Arlington County Manager Releases New Ridership and Cost Estimates for Columbia Pike and Crystal City Streetcar projects

Updated, 05-13-2014, 5:50 p.m.: Added a link to the slide presentation.

  • Far more streetcar than bus trips projected for two corridors
  • Increased project costs tied to federal recommendations
  • Projects funded by dedicated transportation revenues
  • Streetcar investment projected to generate $455-895 million in new tax revenues for Arlington and Fairfax

ARLINGTON, Va. – By 2035, transit ridership along the Columbia Pike and the Crystal City-Pentagon City corridors is expected to more than double, according to updated ridership forecasts released today by Arlington County. 59,800 daily transit trips are projected for the two key corridors. Of those trips, far more will be on streetcar than on bus.

“The projections of a substantial increase in population, jobs and transit ridership in these vital corridors – and of more people choosing streetcar over bus — underscores the need to add streetcars to our transit mix,” County Manager Barbara Donnellan said. “Columbia Pike already is the busiest bus corridor in Virginia – and it is going to get much busier as more people live and work there. Investing in streetcars now will ensure that we have the transit capacity we need to manage growth in a sustainable way and to ensure that our neighborhoods and businesses continue to thrive.”

Daily bus trips in 2010 along the two corridors totaled 24,700. By 2035, total daily transit trips along the two corridors are projected to reach 59,800. Of those, 37,100 are projected to be on streetcar, and 22,700 on bus. Bus ridership is expected to decline or hold steady, compared to 2010 totals, as transit users – and some who now drive alone rather than use transit – are attracted to a modern streetcar systems' higher level of service and amenities.

“The partnership between Fairfax and Arlington Counties to invest in streetcar serving Columbia Pike will pay dividends for both current and new residents and businesses along the corridor. “Already we are seeing renewed interest in redevelopment, which will benefit both counties,” said Fairfax County Board member Penny Gross.

As part of her 10-year Proposed Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) for 2015-2024, Donnellan also released new streetcar cost projections. >>View the slide presentation (PDF).

Population and employment growing in corridors
The new ridership projections reflect updated County and regional plans that show 65 percent of Arlington's population growth and 44 percent of its employment growth will be along Columbia Pike and Route 1 over the next 30 years. Only by combining streetcar and bus along these two corridors, Donnellan said, can the County create enough transit capacity to accommodate increased growth. A streetcar vehicle can hold 100 percent more passengers than a bus and 40 percent more than an articulated bus.

Revised project costs
The Proposed 2015-2024 CIP project capital costs of $358 million for the Columbia Pike streetcar incorporates the 2013 Federal Transit Administration's (FTA) mid-range estimate of $310 million, plus inflation. The new cost estimate is a $109 million increase from the 2013 CIP estimate for the Columbia Pike Streetcar. Of the new estimate, Arlington's share is projected at $287 million – up from $199 million in the 2013 CIP. Funding from Arlington's partner in the project, Fairfax County, is proposed at $71 million.

The Crystal City streetcar estimated capital cost is now $227 million, up from $146 million in the 2013 CIP. Both project schedules have been extended to reflect more conservative timeframes for engineering, procurements and FTA approvals. The Crystal City streetcar is planned to start service in spring 2020, with the Columbia Pike streetcar opening in 2021. The longer timeframe resulted in increased costs due to inflation.

The revised cost estimates incorporate recommendations the FTA made in its review of the Columbia Pike streetcar project. The FTA recommended adding longer streetcar vehicles to accommodate higher projected ridership, assuming higher engineering and start-up costs and a higher annual inflation rate, and increasing project contingencies.

New tax revenues for Arlington and Fairfax
The Columbia Pike streetcar, based on a study released in March, is expected to generate a substantial economic and fiscal return for Arlington and Fairfax. The study estimated that the streetcar will generate $3.2 billion to $4.4 billion in net, or new real estate value for Arlington and Fairfax Counties over 30 years. That is over and above project capital and operating costs. The streetcar investment is projected to generate $455-895 million in new tax revenues for Arlington and Fairfax over a 30-year period. This tax revenue growth would help fund services across each County, including affordable housing on Columbia Pike, per Arlington County Board policy adopted in 2013. The streetcar is expected to attract 6,600 new jobs to the corridor within 10 years of project construction, due to new growth drawn in by the transit infrastructure investment.

Arlington plans to fund its modern streetcar system through a combination of federal, state, regional and local sources dedicated to transportation projects.

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.