Press Club

The Arlington County Board is considering options for having a private company design, build and run all or part of its planned streetcar system.

Earlier this month, the Board held a work session with officials from other North American transit agencies who spoke of their experience with public-private partnerships for light rail systems. By and large, said Board member and leading streetcar supporter Chris Zimmerman, those experiences were positive.

A public-private partnership “can save time and money,” he told ARLnow.com. “We’re very seriously looking at the options.”

At the Nov. 15 work session, transit officials from Ottawa  Denver, Minneapolis and Salt Lake City discussed both the positives and the risks, challenges and things didn’t work with their private partnerships. Such a partnership involves a contract between the local government and a private entity, with the company agreeing to design, build, operate and sometimes even finance the project — to the government’s specifications — in exchange for set payments.

The benefit for the public is that the company handles all the logistics — engineering, procurement, construction, etc. — and often can get more done with less money. The private company also has more flexibility to innovate and to accomplish goals.

In exchange for a long-term (30+ year) contract for operating the light rail system, the company agrees to certain performance benchmarks.  The company and the government share some of the inherent risks in the project, instead of the government assuming all risk, like in a publicly-built system. In the end, the public retains ownership of the system.

“It’s pretty clear if you look around the world and increasingly around the county that things are moving that way,” Zimmerman said. He cited the experience of Vancouver, which was able to build a two-track light rail system through a public-private partnership for the same cost as it had budgeted to build a one-track system on its own.

Zimmerman said a public-private partnership is especially attractive for the county’s planned Crystal City streetcar, which will be funded using a TIF — tax increment financing, derived from gains in commercial real estate values in Crystal City.

“[Crystal City] might be very well poised for this kind of approach,” he said.

It’s possible that the Columbia Pike streetcar could be built using a public-private partnership, but it’s less likely since the county is seeking federal funds for the project and since it is further along in the process.

Zimmerman said the county hopes to have the Columbia Pike streetcar up and running sometime between 2017 and 2018, and the Crystal City streetcar operating between 2018 and 2019. The construction process for each will take about two years.

At its meeting Tuesday night, the County Board deferred consideration of a measure that would allow the county to pursue public-private partnerships under a 1995 Virginia law. The Board will take the matter back up at its December meeting, after Board members Libby Garvey and Walter Tejada expressed some reservations about the method by which the county will award such contracts.

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Morning Notes

Arlington Schools Make Washington Post List — All four Arlington public high schools have been ranked in the top 1 percent of all high schools in the U.S. by the Washington Post. The Post’s “Challenge Index” ranked H-B Woodlawn 48th in the nation and 2nd in the region, the highest ranking among the Arlington schools. [Arlington Public Schools]

Bishop O’Connell Softball Team Wins State Championship — For the 17th time in 19 years, the Bishop O’Connell Knights softball team has captured the Virginia Independent Schools Division I state championship trophy. The team had a 27-1 record this year. [Sun Gazette]

Arlington Named Bike-Friendly City — Arlington has been named the 23rd most bike-friendly “city” in the country by Bicycling Magazine. The publication looked at areas with “robust cycling infrastructure and a vibrant bike culture.” [Bicycling]

Zimmerman to Visit France — Arlington County Board member Chris Zimmerman will be visiting three cities in France next month in order to study ways to make Arlington less car-dependent. [Transportation Nation]

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Morning Notes

Low Attendance at Tax Rate Hearing — At a public hearing last night, it only took half an hour for the County Board to hear all the speakers for and against raising Arlington’s real estate tax rate. In the end, those in favor of  raising the tax rate to pay for additional government services outnumbered those who wanted less spending. [Sun Gazette]

Frida Kahlo Exhibit Closes Sunday — Arlington’s exclusive and much-publicized exhibit of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s personal photos will come to a close this weekend. Hours have now been extended on Sunday, the last day of the exhibit at Artisphere (1101 Wilson Blvd). The remaining hours are: Friday 4:00 to 11:00 p.m., Saturday 12:00 to 11:00 p.m., Sunday 12:00 to 8:00 p.m.

Zimmerman: Metro Needs More Support — Arlington County Board member and former Metro Board member Chris Zimmerman says Metro needs more funding from governments, especially from the Commonwealth of Virginia and the federal government. Zimmerman also recommends keeping any potential fare increase small and making sure it doesn’t “punish the folks who take the shortest trips.” [Greater Greater Washington]

Crystal City Apartment Building Sold — The 442-unit Buchanan apartment building in Crystal City has changed hands for $175 million. The property was sold by Archstone to Dweck Properties, the same firm that bought the Crystal Plaza Apartments from Archstone last year. [CoStar]

Green Games Saved Some Green — Forget the Hunger Games, Arlington County says its “Green Games” competition was a blockbuster in terms of savings. The sustainability challenge saved $2 million in avoided energy and water costs, the county announced at an awards ceremony on Thursday. [Arlington County]

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A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held this morning to unveil four electric vehicle charging stations that have been installed in the Pentagon City mall parking garage.

