The Right Note: Half-Million Dollar Bus Stops?

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

Tonight the County Board is going to consider building four more bus stops on Columbia Pike at a total allocated cost of $1.65 million, or roughly $412,000 per stop. The current Capital Improvement Plan contemplates the construction of 23 new transit stops for a total of $16.9 million, though Arlington taxpayers would not be on the hook for the entire bill.

It seems like an eternity ago that the $1 million model for these stops caused a political firestorm and even garnered national attention. The coverage put into perspective the magnitude of the Columbia Pike streetcar project, helped elect Independent John Vihstadt, and eventually lead to project’s cancellation. For those who may have forgotten, the rather small stop does not really keep you dry when it is raining and the “state-of-the-art” screen that was supposed to provide riders with information is often out of commission.

That the County Board thinks spending around half a million dollars each to build another 23 is a good fiscal decision still boggles the mind. The decision to proceed only looks fiscally responsible relative to $1 million, not relative to what else you could spend $13.3 million on, or not spend it at all.

In a larger sense, after the Board raised taxes and found no real budget savings this Spring, it is yet another piece of evidence that the once again all-Democrat County Board is slipping back into old habits when it comes to spending our money.

Speaking of watching spending decisions that are supposed to benefit the community, the Washington Business Journal recently reported that business incubator 1776 was unable to come to lease terms with JBG Smith and is relocating to the District. In 2015, the County Board voted to give 1776 up to $450,000 in economic development grantsto create 300 new jobs in the county. Four years later, those jobs are leaving the county.

Economic development incentives (giveaways) are a game that all states and major metropolitan areas play. This case serves as a reminder that they do not always work out over the long run.

Mark Kelly is a 19-year Arlington resident, former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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