(Updated at 3:25 p.m.) The shockwaves around the re-election of John Vihstadt to the Arlington County Board last night continue to reverberate today, with many around Arlington wondering if the county is about to undergo a major policy shift.
“The streetcar is dead,” local political blogger and strategist Ben Tribbett told ARLnow.com last night at the Democrats’ election party in Crystal City. “The voters spoke so overwhelmingly tonight. There’s absolutely no way that [County Board members] Mary [Hynes] and Walter [Tejada] can win re-election if they’re running as pro-streetcar candidates next year. The voters have spoken on this now. It’s over.”
The growing chorus that the majority of the County Board — Chair Jay Fisette, as well as Hynes and Tejada — are out of touch with the voters was bolstered by Vihstadt’s margin of victory. The Republican-endorsed independent won 55.76 percent of the vote to Democrat Alan Howze’s 43.8 percent — less than his margin of victory in the April special election but still a big surprise to many who follow Arlington politics, who haven’t seen a non-Democrat win a County Board general election since 1983.
Howze won just 13 of Arlington’s 52 precincts. By comparison, Democrat Sen. Mark Warner won the majority of votes in every one of Arlington’s precincts, and took 70.59 percent of Arlington ballots.
It’s that result that led Arlington County Democratic Committee President Kip Malinosky to determine that Vihstadt’s victory was not from a lack of Democratic voter turnout, but rather the issues and candidates themselves.
“At this point, I’m not prepared to say what the message [voters sent] was, I’d like to look deep into it and hear a lot more,” he told ARLnow.com last night. “Arlington is a wonderful place to live, it’s well-governed, low crime, low unemployment rate. But people are obviously unsatisfied about something, so we’re going to have to do better.”
County Board member Libby Garvey, a Democrat, threw her support behind Vihstadt before the April special election to replace Chris Zimmerman, and was forced to resign from the ACDC executive committee for it. Last night, she experienced a mix of elation and relief at Vihstadt’s home in Tara-Leeway Heights, realizing her efforts had been validated by tens of thousands of Arlington voters.
“This is a mandate,” she said emphatically. “I think our colleagues on the Board have gotten out of touch with what people want, including Democrats. It’s just really a wonderful validation of what we’ve been saying and what we’ve been thinking. I think the people of Arlington are taking back control of their county and that’s a good thing.”
Tribbett agreed, taking it a step further. He said Howze shouldn’t take the blame for the loss; instead, it’s on the Board’s own lack of trust with voters and on the local Democratic leadership.
“It’s on the County Board 100 percent,” Tribbett said.
“This is the problem with Arlington Democrats. They spent the time after they lost the special election, and here’s the arrogant response: ‘When we get more voters, they’ll just take our sample ballot, and they won’t know the issues, so they’ll vote for our candidate,'” he continued. “Their plan is to hope that people aren’t informed? Well, this is one of the most educated electorates in the country, and they just told them basically to eff themselves with that kind of strategy, to rely on them being misinformed. Gimme a break. They ought to be embarrassed.”
While Tribbett believes the Columbia Pike streetcar to be a political impossibility at this point, groups that support it say the election shouldn’t be seen as a referendum on the streetcar.
“It would be reading too much into Arlington voters’ intentions to ascribe the election of John Vihstadt to a full term on the Arlington Board over Alan Howze primarily to the debate over the Columbia Pike streetcar,” said the Coalition for Smarter Growth, in a press release this afternoon. “Streetcar opponents linked the price tag of the streetcar to general concerns over government spending and the state of the economy… [but] we are confident that the streetcar will continue to stand up to scrutiny and prove to be the best investment for the Columbia Pike Corridor.”
Tejada said he hopes the Board can “work together in a respectful manner” and “find as much common ground as possible.” He deflected questions about the future of the streetcar and concerns over his and Hynes’ ability to win re-election in 2015. Instead, Tejada championed the achievement of agreeing on the streetcar plan without sacrificing any affordable housing on Columbia Pike.
Tejada also obliquely referred to Garvey and Vihstadt’s rhetoric as “divisive,” saying many of the Board’s critics are “condensing” the issues into “sound bites.” He said he looked forward to “continue to inform details to the community, particularly factual information that it took quite a long time to get to.”
“I think this is a crossroads moment in time for Arlington,” Tejada said. “We need to decide whether we’re going to become a timid and stagnant community or are we going to continue to be bold and innovative and craft difficult strategic policies that will sustain us in the future in all parts of the county.”
