FAIRFAX — A streetcar system to relieve congestion and increase economic development along the Columbia Pike corridor is the “locally preferred option” for transportation, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors decided Tuesday.
The board endorsed a 4.9-mile streetcar line, a joint project with Arlington County that will run from Skyline in Fairfax County to Pentagon City. The 7-2 vote came a week after the Arlington County Board voted 4-0 in favor of the project. Fairfax County Supervisor Linda Smyth abstained, saying her husband had interest in a piece of property near the route.
“The streetcar will relieve congestion and present economic development opportunities for the Skyline area and serve a population with the demonstrated support and need for transit,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova said.
A return-on-investment study projected that the streetcar line would increase land value near the route by up to $315 million, drive an additional $1 billion in development and bring in tax revenues of up to $532 million over 30 years.
Fairfax and Arlington counties are expected to pay for 56 percent, or $137 million, of the project, pending federal dollars. If constructed, the line will cost approximately $6 million a year to run. The counties can apply for federal funding to help support construction of the $246 million system. According to a Fairfax County release, the counties will seek up to $107 million.
Fairfax County Supervisors Michael Frey and Pat Herrity voted against the project, worrying that county couldn’t afford yet another large investment in transportation.
Frey, who represents a portion of western Fairfax County, was concerned construction costs would increase by the time contracts were executed and work was set to begin. He also expressed doubt that the county would be awarded federal grant money.
“I would be very hesitant to believe that there will be any federal funding for this project,” he said.
He suggested tabling the project and looking at it when funding was more feasible.
“At some point the cumulative weight of all of those is just too much,” he said. “I just don’t see how we can take on another huge capital investment like this.”
Herrity, who represents the Springfield area of Fairfax County, agreed, saying he would not to support adding to that county’s “huge unfunded transportation need.”
But Supervisor Penny Gross said that the Skyline area has been deprived of rail options since a plan was tabled 40 years ago. Gross represents the Mason District, which includes Skyline.
“It’s taken us 40 years to get it off that doggone shelf,” she said.
According to the county’s release, the Columbia Pike corridor already has the highest bus ridership in Northern Virginia with 16,000 riders per day, and that number could go up to as many 30,000 by 2030.
Supervisor Jeff McKay said worries over cost shouldn’t prevent the board from taking action on a project that would help the county’s future.
“[It] shouldn’t stop us from providing congestion mitigation and relief to our constituents,” he said. “We have an opportunity here to get ahead of the ball. It’s clear that buses alone probably will not accommodate the type of growth that’s projected in this area.”