Columbia Pike streetcar takes next step

FAIRFAX, Va. – The Columbia Pike streetcar has approval for its next planning steps from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

The five-mile line would run from Pentagon City to Bailey’s Crossroads.

Once powered by overhead electrical wires and running on rails, streetcars were common on America’s city streets. They began to disappear in the 1950s, giving way to the automobile. But across the nation, streetcars are showing signs of making a comeback — and northern Virginia is no exception.

The board, along with Arlington County, has agreed to move the project forward, allowing more environmental planning and design work.

“This is economic development to me, this isn’t just transportation,” says Catherine Hudgins, member of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, who said she believes the project could provide an economic shot in the arm for Columbia Pike.

The next planning phase is expected to cost about $1 million with Arlington County paying the lion’s share, about 80 percent, because that’s where most of the line will be built. Fairfax County would pay the remaining 20 percent.

But the streetcar project has its detractors.

“It’s absolutely a boondoggle, I call it the ‘trolley folly,'” says Pat Herrity, member of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

Herrity and other critics contend that the streetcar line would be impractical in today’s hurry-up world.

“This thing takes you an average of just over 10 miles an hour with 19 stops,” Herrity says.

But Hudgins is convinced the sleek-looking streetcars would be pretty hip and a welcome addition to Columbia Pike.

“This is providing the kind of neighborhood that young people, most importantly today, want to be,” Hudgins says.

Arlington and Fairfax counties are continuing to pursue federal funding for the project estimated to cost as much as $300 million.

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