At a forum last night, the candidates for Arlington County Board discussed ways to address the high amount of empty office space in Arlington while discussing how the county can be more attractive for businesses.
The eight candidates — six Democrats and two Independents — discussed transportation, commercial office vacancy and a diverse workforce during a candidate forum held by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and Rosslyn Business Improvement District.
The empty space largely comes from the shrinking footprint of the federal government, the candidates agreed.
Arlington has to realize that it cannot rely on the federal government as an employer like it once could, Democrat Bruce Wiljanen said. He suggested that the next major business sector may be high technology companies.
“I’m really encouraged by things happening in Crystal City right now,” Wiljanen said.
To fill the empty space, Arlington needs to do more to encourage businesses to move and stay here, the candidates said. It needs to be easier to open a business in Arlington, Democrats Andrew Schneider and Christian Dorsey said.
“I had a small business owner that said after a year of starting his business that he didn’t have to start — both he and his wife work full-time jobs downtown — that he would have started his business in Falls Church,” Schneider said.
Arlington needs to look at its regulatory processes and weed out what is unnecessary and harmful, Dorsey said. Having a business ombudsman is good — the county recently created the position — but it’s just the first step.
“These are the things, little as they may seem, that give a community the character of a place where business is welcome and it is a good place to do business,” said Dorsey.
Arlington also needs to foster a diverse workforce, candidates said.
Arlington needs to be attractive to both millennials and older workers, Democrat Katie Cristol said. This can be done through affordable housing, she said. Cristol, the youngest candidate in the race, lists affordable housing as one of her top issues.
A commitment to affordable housing is needed, Democrat Peter Fallon said. Arlington has a highly skilled workforce, but in order to keep it, there needs to be housing for Arlington’s employees.
With a more diverse workforce comes a need for more diverse businesses. One area Dorsey listed was through grocery stores. If neighborhoods are more diverse there is a need for standard grocery stores like Giant or Safeway but also for ethnic grocery stores, he said.
James Lander also encouraged a focus on millennials in the new workforce. Lander, a Democrat who is the chair of the Arlington School Board, emphasized the need to focus on invest in community amenities, specifically schools. He also said the county should invest more resources into helping small businesses.
“We can’t turn our back on investment,” Lander said.
The candidates agreed that transportation is one of Arlington’s best features, but also one that has area to improve.
“We have great people and we move them well,” Cristol said.
The Metro has allowed Arlington to be easily accessible and allowed it to be attractive for businesses. Many of the candidates argued that it is necessary for the County Board to get its seat back on the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority Board. With a seat on the board, County Board members could advocate for more investment in Metro infrastructure.
Congestion on Columbia Pike also needs to be addressed, candidates said. The candidates had different views about the need for the streetcar system that was canceled last year, but all agreed it was time to move forward.
“We need to wake up from our post streetcar hangover,” Dorsey said.
Fallon echoed Dorsey in saying that the County Board needs to start planning now for new transit options on Columbia Pike. Such plans need to be reasonable in scope, without requiring too much infrastructure, he said.
Cristol suggested enhanced bus service on Columbia Pike. The buses need to be able to move more fluidly, which could be accomplished with off vehicle payment system and/or doors at both ends, she said.
Wiljanen suggested that a mobile app for the bus may improve service. A real-time location app would help residents know when a bus was coming and, possibly, how many seats were on the bus.
(Updated at 3:10 p.m.) More than five months after the Arlington County Board canceled the Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcar, the county is still a year away from any alternative plan.
“Transportation is complex,” County Manager Barbara Donnellan told the Board yesterday in an update on the area’s transit plans. “We really need to move forward in a deliberative way. We want a transit alternative very fast, but we’re going to make sure that the community is involved in whatever we do in terms of coming up with an alternative.”
Arlington Transportation Director Dennis Leach said the post-streetcar plan for Columbia Pike and Crystal City will likely mean more buses — buses that may be larger and fancier than those currently serving the corridors. While the county did previously study alternatives to streetcar, Leach said those plans need to be updated.
The future of transit in the area will be determined by the results of the county’s upcoming Transit Development Plan, to be completed by spring 2016. The TDP will be submitted to the state to make the county’s transit projects eligible for funding.
