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Progressive Voice: Keep State Dollars in Arlington

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Alfonso LopezAs a member of Arlington’s General Assembly delegation and long-time resident of neighborhoods along Columbia Pike, I have been a strong advocate for implementation of the Columbia Pike Neighborhood Plan adopted after many years of planning and community involvement — a fundamental component of which is a modern streetcar system.

I am pleased that our governor, after receiving broad approval (nearly 72 percent) from Arlington voters as a candidate, has strongly supported key transit projects like the streetcar.

Virginia’s Transportation Secretary has repeatedly praised the streetcar as a sound example for leveraging transportation investments to enhance economic competitiveness, noting that implementation of a seamless streetcar system between Columbia Pike and Crystal City will provide significantly more mobility benefits than enhanced bus service.

Just this past week, Virginia’s Director of Rail and Public Transportation told the Washington Post that the state remains “fully committed” to providing $65 million from a state funding stream dedicated solely to fixed guideway rail projects. This brings the total state streetcar investment to more than $200 million.

Why is the Pike Neighborhood Plan and streetcar component important? It is how we will:

  • accommodate anticipated growth along Columbia Pike;
  • protect Pike neighborhoods and affordable housing units;
  • create important links to Crystal City/Pentagon City on one end of the Pike and Bailey’s Crossroads on the other;
  • create a “main street” feel with appropriately scaled buildings and dining/retail options;
  • provide street-level transit options for people to visit restaurants, libraries, community centers, shopping outlets, and office buildings;
  • and generate economic development and tax revenues we will need to build schools and acquire open space.

The streetcar system will not just create additional commuting options. It will foster livable and healthy communities with robust businesses, create destinations easily accessible to Arlingtonians and revenue-generating tourists, and improve our quality of life.

I am disappointed that the carefully-planned and long-needed investments along Columbia Pike are now being treated as a political football. That is why I oppose the Garvey-Vihstadt plan announced on ARLnow.com that would cause Arlington to forfeit millions of dollars of state funding.

And I am disappointed that the Garvey-Vihstadt plan would similarly renege on commitments that Arlington County has made to help revitalize Crystal City after the poorly-planned federal decision to move thousands of military jobs to Mark Center and Fort Belvoir with the attendant losses of many more private sector jobs.

In the name of saving some unspecified amount of money on the streetcar by using inferior bus service, the Garvey-Vihstadt plan suggests that we can instead fund major Metro improvements. That makes no financial sense.

The Metro expansion projects alluded to in the Garvey-Vihstadt plan would, according to the long-range strategic plan released last year by Metro, cost many billions of dollars — many times the streetcar’s cost. A new Rosslyn Metro station — $1 billion. A second Potomac tunnel — $3.3 billion. An Orange/Silver express track to a second Rosslyn Metro station — $2.3 billion.

These may all be worthy projects, but suggesting that even Arlington’s share of the cost would become feasible merely by killing the streetcar is irresponsible.

Moreover, the Garvey-Vihstadt plan fails to account for the importance of Arlington working with other jurisdictions in our region to properly share the responsibility for these massive projects.

Similarly misleading is the notion that killing the streetcar would pay for additional Potomac River crossings. The Woodrow Wilson Bridge replacement project alone cost nearly $2.5 billion.

And while Columbia Pike is one of the busiest corridors in the Commonwealth of Virginia, the notion that we should be focusing our attention on ferry service to a casino in Maryland or to military bases along the Potomac River seems the height of folly — a true vanity project.

Other projects identified in the Garvey-Vihstadt plan, such as improved intersections and creating better experiences for pedestrians and cyclists, have long been County priorities that continue to be promoted in our new Capital Improvement Program. Many of them were specifically addressed in the CIP adopted this year — which Garvey and Vihstadt ultimately voted not to fund.

What would the Garvey-Vihstadt plan really mean? We would ship $100-$150 million in state funding that is available only for the streetcar to other regions of the Commonwealth; forego $250-$500 million in countywide tax revenues over the next 30 years; forego 4,600 jobs in 10 years after the start of construction; and cause Arlington to pay more than its fair share for Metro expansion and other regional projects.

That is a path Arlington cannot afford to take.

Alfonso Lopez represents the 49th District (South Arlington and Eastern Fairfax) in the Virginia House of Delegates.  He and his family are long-time residents of Arlington and the Columbia Pike corridor. 

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