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Washington - November 2014

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Arlington Projects Killed

November 2014

According to the Washington Post, Arlington County officials on November 18 voted to cancel the Columbia Pike and Crystal City modern streetcar projects. Advocates for these projects had said that they were examples of smart growth that would spur development along their routes. However, others less supportive of government projects opposed them.

The projects had been supported by private developers, Fairfax County, and Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe.

However, newly elected Arlington County Board Members felt the cost (recently estimated at $550 million) was too high and that the benefits were questionable. They also thought streetcars in mixed traffic would not provide sufficient benefit over buses to be worthwhile. Board Member John Vihstadt, an independent, ran on a platform of opposing the streetcar and was elected by a solid margin. Board Chair Jay Fisette, a Democrat, said that Vihstadt's victory essentially killed the projects.

Project supporters had not realized that the anti-streetcar sentiment was growing so quickly over the past year so they were unprepared to counter it.

Officials in neighboring Fairfax, who had been working on plans jointly with Arlington for 15 years, were strongly critical of the decision to kill the project as it figured prominently in redevelopment plans.

In Arlington supporters of affordable housing criticized the project cancellation as the streetcar line was seen as key to development of low to moderate income housing along the routes.

Race and Poverty Contributed to Streetcar Demise

A column in the Washington Post by Robert McCartney argues that class and racial divisions contributed to the decision to kill the planned streetcar lines. According to McCartney, South Arlington, with a population that is lower income and racially diverse, hoped for economic development benefits that would come with the two lines and help improve the dreary neighborhoods they were to serve.

The immediate trigger for the project cancellation was the election of County Board member John Vihstadt who is from the more affluent north side of Arlington. He was openly anti-streetcar and received strong backing from North Arlington voters. He trailed his opponent greatly in areas that would have been served by the streetcars.

Streetcar supporters, according to McCartney, missed an important opportunity by not campaigning more aggressively to develop a constituency for the streetcar among areas it would serve.


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