Top on the list of priorities, Leach told the Board, is building a facility for maintenance and storage for whatever buses the county decides to run on along the Pike.
“The facility issue is a really critical issue for Arlington, both for our existing ART service and for expanded service,” Leach said. The under-construction ART bus facility on S. Eads Street “does not quite meet the storage need for our fleet that we anticipate having this year. For Northern Virginia, we have some really serious facility challenges. These facilities are really hard to site.”
The county is already planning on expanding ART bus service — it’s cheaper than the equivalent Metrobus service — and Donnellan has asked the Board for funding to increase service for the ART 41, 42, 43 and 45 lines by this summer.
The county continues to progress on its major Columbia Pike multimodal improvements project, the Columbia Pike transit station project and projects in Crystal City and Pentagon City, but a unified, enhanced transit plan is not coming until next year. In all, county staff says it will spend $200 million in the next on transit improvements to the Columbia Pike and Crystal City corridors over the next six years.
The TDP will encompass countywide transit projects, but Leach said staff’s focus will be on the Pike and Crystal City.
Some County Board members used Leach’s update on post-streetcar planning to rehash old arguments made by both sides before the streetcar’s demise.
“People were told there would be another option that can be built faster and at a fraction of the cost, and it would be bus rapid transit,” Board member Walter Tejada said to Leach, referencing streetcar opponents, specifically John Vihstadt and Libby Garvey. “I’m not hearing you say that those are being considered as alternatives right now.”
Vihstadt responded by asking Donnellan if any developments had been cancelled or scaled back after the streetcar cancellation, to which Donnellan responded it was too early to tell –“I have not gotten any indication” that development was slowing, she said.
Fisette and Tejada went back and forth asking Leach to explain the federal definition of Bus Rapid Transit. According to the Federal Transit Administration, BRT is defined as 50 percent or more of a line using a dedicated lane during peak traffic periods. Columbia Pike is not feasible for a dedicated lane, but, theoretically, a combined Pike-Pentagon City-Crystal City-Potomac Yard line, using dedicated lanes in Crystal City, could meet the definition of BRT.
“I’m all about providing factual information to the community, not incorrect information that could unintentionally mislead,” Tejada said.
Board Chair Mary Hynes and member Jay Fisette — the two members who changed their votes to join Garvey and Vihstadt in cancelling the streetcar last year — admonished both sides for hijacking the discussion.
“The last 45 minutes has been disappointing,” Fisette said. “I don’t like seeing us devolve into last year’s competing facts. It’s certainly not appealing. It’s best that we, jointly, keep our eyes moving forward.”
Garvey, meanwhile, said she wanted to see the transit planning proceed expeditiously.
“Now we have to do a whole countywide process before we can look at the Pike again, and I think that’s not the intention,” she said. “I understand it all has to go together, it’s a good thing… The more I can hear a sense of urgency about moving forward the happier I will be and I think the happier our citizens will be.”
Leach responded that county staff has a leg up in the planning process due to the “body of work” already in place. He said a contract is in place for the design of new transit stops — the cheaper successor to the infamous $1 million Columbia Pike “Super Stop” — but construction isn’t likely until “early 2016.”
Hynes said the study, which will join the community facilities study and Long Bridge Park aquatics center study, also announced yesterday, is important to keep the community reminded of the Board’s effort.
“I don’t want anyone listening today thinking that we are abandoning Columbia Pike,” she said, citing the multimodal improvements and transit station projects and examples. “We need the community to understand that our commitment to those things is deep, is strong, is ongoing and it’s funded.”