The following letter to the editor was submitted by Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey.
What transportation projects should we fund in Arlington with the money we save from not building a streetcar?
This is an important question. John Vihstadt and I asked our staff exactly this question during a work session on the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) this summer. Our staff said they could provide a list if a majority of our Board colleagues voted to ask for it, but our three Board colleagues voted against it. So neither we, nor the public, has the benefit of staff’s expertise and analysis to answer this question.
We do know that the Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcars are projected to cost over $500 million and consume about 19% of our Capital Improvement Program. We also know that these streetcars will require over $8 million and perhaps millions more per year in annual operating costs. We all should be wondering what could and should we do with this money instead.
If we reprogram those local and state dollars, here are some possibilities we might fund partially or fully:
1. Expand and improve the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line in Crystal City so it operates more like a streetcar with side opening doors. Run it frequently and all the time. Connect it to the BRT line in Alexandria. Work with Fairfax and run BRT all the way down Route 1 to Fort Belvoir. Take the BRT line down the route planned for the streetcar on Columbia Pike, and take it into Annandale. Run a BRT line from Rosslyn out Lee Highway and work with Fairfax and Loudoun to take it all the way to Leesburg. Work with Montgomery County, Maryland and D.C. and take a BRT line from Arlington and the Pentagon to D.C. and on to Rockville or further. In other words, build a robust regional BRT service that people can depend on to get them where they want to go conveniently and efficiently.
2. Address the dangerous intersection at Lynn Street and Lee Highway at Key Bridge with a permanent and effective solution to protect pedestrians and cyclists. This likely means significant construction to rework the intersection. We could improve pedestrian and cyclist safety around the county at other places like East Falls Church.
3. Add much needed new Metro entrances at Rosslyn and Ballston.
4. Add a whole new Metro station in Rosslyn as called for in the Metro Momentum plan.
5. Pay for some of the huge capital costs Metro anticipates in their Metro Momentum capital improvement plan. While not detailed yet, this is a large expense that looms in the near future. Currently we have not planned how we will pay for it.
6. With the old bridges over the Potomac needing extensive reconstruction soon and the huge casino opening at Harbor Place the need for more ways to cross the river is clear. Transportation funds could be used for a new bridge, or tunnel or even dock facilities for a Potomac ferry service. A recent study showed a ferry to be economically viable. National Airport is a natural location for a dock. Besides millions of tourists arriving there each year, thousands of people commute to and from Ft. Belvoir and other military bases located on the river every day.
In sum, taxes will be lower and transportation better without a streetcar. There are many needed transportation improvements that will have to wait until we can raise taxes or get federal and state dollars to fund them if we waste over $500 million on a streetcar.
To submit a letter to the editor, please email it to [email protected] Letters to the editor may be edited for content and brevity.
Photo courtesy Donna Gouse
Kennan Garvey was a cycling enthusiast, taught children about bikes when he was in the Peace Corps and wanted to volunteer for Phoenix Bikes after he retired, his widow, Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey said.
Since she created the fund, Garvey has aimed to raise $56,000 for Phoenix Bikes, a thousand dollars for each year her husband lived.
“When people first pass away, people want to give money, and people don’t forget,” Garvey said, “but they don’t remember so much [as time goes by]. I thought a ride would be a great way to keep the fund going and organized.”
When her husband died unexpectedly from a heart attack on Jan. 19, 2008, Garvey said she knew she wanted to set up a memorial for him to benefit Phoenix Bikes.
“Probably at about 2:00 a.m. that night it came to me that this would be the perfect memorial for him,” Garvey said.
The charity bicycle ride will start and end at Phoenix Bikes at 4200 S. Four Mile Run Drive, and will span the entire trail. There will be turn-around points at 15, 30 and 45 miles into the trail, allowing riders to bike 30, 60, or 90 miles. Riders can also do an extra 10 miles on the Custis Trail to complete a full 100-mile-ride, according to Phoenix Bikes Executive Director Henry Dunbar.
“It’s a great ride, really suitable for kids,” Garvey said. “You don’t have to cross roads much and there aren’t any huge hills.”
Garvey and Phoenix Bikes partnered to raise money in her husband’s name for the nonprofit in 2008, and have wanted to organize a ride to feed the fund for the past five years, Dunbar said.
“Kennan was an avid cyclist and obviously a very connected member of the community,” Dunbar said. “Having an annual event that would continue to memorialize him and build on this fund is part of our plan to grow.”
