Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
The season to consider infrastructure and built amenities in Arlington is underway.
In May, the County Manager presented her draft Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). Neighborhood groups, organizations and individual residents have been weighing in on infrastructure projects cited in the CIP. This dialogue includes addressing the merits of projects that affect their visions of what Arlington County should be.
The CIP helps identify priorities based on funding projections that are necessarily estimates — we may see costs, revenues, and funding sources change over time. But the County Board does its best to fit residents’ priorities within the resources the County believes will be available.
We have already seen how the CIP process can sharpen thinking about our priorities and our investments. For example, the County found ways to redesign and dramatically lower the cost of transit stations. The County has put on hold a new aquatic center when bids came in well above budget projections.
This year’s CIP includes the streetcar system that will run from Skyline (yes, Fairfax County is a partner), along Columbia Pike to the Pentagon, and connect with a line through Crystal City and into Potomac Yard.
By looping together the Pike, Pentagon City, Crystal City, and Potomac Yard, the system will bring together the places where many live and work — single family areas, mid-rise residential and commercial areas, high rise buildings, grocery stores, community centers, libraries, coffee shops and much more.
It is a transportation system that will serve many thousands of people. It provides infrastructure that is not ephemeral. It will be tangible and fixed.
For a homeowner it means efficient and predictable public transportation will be a few blocks down the street come rain or shine and not be subject to a bus route changes. It tells commercial building owners there will be transportation for high rise office and residential tenants they attract to occupy revitalized structures in Crystal City. It also will provide one-ride transportation for employees who might work in Crystal City but live along the Pike.
The streetcar extends Arlington’s history as an excellent place to live and work because of intelligent and sustained investments in fixed public transportation infrastructure.
The CIP process has already helped sharpen the County’s focus on the streetcar investment. County Board members have committed themselves to finding ways to finance the system without any homeowner-financed general obligation bonds. The County has also hired a project management firm with a proven record of performance that has been tasked with finding ways to reduce system costs, speed up delivery, and minimize construction disruptions.
The CIP process has also brought into focus that the County cannot address the growing needs of schools and other core services without increasing economic growth in underdeveloped urban corridors like Columbia Pike and Crystal City. The recent streetcar return on investment study shows what has been demonstrated by other systems across the country — its creation will grow our economy far faster than any alternative system and will produce far more tax revenues to fund school expansion and the other key services that Arlingtonians want and expect.
Our willingness in Arlington to find ways to expand our commercial tax base fosters a thriving County that is an attractive place to live and work. Our County’s forward thinking earns confidence from financial experts and wins praise from planning and transportation experts.
Through fiscal responsibility, sound financial practices, and conservative financing policies, Arlington has maintained the highly coveted Triple-AAA bond rating for many years. The use of the CIP has been a key component of these good practices.
The CIP process is an appropriate place to consider our streetcar investment. The process allows us to bring in public input while respecting all of the planning that has already taken place as well as our long-term commitment to progressive policies in land use and transportation.
Because of my confidence in the CIP process, I support the decisions by County Board members Fisette, Hynes and Tejada to evaluate the streetcar within that process. The Chairman’s statement makes the case more eloquently that I can.
A referendum would be an ineffective way to evaluate a complex project. And, as far as I know, an advisory referendum would be contrary to law. Finally, there is no reason for a bond referendum where no general obligation bonds will be needed.
The current CIP process continues into July — all ideas are welcome and input encouraged as we work together to keep Arlington a great place.
Nancy Iacomini has resided in Arlington since 1980 and is currently a member of Arlington County’s Planning Commission. She is also a past member and chairman of WMATA’s Riders’ Advisory Council.