Arlington County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman, Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Calif.) and representatives from mall owner Simon Property Group were all on hand for the ceremony. Also present were reps from 350Green, the Los Angeles-based company that manufactures the charging stations.

The charging stations are located on level 2 of the mall parking garage. They can partially charge an electric vehicle in as little as 90 minutes, while the car’s owner shops.

Photo courtesy the Office of Rep. Jim Moran

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Photos from Light Up Rosslyn

The 18th annual Light Up Rosslyn ceremony was held last night, under the WJLA Jumbotron at the corner of Wilson Boulevard and N. Lynn Street.

Dozens gathered to listen to live holiday music, to drink free hot chocolate, and to see County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman flip the ceremonial switch to illuminate the rooftops of nearly 40 Rosslyn buildings. The annual event also featured a clothing drive for the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network.

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The opening of an affordable housing community in Ballston was welcomed with much fanfare on Tuesday evening. Numerous county officials joined new residents at The Jordan (801 N. Wakefield St.) for a grand opening ceremony.

The apartments are aimed at individuals or families earning 50-60% of the area’s mean income. A key selling point of the apartments is their proximity to local businesses and public transportation. They’re about one block from Ballston Commons Mall and about four blocks from the Ballston Metro. County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman pointed out that this is important because the people who typically need public transit the most are those with lower incomes. Residents at The Jordan are also eligible for a public transit subsidy.

Zimmerman said because Arlington is becoming a more expensive place to live, it’s vital to be creative and innovative in providing housing options. He said the county is at risk of losing its diversity without such options.

“We need to make sure this is a place in which everyone can live,” Zimmerman said. “Not just those who are privileged with a high income.”

The property is owned and managed by AHC Inc., a nonprofit developer of low and moderate-income housing. They acquired the property through a land swap with The JBG Companies. It’s part of the larger mixed-use development under construction at the corner of Glebe Rd. and Wilson Blvd.

The Jordan replaces the previous affordable housing complex nearby, Jordan Manor, which was demolished nearly three years ago. Residents at Jordan Manor who wished to move into The Jordan received first pick on the apartments. The Jordan houses 90 apartments, whereas Jordan Manor had only 24.

Five of the building’s units have three bedrooms and can accomodate larger families. Nine of the units are fully accessible to residents with disabilities. Amenities include a library, business center, courtyard with fountain and community room.

The first residents moved into The Jordan about a month ago, and the building is currently two-thirds occupied.

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Morning Notes

Examiner: It’s All Zimmerman’s Fault— In an editorial, the Washington Examiner encourages drivers stuck on I-66 to “call or tweet Arlington Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman” to complain, since “he’s one of the most vocal opponents of widening I-66 inside the Beltway.” Regarding local opposition to adding a third lane to I-66, the paper concludes: “This whole scenario is beyond short-sighted and incompetent. This is insane.” [Washington Examiner]

Flat Fare Could Cost Arlington Metro Riders — Arlington transit riders take, on average, the shortest trips of any local residents on the Metrorail system. As a result, county officials warn that Arlington riders will pay more if Metro ever switches to a flat fare system — as has been proposed as a way to simplify the agency’s fare system. [Sun Gazette]

Arlington’s First Female K-9 — The Arlington County Police Department recently received its first female police dog. Roxy, a Belgian Malinois, graduated from an intense, 15-week K-9 patrol school in June. Roxy and handler Cpl. Thorpe Lichtenberg are one of Arlington’s nine K-9 teams. [Examiner]

Exchange Students Arrive — Arlington fifth graders will be waiting at the airport today to greet 44 sixth graders from Aachen, Germany, as they arrive with their parents for “a whirlwind week in the D.C. area.” The German students will stay with the families of fifth graders who attend Nottingham, Tuckahoe and Arlington Traditional elementary schools. In addition to attending classes, they will visit memorials and museums, go on hikes and attend sporting events. Aachen is Arlington’s sister city, and the exchange is being organized by the Arlington Sister Cities Association.

Flickr pool photo by BrianMKA

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The Arlington County Board is set to vote this weekend on a plan to add three landscaped traffic circles to 16th Street S. in the Douglas Park neighborhood.

The $132,000 project — which also calls for the addition of curb extensions, textured pavement crosswalks and painted parking edge lines — is being recommended by the county’s Neighborhood Traffic Calming Committee, as a way to slow down traffic on 16th Street.

The street has “documented speeding problems,” county officials said in a staff report. According to county data, the average speed on 16th Street between S. Monroe Street and S. Quincy Street is 24 miles per hour, with 48 percent of traffic traveling faster than the posted 25 mile per hour speed limit and 15 percent of traffic traveling at 31 miles per hour or higher.