Phoenix Bikes plans to use the fund, which has a goal of $10,000 for Saturday’s ride, to help its effort to build a new education center that will have room for more of the young bicyclists it mentors, Dunbar said. The current location accommodates eight to 10 middle school-aged children, who are taught bike repair and business skills, but Phoenix Bikes wants to double that with the new building.
Registration is still open for the ride, and those interested in donating but not riding can sponsor a rider, like Garvey’s grandson, who learned about bicycling from his late grandfather. Garvey said that the goal is for every rider to pledge $500 via either donation or sponsorship. The fund has has raised $4,120 so far.
“We’re getting there,” Garvey said. “I’m not sure if we’ll make it to $10,000, but we’re getting there.”
Although Garvey broke her collarbone in May while training for the ride and will not participate this year, she said she will be there to cheer on her family members and the other riders.
“For whatever reason I wasn’t meant to ride this one,” Garvey said.
Garvey and Dunbar said they plan to hold the ride annually to keep the Kennan Garvey Memorial Fund growing, and to make sure that he is remembered.
“It’s hard, but it is what it is,” Garvey said of the loss of her late husband. “We had a great life together.”
Photo courtesy Libby Garvey
Graffiti Closes Powhatan Skatepark — Powhatan Springs Skatepark is temporarily closed after “graffiti containing vulgar language” was found. The park will be temporarily closed until park staff can remove the graffiti. No word yet on a reopening date.
Tejada: Three Dems on County Board — At the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s annual Jefferson-Jackson dinner over the weekend, Walter Tejada said pointedly that he is “one of three Democratic county board members,” presumably excluding Libby Garvey. Garvey was also not listed as an “Arlington Democratic Elected Official” in the program. [Blue Virginia]
Dominion Planning New Underground Power Line — Dominion Virginia Power is planning on building an underground power transmission line from Arlington to Alexandria. The $160 million project is intended to address “a local reliability load issue… that could potentially impact neighbors by 2018.” Alexandria officials are expressing objections to the project. [Washington Post]
AYDs Eye South Arlington — Arlington Young Democrats are trying to increase their outreach to women, minorities and to residents of south Arlington. The organization has appointed a new “outreach chair and communications director” who will be in charge of recruiting individuals in targeted groups and “mak[ing] them feel welcome.” [InsideNova]
Flickr pool by Brian Allen
Shuttleworth Drops Out of Congressional Race — Arlington resident Bruce Shuttleworth has dropped out of the still-crowded race for Congress. There are now 7 candidates seeking the Democratic nomination to replace Rep. Jim Moran. Of those, 6 are from Alexandria and only Del. Patrick Hope is from Arlington. [Blue Virginia]
Garvey Phones It In, Literally — Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey, who was injured on Friday in a bicycle accident, voted and participated in Tuesday’s County Board meeting via phone. It’s the first time that has been done in Arlington — Virginia law only recently changed to allow board members to participate in meetings via phone in certain circumstances. [InsideNova]
Clarendon Church Turns 105 — The Church at Clarendon (1210 N. Highland Street) will celebrate its 105th anniversary on Sunday. The church will hold a special anniversary worship service at 11:00 a.m. Originally formed as Clarendon Baptist Church in 1909, the church has seen many changes in its 105 years. One recent change was the new sanctuary that was completed in 2012, as part of a controversial deal that added an 8-story affordable apartment complex above the church.
High Streetcar Ridership Projected — While critics bash the combined $585 million estimated cost of the Crystal City and Columbia Pike streetcar lines, streetcar proponents are calling attention to ridership projections. With 37,100 daily riders by 2035, the combined streetcar system is projected to serve more riders than MARC, VRE and the light rail systems in Baltimore, San Jose, New Orleans, Minneapolis, Charlotte, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Houston, Seattle and Norfolk. [Greater Greater Washington]
Truck Day at the Library on Saturday — Arlington Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street) is again inviting children “to get up-close and personal with a menagerie of trucks and buses” in the library parking lot. Truck Day will take place from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. on Saturday. There will also be transportation-related crafts inside the library auditorium. The library is warning nearby residents to expect to hear some noise from the trucks and the kids during the event. [Arlington Public Library]
(Updated at 12:35 p.m.) Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey resigned from the Arlington County Democratic Committee last night, pre-empting a planned vote on whether to remove her.