Happy St. Patrick’s Day — Looking for a place to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day today? Take a look at the list of Arlington Irish bars we compiled last month. [ARLnow]
Ted Cruz in Arlington Tonight — Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R) is scheduled to make an appearance tonight at an event at Sobe Bar and Bistro in Clarendon. The event is being hosted by former Va. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, former lieutenant governor candidate Pete Snyder and the Alexandria-based Disruptor Fund. [Facebook]
NYT On Arlington’s Streetcar Cancellation — The New York Times interviewed Arlington County Board members Jay Fisette and John Vihstadt for an article today entitled “Streetcar Revival Is Wavering in Some Cities.” In addition to Arlington’s streetcar cancellation, the article examines D.C.’s troubles in getting its streetcar line operational. [New York Times]
WeWork Revises Crystal City Plan — The coworking office company WeWork, which has been planning to open microunit apartments in an older Crystal City office building, as part of its new WeLive brand, has revised its plan. WeWork and building owner Vornado are now seeking county permission to build two floors of offices in the building. [Washington Business Journal]
Concept for Abingdon Elementary Revealed — Arlington Public Schools staff have presented plans for a 27,000 square foot expansion of Abingdon Elementary School in Fairlington. The project is expected to cost $29 million and be complete in time for the 2017-2018 school year. [InsideNova]
Scammers Threatening to Kill Wives, Kids of Doctors — Scammers are calling Arlington doctors and pretending to hold one of the doctor’s family members hostage. The scam usually includes a woman screaming on the other end, pretending to be the doctor’s wife or daughter, and the supposed hostage taker making threats to kill her. So far this week at least two Arlington doctors have received the call. [MyFoxDC]
Hit-and-Run Driver May Have Been Intoxicated — Police are investigating whether the woman who ran over a man in a Columbia Pike parking lot may have been drunk and/or on prescription medication at the time of the incident. [NBC Washington – WARNING: Auto-play video]
Arlington’s Bike Path Snow Removal — With its new policy of clearing bike trails and bike lanes of snow, Arlington County is now “becoming a national leader in snow clearing,” said one county official. [Washington Post]
Dems to Hold Primary — The Arlington County Democratic Committee last night voted to hold a primary for the upcoming County Board race. The primary will be held June 9, and the first day for candidate filing is March 9. A School Board caucus, meanwhile, will be held May 14 and 16.
D.C. Streetcar System in Jeopardy — The D.C. Council is considering scaling back or ending the city’s streetcar program. The long-delayed, problem-plagued H Street NE line still does not have an opening date scheduled. [NBC Washington -WARNING: Auto-play video]
Flickr pool photo by Chris
Arlington Named No. 3 Best Place to Live — Arlington has been named the No. 3 “best small to mid-sized city” to live in the U.S. The county scored high marks for civic engagement, education, amenities and diversity. Topping the list were Madison, Wis. and Rochester, Minn. [Livability.com]
County Still Winding Down Streetcar Project — Arlington County still is on the hook for about $60,000 worth of contract work associated with the canceled streetcar project. Most of the county staff members working on the project have been transferred to other departments, County Manager Barbara Donnellan said in an update to the County Board regarding the project wind down. [InsideNova]
Fmr. Rep. Moran to Lobby — Recently retired congressman Jim Moran has been hired by the Washington law firm McDermott Will & Emery. Moran plans to join the firm’s lobbying practice, lobbying primarily for defense contractors. [Washington Post]
Development Tracking Report — Arlington County has released its quarterly development tracking report for the fourth quarter of 2014. Notably, no new office construction was approved or started during the time period, although 761 new residential units were started and another 73 were approved. [Arlington County]
Drone Company Disables Flight in Arlington — Following a recreational drone’s crash landing at the White House, drone manufacturer DJI has pushed out a firmware update for its robotic vehicles that prohibits flight within a 15.5 mile radius of downtown D.C. [Engadget]
Making Business Easier in Arlington — Arlington County is taking some small steps toward making it easier to do business in the county. Arlington recently introduced online business license registration and a streamlined process for paying building permit fees. [Arlington County]
Flickr pool photo by Brian Allen
It was a momentous year for Arlington, as demonstrated by the second of our three “Top Stories of 2014” posts.
Perhaps the biggest Arlington story of the year, in terms of local policy significance, came in at No. 6 on our list (which ranks the most-read articles of 2014). The year’s only homicide in Arlington County also made this list.
Here are articles Nos. 6-10 on our countdown. (See Nos. 11-20 here.)
10. Eventide Restaurant Closes in Clarendon (16,098 views) — Whenever a restaurant opens or closes in Arlington, it’s almost always a big story for us in terms of readership. Restaurants help to give neighborhoods character, serve as a gathering place and are a tangible part of the community. Losing a well-known and well-liked restaurant like Eventide hits home for many people. While this article had more readers, a follow-up article announcing Don Tito, Eventide’s successor, received more comments.
