Monday, July 14, 2014

Virginia funds back Columbia Pike streetcar

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Virginia has committed to funding up to half the cost of the contentious Columbia Pike streetcar project, designed to traverse the namesake avenue in Arlington and Fairfax counties, suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne announced the move in a letter dated Thursday, July 10, 2014, and addressed to the two counties. Local media reported the $65 million in dedicated streetcar funding was more than the counties had anticipated.

The move also is significant because it signals a willingness by various governmental agencies to consider an alternative to the time-consuming process of securing federal funds, through either the New Starts or Small Starts programs offered by the Federal Transit Administration. Project supporters had contemplated seeking $75 million in federal funding for the five-mile line, estimated to cost $250 million.

In the case of the Columbia Pike project, such a process offered an opportunity for anti-rail partisans to attack the project in hopes of delaying and, eventually, killing the plan on both fiscal and political levels.

Arlington County will receive $52 million of the new grant, while Fairfax County will garner $13 million.

Arlington County officials believe the state funding boost could advance construction scheduled significantly, and save considerable costs of construction as well.

Last May Arlington and Fairfax counties awarded a $7 million contract to Parsons Transportation Group to manage the streetcar program for the first year, with options for renewal on an annual basis.