Garvey read a 15-minute statement to the committee before handing in her resignation at the ACDC’s meeting last night, which was closed to the media.
Garvey told ARLnow.com she said the ACDC needs to evaluate why Republican-endorsed independent John Vihstadt won the April 8 special election over Democrat Alan Howze by a 57-41 margin.
“The party’s got some thinking to do about what’s going on,” she said. “The decision they have is make is if they go ahead and continue to support elected officials who it seems pretty clearly are not representing what people want. Are we going to talk about local issues or just go lockstep with what a few elected officials say we should be doing? I hope they take some time to talk and think about it. They need to figure out what the real questions and issues are, why John won, and figure out what that’s going to mean moving forward.”
Garvey supported Vihstadt, gave $1,000 to his campaign and called his election “a victory for good government.” She has also irked rank-and-file Democrats with her outspoken opposition to the Columbia Pike streetcar.
Sun Gazette editor Scott McCaffrey, who stood outside the 45-minute, closed ACDC meeting Monday night, reported that some attendees “seemed dazed by the experience and stunned by the vehemence of Garvey’s comments.”
ACDC Chairman Kip Malinosky, who called for the hearing to remove Garvey after he reportedly received numerous complaints about her conduct, said there’s a general “sense of relief” around the committee after they weren’t forced to vote on Garvey’s future.
“People still got along with each other, people still cracked jokes,” he said. “They just realized it was one of the things we had to do. The thing is, all she had to do was endorse a Democratic primary candidate. The Arlington Democrats are not the County Board. When [streetcar opponent Democrat] Cord Thomas said he was going to run against Alan Howze, I said, ‘Welcome, come on.'”
Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos — who also supported Vihstadt, a longtime friend, and plans to do so again when he runs against Howze in November’s general election — also agreed to no longer attend ACDC meetings or vote in hearings, but said she had made that decision informally in December after Vihstadt decided to run.
“[My decision] wasn’t tied to the committee’s actions against Libby,” Stamos told ARLnow.com. “I had numerous conversations with Kip, all perfectly equitable and we agreed this was the appropriate thing to do.”
Garvey said she didn’t decide to be a committee member, but all Democrat elected officials become committee members by default, once they’re elected, giving them access to ACDC data and resources. Malinosky said he’ll welcome Stamos and Garvey back after the November election if they decide to support only Democrat candidates.
Garvey said she’d be happy to come back, if the ACDC takes her, and said she only requested the meeting for the good of the Democratic Party.
“I want to be helpful to ACDC,” she said. “I understand that I violated the bylaws. I get that… There were some things I think the ACDC needed to hear. I’m not the problem, I’m a symptom. I didn’t want to make them go through [the voting process], I wanted to be helpful.”
The following letter to the editor was submitted by current Arlington County Democratic Committee Chair Kip Malinosky.
The Arlington County Democratic Committee is a welcoming, diverse and open organization with the fundamental purpose of nominating (or endorsing) and electing Democrats at the local, state and federal levels. We have helped elect 21 current public officials who have had a critical role in making Arlington a wonderful place to live.
Through the years, we have been at the forefront of electing candidates from different economic circumstances, racial and ethnic backgrounds, gender, national birthplace, and sexual orientation. Our candidates, from all across the county, have served the community in many different capacities before becoming nominees of our party.
In pursuing our fundamental purpose of electing Democratic candidates, we also pursue important values such as equality, diversity, opportunity, responsibility and social justice. Of course our committee members don’t always agree with one another and sometimes vigorously disagree about particular issues or how those values should translate into public policy.
This is one reason why we have robust primaries and caucuses where candidates can – and do – air their differences. During those nominating contests, Committee members (including Democratic elected officials) often back different candidates. But after a Democratic nominee is chosen, it is the responsibility of all Committee members to pull together, support each other, and elect the nominee.
We know that there are times when Arlingtonians who consider themselves to be Democrats do not support the Democratic nominee. That’s understandable. Individual voters have their reasons. We will continue to listen and seek common ground with these and other voters.
But the Arlington County Democratic Committee and its members commit themselves, before joining or seeking the Committee’s endorsement, to supporting all Democratic candidates. The Committee shares resources, strategies, voting lists, and other valuable information with its nominees and members. Anyone who is actively working to defeat a Democratic nominee cannot and should not have access to those resources and internal strategies.
Unsurprisingly, for these reasons, both the Democratic and Republican Committees at the local, state and national level have the same requirement that a Committee member support the Party’s nominees. It is a conflict of interest to be a Committee member and also work against the organization’s fundamental purpose.