9. Westover Deaths the Result of a Murder-Suicide, Police Say (19,553 views) — The sad story of 31-year-old Kristy Flowers, a Westover resident with a promising future, pulled on the heartstrings of many readers earlier this month. Police say Flowers was murdered by her live-in boyfriend, Ray Savoy, Jr., who then turned the gun on himself. They were a seemingly happy couple in photos posted to Facebook just weeks before the shooting, making the shooting ever more senseless.
8. Police Investigating Possible Homicide in Westover (20,191 views) — ARLnow.com was the first to report on the tragic crime that was also the focus of our No. 9 story. It originally came in on the scanner as two people found dead in an apartment. While it wasn’t reported as a homicide over the air, we immediately sent a reporter to the scene. We waited for a source to confirm our suspicions before we published our report that police were investigating a possible murder-suicide.
7. Stabbing at Ballston Metro Station (20,508 views) — Any time you have a large number of police and fire department vehicles rush to a Metro station, it’s going to get a lot of attention. We reported on this brutal stabbing after receiving numerous tips from readers. A witness report that was retweeted by @unsuckdcmetro also caught our attention: “Someone was just stabbed on inbound platform at Ballston. Blood all over the platform.” We were able to get some initial information from Metro, then update the article with more details the next day.
6. Streetcar Project Canceled (23,411 views) — To say that this news was a surprise is an understatement. After many years of planning and a couple years of pitched controversy and political infighting, Arlington’s ambitious half-billion-dollar streetcar project was nixed with one somber press conference and a quick vote.
We were told that morning (Nov. 18) that a “significant” announcement regarding the streetcar would be coming at noon. But even Arlington insiders were caught off-guard at the sudden reversal. ARLnow.com editor Scott Brodbeck and Sun Gazette editor Scott McCaffrey took bets on what the announcement would be — and both were wrong. The one person who saw this coming was local Democratic political strategist and blogger Ben Tribbett, who told ARLnow.com that “the streetcar is dead” just hours after the historic re-election of County Board member John Vihstadt.
Arlington TV, the county-run television channel, has released its annual year in review video.
This year’s video is titled “Prosperity Through Change.” It includes highlights such as the election of County Board member John Vihstadt, the launch of TandemNSI, the completion of the new Courthouse Road/Route 50 interchange, the opening of 400 new affordable housing units, the approval of major school renovations and the redesign of the county website, among other 2014 milestones.
“Through all this growth and change, we’ve maintained the very best characteristics of a small town,” County Board Chair Jay Fisette says in the video. “Our community is strong, diverse, caring and incredibly civic-minded. Together we will build a promising future for the generations of Arlingtonians who will follow us, and we will remain the place that other communities look to for inspiration.”
Fisette also talks about the surprise cancellation of the county’s streetcar project.
“It was the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make,” Fisette says. “It was a realization that the support that had existed when these plans were developed was no longer there, to the point where it was immobilizing and distracting our community.”
Tejada Rips Streetcar Decision — Arlington County Board member Walter Tejada made a forceful seven-and-a-half minute speech at Saturday’s Board meeting, ripping into the decision to cancel the county’s streetcar project. Tejada said the county government “has failed” and wasted the time of those involved in the streetcar’s 15-year planning process. Tejada was joined by two members of the public who spoke out against the decision. [Blue Virginia, Washington Post]
Wilson School Supporters Speak Out — Supporters of the Wilson School in Rosslyn are making what might be a last push to save the 104-year-old building — which they claim is historic — from potential demolition. Stan Karson, president of the nearby Radnor/Fort Myer Heights Civic Association, told the School Board week that “if you tear down Wilson School, you are saying to Arlington students history is important only in the classroom, not in the board room.” Meanwhile, Karson wrote in a newspaper letter to the editor that “the concerned community has been silenced.” [InsideNova, Washington Post]
Abby Raphael Won’t Seek Reelection — School Board member Abby Raphael says she will not seek reelection in 2015 and has no plans to run for County Board. Raphael is on her second term on the School Board. Some believe she may have her sights set on a state-level office. [InsideNova]
Moran Laments ‘Demagoguing’ Left — Retiring Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) says the left wing of the Democratic party is starting to pick up some traits of the Republican party’s Tea Party wing. Moran said liberal Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was “demagoguing” the issue of financial reform by opposing a compromise spending bill — a bill that avoided a government shutdown but contained some changes to the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law. [Blue Virginia]
