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Fight Over Streetcars To Take Center Stage In Arlington

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Lawmakers are debating the transit future of Columbia Pike in Arlington.
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Lawmakers are debating the transit future of Columbia Pike in Arlington.

Members of the Arlington County Board are about to start debating the bottom line of streetcars.

Streetcars have become the hottest issue in Arlington in recent months, and it's getting ready to take on a new significance. One reason is the special election for County Board, which includes two candidates who support it and two candidates who are critical of it. Another reason is the upcoming budget season, which will feature a debate about whether or not taxpayers should start spending money on the project.

The federal government estimates the project will is most likely to cost $310 million, although the analysis concluded that it could be as much as $410 million. County leaders are expected to apply for some federal funding this year.

"Fixed rail attracts choice riders, those who would not ride a bus and it also opens up more of Arlington to tourists," says County Board chairman Jay Fisette.

Opponents say the cost of the system could increase, and that a high-tech modern bus system could offer transit stations and an experience very similar to riding on a streetcar at a fraction of the price.

"As I look around the country and see what's happening in other jurisdictions with streetcars, my alarm about this project only grows. I hope we never build a streetcar," says County Board member Libby Garvey.

The County manager will issue her initial budget proposal in February, launching the debate over funding priorities including everything from education to social services. In the next few months, County Board members will determine how much money taxpayers will be asked to contribute to the streetcar system — or if the county should move in a different direction.

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