In a serious blow to the plans of the County Board, Arlington County acknowledged in a Friday afternoon press release that the cost projections on the Pike Streetcar have mushroomed by $100 million. The press release, carefully timed by the Board for a Friday with the hopes that citizens fail to see the black-eye press reports on the slow-news-day Saturday, suggests that Mr Zimmerman and Company remain committed to the project.
Specifically, in the release an undaunted Mr Zimmerman maintains that the streetcar is the “best” option for the Pike. Note this – 60 per cent increase in the cost estimate, and the Board Chairman sees no need to re-examine the Streetcar as the preferred choice.
This blog is strongly in favor of increasing public transit access and capacity on the Pike. But it needs to be done in a cost-effective manner that strengthens and preserves what is one of the most popular bus corridors in the region.
Yet the strengths of the current service are significant: frequent bus service to the Pentagon (one of the busiest bus transfer stations in the region) and to the jobs and retail at Pentagon City. Frequent, rush hour direct bus service to DC on the 16Y and 16F. Buses that originate in several different neighborhoods in Arlington, Falls Church and Fairfax that use the Pike to ferry commuters to Metrorail. Popular ART services (#41 and #42) taking Pikers to the heavily developed Orange Line corridor.
The problem – and it is a serious one that is likely to grow as the region adds jobs – is that at rush hour, the corridor can’t add any many more buses to the roadway. The solution, as proposed by the County Board, is to add a trolley car line that will replace one of the thirteen or so bus lines that currently use the Pike (the 16G). For 16G riders, there’s little doubt that this will lead to more comfortable, pleasant service from Columbia Heights West to Pentagon City. What’s less clear is how this change will impact ART bus riders, direct-to-DC bus users, and the (often poorer) riders who must transfer to buses at the Pentagon.
In addition to the hubristic Mr Zimmerman, Board Members Mr Tejada and Ms Hynes recently won re-election despite a total failure to explain their support for the trolley (of course, this was before this announcement). Yet regardless of the elections, the County Government (and especially Board candidates) owe a full and complete explanation of their support for the trolley – particularly when the county-funded Pike Transit Initiative suggests that articulated (“bendy”) buses are still on the table.
This Press Release should be the first step of a more transparent, open process – with a recognition by the Board that the new ballooning cost estimates may change the cost-benefit analysis. If not, the soft-on-the-Board press should press the candidates in the upcoming election to explain their support for this possible White Elephant.