Board Approves Bond Refinancing — Arlington County will save $147,000 a year over the next 16 years thanks to a refinancing of three wastewater and water system bonds. The County Board unanimously approved the refinancing on Saturday. [Arlington County]
Photo courtesy Dave Prentice
New Details About 2012 Murder — New details have been revealed about the 2012 murder of Old Glebe resident Mack Wood, Sr. Three men, including Wood’s son, have been convicted of the murder. Mack Wood, Jr., who’s now serving life in prison, reportedly hired two men to kill his 87-year-old, terminally ill father to get an inheritance from his multimillion dollar estate. [Washington Post]
Crystal City Transitway Construction Continues — Construction on the new Crystal City transitway is proceeding as planned. The transitway was expected to eventually serve a Crystal City streetcar line. Now that the streetcar project has been cancelled, it will only serve buses. [Greater Greater Washington]
Arlingtonians Satisfied With Their Commute — Arlington residents are more satisfied with their commute to work than those who live in the outer suburbs, according to recently-released survey results. Some 72 percent of Arlington residents said in a survey that they’re satisfied with their commute. The average Arlington resident’s commute is 28 minutes. [InsideNova]
Dems in Disarray Since Streetcar Decision? — Democratic political blog Blue Virginia says that the Arlington County Board’s decision to cancel the Arlington streetcar project has harmed both the county and the Arlington County Democratic Committee. The committee could be spiraling toward “dysfunction and division,” the blog suggests. Meanwhile, there are rumblings that County Board member Mary Hynes may not run for reelection next year, and that Walter Tejada may face a primary challenge. [Blue Virginia, InsideNova]
Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf
Bond Chairs: Listen to Concerns — The co-chairs of the 2014 school bond committee warned Arlington School Board members that they should not take continued voter support for granted, despite the approval of a $105.8 million school bond earlier this month. The co-chairs told the Board that they should listen to voter concerns, including concerns about the cost of new school facilities. [InsideNova]
Post Tries ‘Divide’ Storyline Again — The Washington Post has published another article blaming a class and a racial divide between north and south Arlington on the cancellation of the Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcar system. A letter to the editor writer, in response, asks if the divide is worth the ink. “Where is the problem… is anyone’s goal to make South Arlington as expensive as North Arlington so that only rich people can live there?” [Washington Post]
New eBooks at Library — You can now download “Catch 22” and “Team of Rivals” from the library. Arlington Public Library has added eBooks from publisher Simon & Schuster to its downloadable books collection. [Arlington Public Library]
Thanksgiving Eve Party in Clarendon — Clarendon Ballroom is hosting “Arlington’s biggest Thanksgiving Eve party” Wednesday night, starting at 8:00 p.m. The event will feature multiple DJs and “plenty of booze and fun to get you through a weekend with the family.” [Clarendon Nights]
Flick pool photo by Joseph Gruber
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.
Board to Consider ‘Technology Zone’ Expansion — The Arlington County Board on Tuesday approved a motion to advertise changes to its program of giving tax breaks to small technology firms. Possible changes include expanding the “technology zones” in which businesses are eligible for the program to instead cover the entire county. The Board will vote on the changes in December. [Arlington County]
Werth Gnome Made of Cans at DCA — A huge Jayson Werth garden gnome sculpture made of cans is one such can creation on display at Reagan National Airport. Made for the annual “Canstruction” competition, which runs through Nov. 22, the sculptures will benefit the Arlington Food Assistance Center. [DCist]
Students Place First in Video Contest — Six Arlington Public Schools students have placed first in a state-wide video contest. They created a 30-second video for the annual Virginia School Boards Association competition. [Arlington Public Schools]
Shooting Suspect Arrested in Arlington — One of the two suspects in the shooting of two teenagers in Woodbridge was arrested Tuesday by Arlington County Police, following a traffic stop on N. George Mason Drive. [WNEW]
Columnist: Streetcar’s Death Will Widen Class Divisions — Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney opines that the decision to kill the Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcar system will “probably deepen” class and racial divisions in Arlington. “In effect, Arlington just told its least prosperous residents: ‘You want streetcars to upgrade your neighborhoods? Too expensive. Keep riding the bus.'” McCartney writes. [Washington Post]
After years of planning, community meetings and debate, Arlington’s planned Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcar system was scuttled yesterday following a somber press conference and brief vote.
