In order to seek federal funding from the Federal Transit Administration for a transit project, Arlington needs to conduct an “alternatives analysis” as part of the process. But under the law governing federal funds, the federal government is required to analyze and consider the alternatives analysis for the project to ensure that sufficient effort has been made to perform a true exploration of alternatives analysis. If the County
can’t convince the FTA that the ongoing process meets this standard, the Board’s planned Columbia Pike streetcar could be denied federal funds.
Take a look at the facts. In 2006, the Arlington County Board formally endorsed a
streetcar for Columbia Pike. Since that time, the board members have time and again re-affirmed that they support a trolley for Columbia Pike (other than newcomer Libby Garvey). The website of the Columbia Pike Transit Initiative – the entity doing the alternatives analysis – served for the last few years as an advocacy platform for the streetcar (and no other alternative). County Staff has recently published a newsletter (and delivered to every Arlington household) with a “news item” that was another advocacy item for the streetcar (with no discussion of the alternatives under consideration in the AA). And Board Member Mary Hynes, just last month, once again discussed her support for the streetcar in a published Opinion piece, without mentioning any of the alternatives that are supposedly under active consideration. (Note that the Citizen and Ms. Hynes even use nearly identical talking points.) Taken together, this activity may give the appearance that Arlington County is not engaging in a true analysis of the alternatives, but rather is undergoing an illegitimate process designed to hide the County government’s firm commitment to a streetcar, regardless of the transit corridor’s needs and the available alternatives.
If the ongoing analysis does not meet the legal requirements to make the project eligible for federal funding, and the Board submits the streetcar plan for federal funds, it will be rejected. A rejection such as this would unfortunately push back the timeline for high-capacity transit on the Pike. If the alternatives analysis gets past the FTA, the all-but-certain litigation over the highly controversial trolley may hinge on whether the County truly explored alternatives. At this point, that seems like a tough row to hoe.