Libby Garvey understands this process and has benefited from it four times as the ACDC endorsed School Board candidate and as the 2012 County Board nominee. She relied heavily upon committee members and resources in her 2012 victory after receiving a plurality in a 6-way contest for the Democratic nomination. But having benefited from her association with the Democratic Committee and securing the full weight of its resources behind her elections, she then announced that she would not support any Democratic candidate in the 2014 Democratic County Board caucus before we even had a filing deadline, let alone a nominee. Instead, she publicly endorsed an opposition candidate, promoted him in public appearances, and donated $1000 from her political fund to that campaign.
One Democratic candidate chose to run in our primary who agreed with her about the streetcar and other issues that Ms. Garvey cited as her reason for not supporting a Democrat, but she would not support him.
A few Democratic Committee members decided not to support the Democratic nominee, including one other elected official. Ms. Garvey and those other Committee members were politely asked to leave the Committee. All but Ms. Garvey did. She alone has refused.
Now that a formal complaint has been filed against Ms. Garvey, the Committee has no choice but to uphold its governing rules. It is in Ms. Garvey control as to whether she wants to remain on the Committee and support all Democratic nominees. Or she can choose to chart a path of supporting candidates exclusively on the basis of whether they support her individual agenda. But she cannot be part of a party Committee devoted to electing Democrats and actively work against that objective at the same time. For that reason, Ms. Garvey should no longer be a member of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.
To submit a letter to the editor, please email it to [email protected] Letters to the editor may be edited for content and brevity.
Local Democrats are upset with Garvey over her outspoken opposition to the streetcar and her support of Republican-endorsed independent John Vihstadt in the County Board special election. Vihstadt defeated Democratic nominee Alan Howze earlier this month. Garvey was elected in 2012 on the Democratic ticket and now in her first full term on the County Board, following a decade and a half on the School Board.
At the committee’s meeting Monday night, Garvey will have a hearing where she can defend her decision to support a non-Democrat and appeal to stay a member of the Arlington Democrats. The hearing will be heard by a special committee made up largely of the ACDC leadership, according to ACDC Chairman Kip Malinosky. Malinosky said he will be presenting the case against Garvey, so he recused himself from the committee.
Malinosky said he’s received more than a dozen complaints about Garvey’s activity — which include a $1,000 donation from her campaign committee and regular emails to her campaign mailing list supporting Vihstadt — and added that he asked her to voluntarily remove herself from the ACDC during the campaign, which she declined.
“It’s crazy to have a voting member of our organization actively working against the purpose of the organization,” Malinosky told ARLnow.com. “You can do anything you want as a Democratic committee member. You can take any position on the streetcar or other issues, but the one thing you cannot do as a member is to endorse, support and assist a non-Democrat against a Democratic nominee. That’s the only thing you can’t do.”
Garvey said that even if she is removed from her position, she will still consider herself a Democrat and, if nothing were to change, would run for re-election in three years as a Democrat without the ACDC’s endorsement.
“We all wear different hats in life,” Garvey told ARLnow.com this morning. “I’m in an odd position because the only reason I’m on the committee is because I’m an elected official and a Democrat. I found myself in a spot where I had two loyalties. I am a member of ACDC and an elected official of Arlington County and I have to represent the voters. I made the decision in the best interest of the voters as I needed to do to fulfill my responsibility to them.”
Garvey said she wanted to have a hearing to explain her rationale for supporting and donating to Vihstadt’s campaign. She said she didn’t want to simply accept leaving the ACDC because she “didn’t want anyone to think that I want to leave ACDC.”
“It’s like in a family, you can have disagreements with members of your family, but you don’t leave your family,” she said. “I’m hoping all of this in the end will make ACDC stronger. I hope it’ll be a healthy thing for all of us. I really have the best interests of ACDC at heart.”
Malinosky said if Garvey wants to stay a member of the ACDC, she’ll have to change course and throw her support behind Howze for the November general election rematch against Vihstadt.
“I would love her to say ‘I’m willing to support Alan Howze and all the Democrats,'” Malinosky said. “If she says that, then welcome back.”
After the jump is the email Malinosky sent to ACDC members: (more…)
Garvey made a presentation during yesterday’s County Board meeting, challenging the return on investment (ROI) study a consultant performed on contract with the county and presented last month.
