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Group Forms to Question Streetcar Plan

By Katie Pyzyk - ARLNow.com

Thursday - 1/17/2013, 4:00pm  ET

An advocacy group has formed to push for more investigation into a proposed Columbia Pike streetcar system before the county moves forward with the plan.

The Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit (AST) website lists its goals as educating residents about the streetcar, offering a bus rapid transit (BRT) system as a streetcar alternative and encouraging community discussion about a BRT versus a streetcar system. The group contends the County Board didn’t hire “truly independent contractors” to do a cost-benefit analysis of the two systems, and didn’t engage in a community conversation about whether the streetcar is the best transit choice. It’s asking the Board to perform both of those tasks.

“The CP streetcar was conceived many years ago in a rosier economy. Since then, the CP streetcar’s price tag has soared,” AST spokesman Peter Rousselot said in a statement. “We now have substantial new experience and data regarding the relative economic and operating performance of both modern streetcars and modern BRT systems. In light of these changed circumstances, our community needs to examine and discuss this new information before making an irrevocable commitment to a project now estimated to cost over a quarter of a billion dollars.”

AST reports having the support of more than 125 citizens, business owners and community leaders from all points along the political spectrum.

“We are Democrats, Republicans, independents and those with no political affiliation,” Rousselot’s written statement said. “We are united by our desire to improve our community and to make sensible budget choices.”

County Board members participated in a work session last month to discuss the specifications of the streetcar design. At that time, it was noted that the county expects to initially purchase 13 streetcar vehicles to run along Columbia Pike. Each streetcar is expected to cost between $3.5 and $4 million, compared with $700,000 to $800,000 for a 40-foot, natural gas-powered Metrobus. Streetcars have an operating life expectancy between 30 and 35 years, compared to about 12 years for a bus.

The county is currently waiting to hear if it will receive up to $75 million in federal funding for the streetcar project. Some county staff members have suggested that a referendum may be necessary to fund the $250 million project.