Speed humps were not considered for the traffic calming project, because the “85th percentile” speed required by law for speed hump projects is 32 miles per hour.

This summer, residents of homes along 16th Street were polled on the plan — to add “mini-traffic circles” to the intersections with S. Nelson, Oakland and Pollard Streets. Of those surveyed, 66 percent supported the plan, just above the 60 percent threshold for the project to proceed.

County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman was likely among those who were polled. Zimmerman’s house is one block away from one of the proposed traffic circles.

(Residents will be asked to maintain the landscaping of the traffic circles.)

One 16th Street resident who opposes the project says she’s worried about the ability of emergency vehicles to navigate the traffic circles.

“My concern is that it’s an emergency response route,” the resident told ARLnow.com, adding that the county should “stop punishing 95 percent of the population for 5 percent — the speeders.”

The stretch of 16th Street in question is located south of Columbia Pike and just west of Glebe Road. The board is expected to vote on the traffic calming plan at its Saturday meeting.

Also on the board’s Saturday agenda is a traffic calming plan for 26th Street between N. Sycamore Street and N. Quantico Street in the East Falls Church neighborhood. The $92,000 project — for a stretch of road that has 71 percent of vehicles traveling above the speed limit — will include curb extensions (numbs) and one “speed cushion.”

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Arlington County could be one of the Northern Virginia localities to lose its Aaa credit rating if lawmakers on Capitol Hill don’t resolve their stalemate over raising the debt ceiling.

The announcement focuses on reviewing 177 top rated municipalities across the country, including all of Northern Virginia. Earlier this month, Moody’s placed five Aaa rated states, including Virginia, on its Creditwatch list. At blame is the above average level of reliance on federal employment and spending in our area.

Arlington responded to the announcement by saying the county’s economy remains strong. County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman said, “Nothing has changed in terms of the County’s financial and debt management practices and fundamentals of our economic base.”

Zimmerman added that the decision by Moody’s shows how lawmakers’ inability to agree on a debt limit deal is affecting real people and endangering economic recovery.

If Arlington does get downgraded, it could be more expensive for the county to borrow money for schools, roads and other projects. But Zimmerman pointed out that Arlington’s financial reserves and additional resources would provide flexibility to respond to potential declines in revenue.

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Featuring next-generation internet connectivity, computational laboratories and multiple meeting and conference spaces, the new 144,000 square foot Virginia Tech Research Center building in Ballston (900 N. Glebe Road) celebrated its grand opening today.

Virginia Tech President Charles Steger, Rep. Jim Moran, and County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman were on hand this afternoon for a ribbon cutting ceremony on the glimmering glass-and-steel building’s seventh floor.

Zimmerman kicked off the ceremony with references to the “human bandwidth” and “internet firepower” that the building brings to Ballston, Arlington’s science and technology hub. Dr. Steger spoke about the research already underway in the building, including research into military medical care, renewable energy and cyber security.

Calling Virginia Tech’s Ballston presence an “international center of excellence” and an “investment in our future,” Rep. Moran remarked on the benefits it will bring to the area and to the university.

“It will pay substantial dividends to Virginia Tech and enhance its mission to become one of the leading research institutions in the world,” he said. Moran added that it would be a mistake to cut federal research funding in the interest of deficit reduction, citing what he said was the need to supplement the “short term, bottom line” focus of corporate research.

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Community leaders marked the grand opening of The Macedonian (2229 Shirlington Road), a new mixed-use affordable housing development in Nauck (Green Valley), with a ribbon cutting ceremony this morning.

The $12 million development consists of 19 one bedroom and 17 two-bedroom apartments, as well as 2,000 square feet of commercial space for the Bonder and Amanda Johnson Community Development Corporation (BAJCDC) and a planned business incubator/shared work space. It was developed by AHC Inc. on land owned by the next-door Macedonia Baptist Church with county, state, federal, private and nonprofit financing.

While some of the attention surrounding the Macedonian is due to its environmentally-friendly features — it has a green roof and other energy-efficient accouterments, earning it the first EarthCraft Virginia certification for a multifamily development — the building’s real mission is the preservation and economic development of the diverse Nauck community against the pressures of higher rents and gentrification. The church, the county and BAJCDC have been fighting to keep Nauck affordable, and speakers today described the Macedonian as an important step in that continuing effort.

“There are more sheep to tend, there are more neighbors to help,” said David Bowers, Vice President of Enterprise Community Partners, which helped to fund the development. “Our work is not done.”

Attendees this morning included Rep. Jim Moran, County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman, Rev. Dr. Leonard Hamlin of the Macedonia Baptist Church and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker — a former Arlington resident and friend of Rev. Hamlin.

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