- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Arlington County Board voted Tuesday to cancel a controversial and expensive streetcar program amid concerns that the divisive fight over the transit project was distracting officials from other pressing issues.

The 4-1 vote terminates the $333 million streetcar project along Columbia Pike as well as the $217 million line planned for the Crystal City area. It directs the county manager to withdraw or modify applications for state and federal grants and terminate state agreements to fund the project, which was first approved in 2006 and had been scheduled for completion in 2020.

The action came hours after Board Chairman Jay Fisette and Vice Chairwoman Mary Hynes announced they had withdrawn their support for the 7.4-mile line.

“This was a painful decision for me and Ms. Hynes,” Mr. Fisette said before the vote. “Both of us continue to believe that the streetcar is the best long-term transit option for the two corridors that are expected to absorb much of Arlington’s population and job growth in the coming decades.”

Mr. Fisette said the board remains committed to revitalizing Columbia Pike and Crystal City, which would have been served by the streetcar, and to transforming them into more walkable, livable places.

The move comes after John Vihstadt, a former Republican, won election to the county board in the heavily Democratic area as an independent campaigning on the issue of halting the streetcar program.

Mr. Vihstadt won a special election earlier this year that was largely dismissed by Democrats because of low turnout before holding the seat in a general election that turned on the same issue and was characterized by some as a referendum on the transportation plan.

“It is a fact that on Nov. 4 voters convincingly re-elected the candidate who made opposition to the streetcar a centerpiece of his campaign,” Mr. Fisette said Tuesday. “This was a serious message. Debating the streetcar issue further — with continued discord and dueling facts — will not serve our community and will distract us from addressing the other pressing issues before us.”

Arlington’s share of the Columbia Pike project was expected to cost about $268 million, with Fairfax County — into which the western end of the line would stretch — funding the rest.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova and Supervisor Penny Gross said in a joint statement they were “saddened and disappointed” that Arlington stepped away from the project.

“More than a decade of work has gone into the project, and the streetcar alternative for Columbia Pike has been approved by both the Arlington and Fairfax County boards on multiple occasions,” the officials said. “We continue to believe that the implementation of the streetcar would provide both transportation and economic development benefits to the corridor, as demonstrated repeatedly through multiple analyses.”

• Matthew Cella can be reached at mcella@washingtontimes.com.

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