Garvey said the study makes faulty comparisons, disputed the $3.1 billion ROI claim, said that calling the streetcar a “seamless ride” is nonsensical since a bus would do the same, and claimed it ignored contrary analysis, among other assertions.
After Garvey’s presentation, County Board Chair Jay Fisette challenged streetcar opponents’ claims that bus rapid transit (BRT) would be a preferable solution since dedicated bus lines, widely considered a requirement of a BRT system, are not possible on Columbia Pike. In response, Garvey offered an olive branch of sorts on the language the two sides of the streetcar debate uses.
“On BRT, I’ll make a deal with you,” Garvey said. “We don’t ever talk about BRT here again, we just say ‘streetcar-like bus.’ That’s all we need to say. A streetcar-like bus will do much better on Columbia Pike than a streetcar. Let’s just forget about it. It’s just a canard, it’s silly to talk the way we have on what’s BRT and what’s not. That just gets away [from the point], and I share your frustration.”
Fisette quickly agreed to Garvey’s terms, replying “all right, let’s call a truce on that one.”
The bus system that is feasible on the Pike was referred to by the ROI consultants as “enhanced bus service,” which wouldn’t use a dedicated lane but would have many features of a streetcar, like greater ridership capacity, a sleeker appearance and off-board fare collection.
Garvey’s challenge to the consultant has been echoed by other streetcar critics, who say the study was biased from the start, and its methodology — comparing two streetcar systems and two enhanced bus systems in cities around the country — was lacking. Fisette said the consultants, HR&A Advisors, will be making presentations to several county commissions, and backed them on their claims.
“I’m not saying [the study’s detractors] don’t have some good points or couldn’t use clarifications to better understand how the consultants went about their work,” he said, “but I take issue with discrediting the work of these consultants overall.”
(Updated at 2:30 p.m.) Democratic Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey is explaining in more depth why she has decided to endorse an independent candidate to fill the Board seat to be vacated by Democrat Chris Zimmerman at the end of January.
Garvey is endorsing self-identified Republican John Vihstadt, who announced last week that he would run as an independent in the spring 2014 special election.
Garvey stated that none of the three announced Democratic candidates likely will change the way the current Board members set priorities. She decided to endorse Vihstadt instead because she believes he can provide change.
“The issue is that I don’t think there is a Democratic candidate that has or is going to announce for the endorsement that is going to alter the dynamic on the County Board right now… Vihstadt by far is so much closer to my values, my way of working,” Garvey told ARLnow.com. “He’s going to be the one to help me take the county in the direction I think it needs to go and the others will not. I am a Democrat, but in this case there is not a Democratic candidate that can do what needs to be done for Arlington. John can do that. So I’ve got to support him, why would I not? That’s what’s right for Arlington.”
She said Vishstadt “gets it” and he can help change the way current Board members operate.
“My colleagues are all good people, but they’ve been doing things a certain way for a very long time,” Garvey said. “I think we need a new perspective and a fresh way of looking at things, and John will bring that.”
One of the key reasons Garvey will not provide support to a fellow Democrat is her opposition to the Columbia Pike streetcar. Vihstadt also opposes the streetcar, writing in his announcement of candidacy last week, “Now that the County’s application for federal funding has been rejected, Arlington taxpayers may be directly on the hook to finish a five mile line that will displace small businesses and affordable housing, will not connect to the Pentagon, and which fails to materially improve Pike transit.”
Although Arlington currently maintains a triple-A bond rating, Garvey believes the streetcar eventually could prove “financially disastrous” for the county. She noted that the project still can be re-evaluated considering it will be a while before final votes are taken.
“I know they all talk about how it’s a done deal, but it’s not a done deal until we sign a contract with a company and commit hundreds of millions of dollars to pay that company to build this thing. We’re not anywhere near that yet,” she said.
“The streetcar is useless and will actually make things worse on the Pike,” she continued. “A streetcar is nothing more than a bus on tracks with wires, but it costs a whole lot more… There are ways to accomplish what you want to for a whole lot less.”
Garvey believes a significant amount of money in the county’s Transportation Capital Fund that’s set aside for the streetcar could be used for more beneficial projects such as Metro funding and street paving.
“We’d have to raise taxes to do that right now because all of this money is sitting in a fund that is, as I understand it, reserved for the streetcar,” she said. “This is, again, why I’m supporting John, because I believe he will help me to get the Board to sort of re-examine some of these things and work through the community with it.”
