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In Arlington, It's A Streetcar Named Divide

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Buses line up on Columbia Pike, where Arlington County officials want to install a $310 million streetcar.
WAMU/Michael Pope
Buses line up on Columbia Pike, where Arlington County officials want to install a $310 million streetcar.

In Virginia, candidates in a special election for the Arlington County Board are sharply divided. Democrat Alan Howze supports the streetcar system on Columbia Pike, which is estimated to cost more than $300 million dollars, while Independent candidate John Vihstadt says the county should have other spending priorities. Opinions among residents are similarly divided.

Cashier Orphear May says she likes the idea of a streetcar bringing customers to Asian Market, which her sister has owned for 29 years. But even though she supports the idea, she says she's concerned that the streetcar might raise the value of the land, which could mean the market wouldn't be able to stay.

"We're kind of hearing rumor that they are going to demolish this and rebuild it but I'm not sure to low income or what. We don't know yet. It's just a rumor," she said.

Up and down Columbia Pike, opinions are sharply divided about the wisdom of whether to install a streetcar here  a debate that's now at the center of the special election for Arlington County Board. At Frank's Engraving Shop, Joe Whibley says it's a terrible idea.

"Well the county just spent a million dollars on that bus stop over there. Now let's say the next person or candidate comes in and says well you know I want to improve that million dollars to a million and a half bus stop," he argues.

His mother, Josephine Whibley says the streetcar would be bad for their business.

"Most of our people are carrying things. They don't want to come on the bus or a streetcar or anything like that. They come by car, and the streetcar is gong to take up room where their cars could be driving," she says.

Next door at Atilla's Restaurant, owner Zulkuf Gezgic says he supports the streetcar in theory. But he's very skeptical it will ever happen.

"I'm hearing this almost 18 years. It's never going to happen," he says.

Voters will have the ultimate say when they go the polls in April.

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