The Right Note: Studying the Trolley Again

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column published on Thursdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

Mark KellyThe County Board announced it has awarded a $97,000 contract for yet another study of the Columbia Pike trolley. The study will look at data about the current trolley and bus plans versus bus-only alternatives.

In the past, the Board has ignored the data and input it does not believe fits the narrative that a trolley on Columbia Pike is, well, a big shiny ball of awesome. And, the consensus among people I talk to who are regular “Board watchers” is this study is a play to see if the Board can take another run at federal funding. As Chairman Tejada said, the trolley is “County Board policy.”

Not that you need reminding, but the trolley’s poster child thus far is a $1 million “super stop” that is so super, you cannot really stay dry under it when it rains. The “super stop” is for buses now, but is one of over 20 that will be used for the trolley as well.

One point about the not-so-super bus stop that is often missed in the debate is that it took 18 months to build. If you commute on Columbia Pike, imagine if it takes 18 months to install all the necessary infrastructure for the trolley. Worse, if you own a business along the Pike, imagine how many people will want to brave the construction to visit your store during the construction.

It is no secret that I have endorsed a bipartisan group of Arlingtonians who view this trolley project as a boondoggle. Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit not only opposes the trolley, but offers real insight into the alternatives. But, no cost estimates, usage data or public concerns have been able to move the Board from its position thus far.

Unfortunately, the Board’s ongoing “trolley at all costs” approach should not surprise us.

Thanks to Frank O’Leary, we know our Board has built up a record surplus after telling us for years that it was facing “tough choices” caused by “budget shortfalls”. After spending millions of dollars in excess revenues in the closeout process on non-budgeted items each fall, they have implored us to be OK with raising our taxes the next year because there was “just no way to avoid it.”

The average Board Member has 15 years of experience spending our money in this manner and are showing no signs of stopping. Until voters change a Board Member or two, it is safe to assume the Board will see no real incentive to change its behavior.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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