Arlington County officials are pressing forward with plans for a Columbia Pike streetcar system, despite the federal government’s initial rejection of the county’s funding request due to projected cost overruns.
Officials explained last night, at a County Board meeting, that the Federal Transit Administration rejected its request for $75 million in grant funding because the total project cost was estimated to exceed the $250 million — the cap for projects to receive funding under the FTA’s Small Starts program.
Though pegged by the county at $245.9 million, a contractor hired by the FTA estimated the project cost to instead be between $255.9 and $402.4 million, including contingencies, and thus ineligible for a Small Starts grant. The contractor said $310.1 million was “a most likely cost.”
County officials said the contractor’s report and a subsequent in-person meeting with senior FTA staff lead them to believe the project is still likely to receive federal funding.
“They made it very clear that their action wasn’t based on the merits of the project,” Arlington County Transportation Director Dennis Leach told the Board. “It was really that technical factor that they felt our cost estimate was likely to be somewhat higher.”
Arlington will actually be eligible to receive more than the initially-requested $75 million in federal funding if it applies under the FTA’s New Starts program. Unlike Small Starts, New Starts doesn’t have a cap on total project cost.
“If the county were to choose to reapply as a New Start, the project could qualify for more federal funding,” said Stephen Del Giudice, Arlington County Transit Bureau Chief. “We have a high likelihood of success in addressing the goals of the project.”
“What’s clear at this point is that changes to the evaluation criteria will most likely have a positive impact on FTA’s future rating of our project,” echoed Brian Stout, the county’s federal liaison. “We’ll continue… to work with our partners at FTA to identify federal opportunities for them to support the Columbia Pike streetcar project.”
Even before the report on the FTA’s rationale for its decision, County Board Chair Walter Tejada said the county was not abandoning plans for the streetcar.
“Moving forward with a modern streetcar is our stated policy, and that’s what we’re committed to doing,” Tejada said. “We can repeat it many times, but nothing’s going to change.”
Tejada’s vote of confidence for the project came after Libby Garvey, the lone streetcar critic on the five-member County Board, gave a PowerPoint highlighting problems with other streetcar systems around the country. News reports cited by Garvey include:
- Walking is often faster than riding streetcar in Portland (The Oregonian)
- Portland streetcar fare revenue nearly 50 percent below projections (The Oregonian)
- Tampa streetcars could require city subsidy (Tampa Tribune)
- Cincinnati streetcar facing $26 million cost overrun (Cincinnati Herald)
- Tucson streetcar operating costs 4 times initial estimate (Arizona Daily Star)
“I have not made up the articles, I have not made up the facts,” Garvey said. “These facts are facts. They’re inconvenient, but true.”
Arlington House Rededicated — Arlington House, the family home of Robert E. Lee and an iconic symbol of Arlington County, has been rededicated by the National Park Service following a six year restoration effort. The ceremony was held on Saturday, on the 152nd anniversary of Lee’s decision to lead the rebellion in the Civil War. [Sun Gazette]
County’s Bond Ratings Reaffirmed — Arlington County has had its top Aaa/AAA debt ratings reaffirmed by rating agencies Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s. The ratings will allow Arlington to borrow money at a lower interest rate. “The Aaa rating reflects the county’s strong long-term credit characteristics including a sizeable and affluent tax base, stable and carefully-managed financial operations with sound reserves, and moderate debt position with manageable future borrowing needs,” Moody’s wrote of Arlington. [Arlington County]
Garvey: Streetcars Fail Cost/Benefit Analysis — In an op-ed in the Washington Post, County Board member Libby Garvey says streetcars on Columbia Pike “are not a good investment for anyone.” Streetcars would not solve transportation challenges on the Pike, and would instead “siphon resources away from other important needs,” Garvey wrote. [Washington Post]
Arlington to Help Train Vets in IT — Arlington County has accepted a $150,000 state grant that will help train military veterans for high-demand Information Technology (IT) jobs. The grant will go to a joint Arlington/Alexandria job training program, which is expected to serve more than 50 veterans over an 18-month period. [Arlington County]
Now that a prototype has been built, and now that Arlington will be replacing WMATA as the project manager, the Columbia Pike Super Stop project should proceed in a much quicker, smoother and more cost-efficient manner, county officials said Tuesday.
