Arlington County Board Advances Plans for Streetcar along Columbia Pike and Pentagon City

  • Improves access to regional transit, employment and retail centers
  • Provides affordable, high-capacity, high-quality transit option
  • Supports additional housing called for in Columbia Neighborhoods Area Plan
  • Lowers transportation costs – second highest household expense
  • Connects major business districts
  • Fosters walkable, livable communities

ARLINGTON, Va. – The Arlington County Board early today approved several measures to advance the development of a streetcar line along Columbia Pike, stretching from Pentagon City to the Skyline area of Fairfax County. The proposed 4.9-mile streetcar line will create a higher quality, higher capacity, affordable transit option to support future development, enhance access to the regional transit network and spur economic development along the Pike.

“Arlington is making a strategic investment in streetcars as the next generation of efficient, reliable transit. In the RB and Crystal City corridors, we have seen how giving people transit options transforms communities,” said Arlington County Board Chair Mary Hynes.

“Our continued investments, in Metro, the ART local bus service, bikeshare, and walking and biking trails, have paid huge dividends to this community — ensuring that we and our neighbors can move around and through Arlington in multiple ways,” Hynes said. “We believe that the Columbia Pike streetcar line, integral to our vision of a more walkable, livable and accessible Columbia Pike and Pentagon City, will also benefit the entire Arlington community for decades to come.”

The Board voted to approved the streetcar build alternative as the locally preferred alternative, with four members voting in favor and one voting to abstain. In their action, the Board also accepted the Alternatives Analysis and the Environmental Analysis and authorized the County Manager to pursue federal grant funding for the design and construction of a streetcar on the Columbia Pike corridor.

Board members who voted in favor of the streetcar said they chose the streetcar as the best transit option to accomplish the goals of improving transit on the Pike, increasing the Pike's transit capacity, spurring high-quality, mixed use development and supporting the vision of revitalizing the Pike as a more walkable, bikeable, transit-oriented Main Street.

Affordability, access to jobs and services

As property values along Columbia Pike rise, Arlington is committed to preserving the area's affordable housing. The streetcar will help keep life along the Pike affordable by providing significantly enhanced car-free options that will maintain or lower household transportation costs. Corridor residents will be able to get to jobs and services via direct routes to Pentagon City, Bailey's Crossroads and links to Metrorail, and will enjoy a one-seat ride to countless County destinations.

The streetcar will offer those who already use transit higher quality, more frequent service at fares comparable to bus service. Residents who now drive but choose to switch to riding the streetcar will lower their transportation costs.

Shortly before their votes on the Columbia Pike streetcar, the Board adopted the Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Area Plan, a vision and plan for the Pike's residential neighborhoods that lays out strategies for preserving 100 percent of affordable housing along the Pike.

Partnership with Fairfax County

The Fairfax Board of Supervisors is expected to vote later this month on a transit option for Columbia Pike. If the Board of Supervisors endorses the streetcar alternative, Fairfax and Arlington Counties, partners in the Columbia Pike Transit Initiative, will work together to prepare and submit a federal New Starts/Small Starts application this fall.

If the project qualifies for the Small Starts program, the federal government could contribute up to $75 million in funding. The two Counties will jointly fund the remaining portion with assistance from the Commonwealth of Virginia. Fairfax and Arlington plan to jointly operate the Columbia Pike streetcar, which will connect two key job centers and significantly improve transit along one of Northern Virginia's most heavily traveled corridors.

Arlington also is planning a second streetcar line along Route 1, stretching from Crystal City to Potomac Yard, that will connect at Pentagon City with the Columbia Pike streetcar.

Columbia Pike's future

Modern streetcar lines are far less costly than subways or even light rail to build, and they pay big community dividends. Across the nation, communities are building modern streetcar lines because they provide cost-effective, reliable, high-frequency, high-quality transit, the sort of transit that supports mixed-use development and helps create more walkable, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods that allow car-free, or car-lite living

The streetcar is an essential component to the success of the Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Area Plan. With plans for an additional 14,000 net new housing units, the streetcar alternative provides the transit carrying capacity for those projected additional residents while also encouraging a change in travel behavior – converting car trips to transit and pedestrian trips for all corridor households.

Even today, there is a demand for greater transit capacity along Columbia Pike corridor. This route has the highest bus ridership in Virginia transporting 16,000 passengers daily. In the first year of operation, a streetcar will allow Arlington and neighboring jurisdictions to move 10,000 additional daily riders along the corridor.

Costs and financing

The County's preliminary estimate for the cost of the Columbia Pike streetcar is $250 million. The County anticipates that some $75 million — or 30 percent of that cost — will be paid for by the federal government, should the project qualify for the Small Starts program.

Another $35 million, or 14 percent of the total project cost, is expected to come from the state of Virginia. The local share of the project, $140 million, will be split between Arlington and Fairfax Counties. Arlington's share will be funded from an existing commercial tax that can only be used for investments in transportation capital projects. No General Obligation Bonds are included in the funding plan.

Detailed information about the costs and financing of the streetcar can be found on the County website. You can also read the County's press release on the Board's adoption for the FY2013-FY2022 Capital Improvement Program, which includes funding for the streetcar system.

Next steps

Engineering for the project will begin only after the Federal Transportation Administration decides on the County's application to the Smart Start program. For more information, read the staff report, number 48 on the Agenda for the July County Board Meeting.

Read the Locally Preferred Alternative Report.

Read the Alternative Analysis/Environmental Analysis.

Read Frequently Asked Questions about the Columbia Pike Transit Initiative.

Read the Supplemental Board Report, including the Revised Return on Investment Report.

Read the County's press release on the Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Area Plan.

Arlington Va., is a world-class residential, business and tourist location that was originally part of the “10 miles square” parcel of land surveyed in 1791 to be the Nation's Capital. Slightly smaller than 26 square miles, it is the geographically smallest self-governing county in the United States, and one of only a handful with the prized Aaa/AAA/AAA bond rating. Arlington maintains a rich variety of stable neighborhoods and quality schools, and has received numerous awards for Smart Growth and transit-oriented development. Home to some of the most influential organizations in the world — including the Pentagon — Arlington stands out as one of America's preeminent places to live, visit and do business.