpike is a 236-mile (380 km) freeway-standard toll road that lies entirely within the U.S. state of Kansas.

        120,000 drivers use the turnpike daily

        The turnpike is self-sustaining, deriving its entire revenue from the tolls collected and requiring no tax money for maintenance or administration.

  • always right

    Maybe we should spend this money on more prisons for the men who are sexually assaulting our women.

    • The Dope of South Arlington

      Or spend it on deporting beer bottle stabbers.

      • This Will

        Deport them with haste from Columbia Pike.

  • AL

    What is this? Columbia Pike week?!

    • novasteve

      Seems like whenever we hear about Columbia pike on here, it’s about a crime, the street car, and a restaurant begging for outdoor seating.

  • lebele

    There appear to be some folks opposed only because they live in other parts of the county. Reminder that South Arlington has paid taxes without complaint to subsidize the Orange Line that has turned out to be the goose that laid the golden eggs for the Rosslyn-Clarendon-Ballston corridor.

    The volunteer citizen advisory group, the Arlington Transportation Commission, unanimously supported the Columbia Pike light rail system a week or two ago, after studying the transportation reports and economic analysis. About six years ago, with different members, it was not unanimous but nearly all Transportation Commission members recommended approval.

    Ditto on professional staff recommendation.

    As others have written other transportation systems has been subsidized in addition to user fees or gas taxes – air traffic control and airports, road construction and maintenance (heavy semi-trailers pay high taxes, but could never afford to pay the full cost of their impact on pavements and bridges), barge traffic on our inland and coastal waterways, 19th century free land to railroads, heavy rail mass transit, buses, and so on.

    The issue is not whether to subsidize, but rather the balance between construction and operational subsidies versus ease of movement and economic development. “I don’t want to spend money” without assessing that balance does not cut it. I for one would give heavy weight to the Transportation Commission and professional staff, who HAVE studied the data.

  • Alex

    If it’s not going to be any faster than a bus–and from all accounts that I have read, it won’t be–then after the initial novelty wears off, those people who don’t ride the bus because it is slow and inconvenient, still won’t ride this contraption. This is a colossal waste of money. Typical form over function mentality approach that screws up public transportation projects all over this country.

    • confused

      So far that dropoff has not taken place in locations like Portland. The advantages of the street car are that its a quieter, more comfortable ride, and it may have an appeal beyond that. The bus itself is not actually that slow and inconvenient – it can be useful – the street car can get people to try transit, and realize that.

  • LuLu

    Morons. They are ALL morons!

  • Mc

    This is a case of Arlington playing catch up with downstate Virginia. Norfolk is ten years ahead of us, already running their trolley. They aren’t so anguished about trying to keep their neighborhoods low income either.

    • Id

      What, do we live in the 19th Century we need trolley cars. Double decker buses would be better. Let’s see what the next blackout does to them.

      • South Awwlington

        Jim or John? I can’t quite peg you yet.

        • 4 8 15 16 23 42

          “Good Grief” in the post below means it’s probably Kim Un Arl, AKA Mary-Austin and numerous others.

          • IP Numbers

            will out the cowards. I think ARLnow should require logging in to post ANYTHING. It will reduce the multiple personality proliferation on this site.

      • confused

        you do realize the automobile was invented in the 19th century. Why dont we call that 19th century trransport?

  • Id

    Let’s put giant cup holders in the streetcars and rockets on them to increase their speed up the Pike. Good Grief. Let’s make them out of gold while were at it.

    • Making The Trolley Pay

      Now that is a trolley that I could get behind !!

      Add in drink service, and think I that the Trolley will be a money making proposition.

  • hollywood

    “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.”

    Yes, let’s screw the working folks in the area and intentionally turn the area into a ghetto…nice plan! Where do I send my tax money to support it???

  • Kim Un Arl

    Sorry “Id” is not me. I have not trademarked the “good grief” phrase and believe it has a long history of usage long before me. But, thanks for thinking about me.

  • ClipClap

    The streetcar is an overpriced boutique solution to a problem set that does not exist. It is fiduciary negligence on the part of the County officials to support it, and they should be held accountable as they come up for reelection.

  • John Flack

    I will certainly vote against any board member who votes for the streetcar in the next election. I live on the Pike, and that will be my last vote in Arlington before rising rents force me to move out.
    What galls me is that the “public comment” was a sham – it was a done deal from the beginning.


Subscribe to our mailing list