Last week, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a Project Agreement between Fairfax and Arlington counties for the next phases of the Columbia Pike Streetcar. The Project Agreement is the next step in a long journey to bring new transit and revitalization to the Columbia Pike corridor, one of the oldest transportation routes in the region. The Project Agreement establishes the proportionate share of costs for additional planning, environmental, and conceptual design services, as well as completion of engineering services for the several miles of the proposed project. The vote was seven yeas, two nays, and one abstention.
The preferred transit alternative for the corridor was included in the region’s 2006 Constrained Long Range Plan (CLRP), an action approved by the regional Transportation Planning Board (TPB). In 2010, Fairfax County adopted a new Comprehensive Plan for the Bailey’s Crossroads area, which would be served by the new system. Finally, in 2012, the Board of Supervisors approved the streetcar as the Locally Preferred Alternative, an action required before federal funding can be obtained. Both Fairfax and Arlington Counties have been working closely to move the project forward.
The Project Agreement designates Arlington County as the lead partner and Project Sponsor, and designates Fairfax County as the participating partner. Cost sharing for the Project Agreement between the two entities is established at 80.4 percent for Arlington and 19.6 percent for Fairfax, which reflects the much longer route in Arlington. Fairfax County’s share is pegged at $195,830, funding which is available through the county’s Commercial and Industrial (C&I) Tax fund previously approved for the project in March 2011. Commercial and industrial properties pay an extra 12 cents per $100 valuation on their property tax bills, with the extra revenue allocated for transportation improvements throughout the county.
The proposed streetcar route runs from Pentagon City to Skyline, with stops along Columbia Pike before turning onto South Jefferson Street and into the Skyline area. The precise ending point at Skyline has yet to be determined. Vornado, which owns Skyline, is supportive of the project, and is involved in streetcar discussions about the terminus of the route. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA), though complimentary about the project, did not approve the project’s application for funding through the Small Starts program earlier this year because the estimated project cost was close to the $250 million limit for Small Starts projects. The project can re-apply for FY 2015 federal funding through the New Starts program, instead.
The current project is finite in its routing, but the opportunities for the future are enormous. Once the streetcar service comes to Skyline and proves its viability with the many residential, retail, and office customers who will ride it, the possibilities are endless: west on Columbia Pike into Annandale, out Leesburg Pike through the City of Falls Church and on to Tysons, and east on Seminary Road to the new BRAC building and the City of Alexandria are just a few of the ideas for future expansion. This region is growing, and the streetcar can grow right along with it.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.