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Letter to the Editor: The Streetcar Is Dead, What Comes Next?

The following letter to the editor was submitted by Columbia Pike resident Nicholas Evans.

I’m not a pro-streetcar zealot. However, living a few blocks from Columbia Pike, I was generally supportive of the streetcar as the best available option to spur growth and alleviate congestion. There was also an element of needing to keep a promise that had been made to developers and local business owners. Nevertheless, I heard and understood the passionate arguments made by many friends of mine in opposition. There are no perfect answers.

With the decision made, we face some new realities. The Columbia Pike area is now a much less attractive place to buy a home or locate a business. More broadly, Arlington has sent a signal to potential residents, businesses and other local governments that it cannot be counted on to hold up its end of the bargain. Governor McAuliffe has been told, “No thanks. Don’t spend transportation money here.” Those are not political statements, but facts. Major policy decisions have consequences.

I take our County Board members at their word that work will continue to develop new transportation options. However, for people who are celebrating, your work is unfinished. Here are your assignments:

  • County Board Member Vihstadt: Congratulations. You successfully provided a channel within the system to defeat the streetcar. Throughout your campaigns, you opposed the streetcar because you wanted to do more for “core services”–education and affordable housing. There is no more streetcar to fight so let’s see you keep your promises. I expect results and, no, you are not allowed to pass the buck on the school overcrowding issue. Education is as core as it gets. Time to get to work.
  • To County Board Member Garvey: You have repeatedly suggested that “money is money” and that there truly wasn’t dedicated money for the streetcar. This was a very effective argument–should we be building this when we have so many other needs? Although I might be disappointed about the streetcar, I am very excited that we now have more money to spend in other areas requiring investment. I would imagine you have some bold and potentially expensive proposals that are ready to go. I look forward to evaluating them.
  • To Neighbors in South Arlington Opposed to the Streetcar: No whining. If development continues along the Pike, you can’t complain about vehicles parked in front of your house and the Pike itself turning into a parking lot choked with all those new drivers. On the flip side, if development stagnates or regresses, no complaining about the lack of restaurants, unsafe streets or crumbling infrastructure.
  • To Neighbors in North Arlington Opposed to the Streetcar: Same as your South Arlington allies. No whining. I’m assuming that the inflammatory stuff I’ve read about North Arlington taxpayers not wanting to spend money in South Arlington is fiction. I have many good friends north of 50 who have opposed this project and I know that’s not their view. Regardless, North Arlington residents won’t feel the same congestion impact except for periodic trips to Dick’s to buy a new set of cleats for their kids. However, if development along the Pike stalls, the tax base won’t broaden. This will be exacerbated as it becomes harder to lure businesses to any part of Arlington–most people won’t locate in a jurisdiction that can’t be trusted to keep its word. As a result, you all will be on the hook to fund an even greater share of the proposals coming from Board Members Vihstadt and Garvey. No whining about any tax hikes.

Finally, there is one team project for everyone identified above. You will continue to be vigilant about spending countywide. There have been plenty of “vanity projects” in my 13 years here and many of you were silent on all of them. I assume at a minimum that you all strongly oppose the proposal to establish a second Metro line through North Arlington. From your perspective, it would seem to be an enormous expense that we cannot afford. I’ll look forward to seeing strong resistance should that project gain momentum. More broadly, I trust that you will be consistent rather than selective in how high you set the bar for all county spending.

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes letters to the editor about local issues. To submit a letter to the editor, please email it to [email protected] Letters to the editor may be edited for content and brevity.

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