County Board Chair and streetcar supporter Jay Fisette said the voters had spoken in their election of streetcar opponent John Vihstadt, and “political realities” meant that the streetcar project must be derailed.
Do you agree with the decision?
Update at 3:55 p.m. — The County Board voted 4-1 in favor of Fisette’s motion to stop the streetcar project. The dissenting vote was Walter Tejada, who said the streetcar would have reduced congestion and helped the Columbia Pike’s revitalization. “Turning away from a modern streetcar system is a dramatic step backwards,” Tejada said. “Arlington’s credibility in the region will now be adversely affected.”
“I have come to the conclusion that the only way to move forward together … is to discontinue the streetcar project,” Fisette said solemnly, before a large crowd of reporters. “After close consultation with [County Board members Mary] Hynes and [Walter] Tejada, with our partners in Fairfax and Richmond and with members of the community, Ms. Hynes and I have agreed that all spending on streetcar must end.”
Fisette will make it official with a motion at this afternoon’s County Board meeting. Tejada is said to oppose canceling the project and may vote against Fisette’s motion.
The streetcar project was to be funded by commercial transportation revenue, along with funding from the state and Fairfax County, which was to benefit from the Pike streetcar running to the Skyline area.
Fisette said the county will instead explore options for improving bus service on Columbia Pike. The transitway between Crystal City and Alexandria will continue to operate and be developed, but will be served only by buses. Existing streetcar contracts — like the $26 million engineering contract awarded in September — will be “wound down” as quickly as possible.
Fisette acknowledged that many business owners and residents along Columbia Pike will be disappointed by the streetcar project’s cancellation.
“There are those who moved there or developed in anticipation of the streetcar,” Fisette said. “I will say that we are committed and remain committed to the Columbia Pike corridor. We will continue to work towards the realization of that vision [of high quality, mixed use development] in a modified form, and that is the commitment of this Board. We will enhance the bus system to the extent possible.”
Fisette said that he believes a streetcar still makes sense on Columbia Pike, as it would increase transit capacity and spur economic development, adding that he’s “proud” of his vote for it. The decision to kill the project was made after the election of streetcar opponent John Vihstadt on Nov. 4, which “sent a powerful message to the Board.”
“We cannot ignore the political realities… this was not a formal referendum, but I believe it serves as a proxy,” Fisette said. “Right now the level of discord is such that I haven’t seen for awhile. It keeps us from addressing other pressing needs in the community.”
Fisette said county staff and the county manager were “caught flat-footed” by organized opposition to the streetcar, which materialized in “the past year or so.” Efforts to communicate the streetcar’s benefits were ineffective, he said.
The cancellation is an improbable victory for Vihstadt and his anti-streetcar ally on the Board, Libby Garvey. Together, they have been pushing the county to cancel the streetcar project and instead work to implement enhanced bus service on Columbia Pike.
Garvey was in attendance at Fisette’s press conference (which can be viewed online) and said afterwards that Fisette’s announcement “was a complete surprise.” Hynes was at an event this morning and “gave a ringing endorsement” of the streetcar, Garvey said.
“I’m delighted,” Garvey said. When asked about the impact the decision will have on businesses and residents who moved to the area in anticipation of the streetcar, she said “people need to understand that we will get a bus rapid transit system going. It will do everything the streetcar could and more. They’re going to be just fine.”
The streetcar plan for Columbia Pike was developed over nearly a decade of community meetings and deliberations and approved in 2006. Its backers have consistently said that consensus was behind the streetcar and it’s what the community wanted, but Fisette conceded that the feeling around the county has changed.
“The D.C. streetcar was a gift for those of us who oppose the streetcar,” Garvey said.
Update at 12:40 p.m. — Fisette has announced that the streetcar project is being canceled.
Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette will make a “significant announcement” regarding the Arlington streetcar program today, according to a media alert from the county.
Fisette will hold a press conference at county government headquarters in Courthouse at noon, we’re told. There’s no word yet as to what will be announced.
The press conference will be broadcast on the county website and on Comcast channels 25 and 74 and Verizon FiOS channels 39 and 40.