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Peter’s Take: Lessons from the $1 Million Super Stop Fiasco

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column published on Tuesdays. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotThe Arlington County Board needs to learn some lessons from the Rolling Stones:

Yeah, a storm is threatening
My very life today
If I don’t get some shelter
Lord, I’m gonna fade away

As ARLnow reported last week, the cost of the new “Super Stop” at the corner of Walter Reed Drive and Columbia Pike will be more than $1 million. This is a cost escalation of over 100 percent from the original estimate.

Shouldn’t we say, “superexpensive?”

With due credit to Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and the rest of the Rolling Stones (who know a lot more about rock and roll than the County Board knows about transportation infrastructure), here are three lessons to be learned from the Board’s Super Stop fiasco:

1. Since the County Board did such a poor job on just this one superstop, the County Board can’t possibly be ready to choose the managers and contractors for a project like the streetcar currently estimated to cost 250 times more than this one stop.

Trying to counter the tsunami of public criticism about the enormous cost overrun on this Super Stop, county officials have tried to deflect blame onto WMATA — the Super Stop’s project manager. They say WMATA won’t be chosen to play such a role again. This begs the question: how can we rely on the County Board to make the right choice of managers for much larger projects if they failed to recognize WMATA’s poor performance on this one? Are you ready for the $500 million streetcar?

2. Since the County Board failed to recognize the many design flaws in this one Super Stop, the County Board can’t possibly be ready to recognize the design flaws in much larger and more complex transportation infrastructure projects.

Disregarding the advice of the Rolling Stones, the County Board approved a design for this Super Stop that failed to provide one of the fundamental things that many bus stops in other parts of Arlington already provide: adequate shelter from rain and wind. How can we rely on the County Board to make good design decisions about much more complex transportation infrastructure projects that contain many elements they have never seen before?

3. The County Board displays no public understanding of the multiple ways in which the costs of large transportation infrastructure projects take funding away from core services.

Hiding behind erroneous claims that the costs of mammoth capital projects have no impact on proposed operating budget cuts, various spokespeople for the County are turning themselves into pretzels arguing that watering down child care standards or cutting back on community policing are completely unrelated to financing large transportation infrastructure projects. As anyone with a mortgage or a car loan knows, this defies common sense: the bigger your loan payments, the less you have left over for your other needs.

A fiscal storm is threatening Arlington’s life today. Gimme shelter!

Peter Rousselot is a member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

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