The project will ultimately construct a network of 24 enhanced “Super Stop” bus stops along Columbia Pike, featuring real-time bus arrival screens, lighting, heating and a modern design. Arlington County officials briefed the County Board on the status of the project at its meeting yesterday (Tuesday) afternoon, following a minor public outcry about the over $1 million construction cost of the first stop.
(The county funded just over $200,000 of the construction budget, with the rest coming from state and federal sources.)
“This is perhaps the first of its type in the Commonwealth,” Arlington County Director of Transportation Dennis Leach said of the newly-completed Super Stop, at the corner of Columbia Pike and S. Walter Reed Drive. “In any new endeavor, you end up paying more in soft costs for the prototype. When you actually get the efficiency is… when you refine it and go out replicate the facilities.”
“This was a project that was a partnership between Arlington and WMATA,” he said. “Moving forward we are going to make a shift where these are going to be Arlington-managed construction projects. We hope to dramatically reduce the construction time, and we have already fine tuned the design… to make it easier to construct in the future.”
County Board member Chris Zimmerman said WMATA’s ability to run construction projects has been reduced over the past few years.
“Its capacity having been greatly diminished undoubtedly affected their ability to deal with a small project like this one,” he said.
Zimmerman said he believes the project is on track. Crews are expected to begin work this spring on a “Barton West” Super Stop near Penrose Square, followed by work on new stops at Columbus and Dinwiddie Streets later this summer.
“I’m a lot more confident going forward that we’ll be able to deliver these things on a reasonable basis in terms of time, budget and schedule,” he said.
Libby Garvey, a critic of the proposed Columbia Pike streetcar system (which will utilize the new stops, when built), asked a few tough questions about the project. She said she was still awaiting a breakdown of the costs of the project, and was skeptical that the open-air design would serve riders in bad weather.
“I did see the stop and it’s pretty, but I was struck by the fact that if it’s pouring rain i’m going to get wet, and if it’s cold the wind is going to be blowing on me,” she said. “It doesn’t seem to be much of a shelter.”
Zimmerman suggested there might be room for refining the design to provide more shelter in the rain, but said he was otherwise pleased with the distinctive design — which, he reminded the room, was chosen during a public process, with extensive input from residents.
“I personally think they’re extremely attractive,” he said. “Part of making people confident and comfortable using transit is creating places that they feel like they want to be, even in the dark.”
School Enrollment Surging — Enrollment in Arlington Public Schools is now projected to increase from 22,657 pre-K to 12th grade students today to 30,777 students by the 2023-24 school year. The projections suggest that enrollment will near 27,000 by the 2017-18 school year, breaking the previous record for APS enrollment. [Sun Gazette]
Ukrainian Mayor Presents Library With Sculpture — Viktor Anushkevychus, the mayor of Ivano-Frankivsk, Arlington’s sister city in Ukraine, presented Arlington Central Library with a metal sculpture of a tree yesterday. [Arlington Public Library]
Libby Garvey Looking for New Assistant — Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey is seeking a new aide in the County Board office, after her previous aide left for a new position in the county. “If you know of anyone who might be interested in the position, please encourage them to check out the announcement and apply,” she said in a recent email to supporters. The full-time job pays between $39,062 and $63,523, plus benefits. [Arlington County]
Model Bootcamp Coming to Pentagon City — A “bootcamp” for wanna-be models is coming to the Pentagon City mall on Saturday. From 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 pm, the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City will host a promotional event for “The Face,” a new modeling competition show on the Oxygen network. Participants will be put through a “casting session” that will include a short photo shoot; in the end, they’ll be emailed an animated GIF of photos from the shoot. [Oxygen]
Noted American statesman Ben Franklin stopped by to give a short speech before County Board member Libby Garvey’s swearing-in ceremony on Friday evening.
Garvey, who was elected to her first full term on the Board in November, invited Franklin to the ceremony. Franklin, played by Arlington resident Barry Stevens, was modest about his presence at the event but spoke in grand terms about the ceremony itself.
“It is my great pleasure to be here this afternoon,” he said. “Actually, at my age, it’s a great pleasure to be anywhere.”
“Today we recognize a commitment by a local citizen to serve in our government [and] celebrate the voice of an electorate in bringing this citizen into public office,” Franklin continued. “And so today we consummate our republic and our democratic process.”
Garvey spoke after Franklin and noted that she and President Barack Obama, who also was re-elected in November, could never have been elected in Franklin’s time, since women and African Americans were not allowed to vote or run for public office in the U.S.
“We as a nation have come very, very far in a few hundred years,” she said.