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Status of the Streetcar

November 30, 2010
This piece was contributed by Juliet Hiznay and was orginally composed as an update for the Arlington Heights neighborhood. Community meetings regarding the selection of the "Modified  Streetcar" option held in 2006 took place in numerous other neighborhoods along the Pike.
On November 15, I attended a public meeting about the status of the streetcar project. Two public meetings were held that week:  one in Bailey's and one at Walter Reed Community Center.  There has been quite a bit of information floating about and I thought I would provide a synopsis for those who were unable to attend either meeting.  If the public process does not interest you, simply scroll down to learn more specifics about the streetcar project, as it is envisioned.  They are numbered below.

Arlington County is working jointly with Fairfax County, and Alexandria is also interested in pursuing streetcar service.  Washington D.C. already has a comprehensive plan for light rail, and has already begun construction. The idea is that eventually there would be an entire network of streetcars that would provide enhanced transit service that is not currently provided by Metrorail.  Both jurisdictions went through a selection process and selected the "modified streetcar" option as the "locally preferred alternative" (this option includes supplemental bus service, particularly for lines that serve areas not served by the streetcar).  It has been a long time since the initial public outreach occurred, but some of you may recall a meeting was held by Arlington Heights Civic Association in 2006, where a vote in favor was taken.

Arlington and Fairfax are jointly applying for federal funds to finance the project.  Arlington has already funded the design and management work that is currently under way (federal grant application process and community outreach).  As part of the grant application process, an analysis of environmental impact is being undertaken which includes an analysis of bus versus streetcar alternatives.  This in no way means that the county is still considering a bus only option -- that decision at the local level has already been made -- it simply means that the federal government requires that a comparative study be done.  By way of background, you may recall that a local funding source, which was a commercial tax that had been authorized by the Virginia General Assembly, became unavailable when the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the tax structure was unconstitutional.  This is why there has been a delay in the process as new financial alternatives have been considered.  Regarding the cost of the streetcar, here are some links to additional information, but the most recent estimate is $160-175 million (please note that this number is slightly more than what Arlington voters have approved in bond funding to rebuild each of Arlington's three high schools):
Regarding the physical and operational aspects of the streetcar:

1. The power source is expected to be a single overhead wire (one for each direction) which can be supported by decorative poles attached to streetlights. The County considered other technologies but did not pursue them, for practical reasons.  For example, batteries cannot store enough power yet to be reliable on this system.

2. The route of the project for which financing is being sought runs from the Pentagon City Metro down Columbia Pike to Jefferson Street at the Fairfax line, up Jefferson Street to Route 7, and hopefully to NOVA's Alexandria campus. (graphics are available on the Pike Transit Initiative site, link below)

3. There are 2 locations being considered for the maintenance facility:  at NOVA or at Long Bridge Park (aka North Tract -- next to the old Clark Street Playhouse in Crystal City).

4.  The streetcar will be fully accessible to those with limited mobility since the entry will be almost at grade (almost flush with the sidewalk).

5.  Passengers will be able to board through multiple doors, which speeds up the boarding process.

6. Passengers will swipe a pass when they get on the streetcar, and enforcement will be carried out through random checks, presumably with hefty fines for those who try to avoid paying.  Some call this the "honor system."

7. Open views into and out of the streetcar will enhance security, as well as the riding experience.

8.  The streetcars will have almost as many seats as current buses, but will offer a much smoother ride and will fit many more passengers standing, reducing the number of drivers needed per passenger.

9.  Streetcars can be linked together.

10. Streetcar service will run all day.  Some feedback at the meeting included a desire to match the Metrorail schedule.

Another streetcar route under consideration by Alexandria (but not part of this application process) would connect the new Mark Center at Seminary Road.  Arlington is also looking at a route that would link Crystal City to Potomac Yard.  Long term, additional planning could potentially link routes into Washington DC.

More information is available at:

There will be more public meetings, so there will be additional opportunities to comment on this project.  You can also submit public comments on the Columbia Pike Transit website (above). I hope this answers some of the questions you may have about the status of the streetcar project.

I hope you all had a fabulous holiday!

Juliet Hiznay
Arlington Heights

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