Walter Tejada is still thinking about a streetcar along Columbia Pike, he told me today. He said he is quite sure the streetcar would be the right fit along the Route 1 corridor between Pentagon City and Potomac Yard on the border with Alexandria, but of Columbia Pike, he is not fully convinced.
"I will keep an open mind to decision time," he said.
The main difference between the two: affordable housing. Affordable housing has already left much of the Route 1 corridor, so a streetcar and its effects on housing prices would do less damage.
However the Arlington County Board vice chair is less convinced of the plans for "transit-oriented development" along the Pike where a large percentage of the county's affordable housing remains. Transit oriented development aims to bring retail, office and residential development along major transit lines such as the Rosslyn-Ballston and Route 1 corridors.
"Transit-oriented development has been cruel" to low income people in Arlington, Tejada said in an interview this morning. The county's track record at saving affordable housing while pursuing development along the major transit lines has been weak, he said.
In the first decade of this century, the market-rate affordable housing stock ("MARKS" in planning lingo) dropped by about 13,000 units, or 70 percent. These are different than Committed Affordable Units ("CAFs"), which are units built to be low-income housing for the long-term.
The Pike houses about 6,000 MARKS, half are affordable at 60 percent of Area Median Income, and half at 80 percent, according to county documents. In the housing materials that went with her proposed county budget for the fiscal year starting Sunday, Barbara Donnellan wrote, "Arlington continues to experience losses in its market rate affordable housing units, due to redevelopment and increased rents."
The county has created a plan they hope will save 4,500 affordable units along the Pike.
I asked Tejada about this today because yesterday at the Capital Improvement Program work session with county staff, Tejada grilled Dennis Leach just a bit. Leach is the county’s deputy director of transportation and development.
Proponents of the streetcar system have used the term "economic development" along the Pike. A streetcar will bring development.
That term was missing from Leach's discussion of the streetcar. Economic revitalization of the Pike is implied, given that the "the overall performance [of a streetcar] is superior to bus-only projects."
Tejada brought up the idea of economic development again just a few minutes later. It was as if he wanted to make sure no one forgot that new construction means fewer MARKS.
At their meeting on July 21 or 24 the Arlington County Board will take up the question of their "locally preferred alternative." This is the time when the board will decide whether to support streetcars, articulated buses, or nothing. The Fairfax County board will do the same at their July meeting.
The streetcar option costs about $250 million total, with Arlington taking on the bulk of that: $198 million. Of that, the county hopes $75 million will come from the federal government, about $35 million from the state. The rest would be paid for from the Transportation Capital Fund, a special tax on businesses.