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Opponents Criticize Virginia's Support Of Arlington Streetcar

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The controversial Columbia Pike streetcar plan would have streetcars run the length of the southern Arlington corridor.
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The controversial Columbia Pike streetcar plan would have streetcars run the length of the southern Arlington corridor.

Critics of the controversial Columbia Pike streetcar proposal in Arlington are raising new concerns about potential new funding for the project.

Arlington County Board member John Vihstadt says leaders at the Virginia Department of Transportation may have acted hastily by offering their help in seeking additional money for the streetcar proposal on Columbia Pike. Vihstadt, who won a special election by challenging the streetcar proposal, wonders if the transportation secretary had enough time to independently verify claims made by local government officials.

"Where's the due diligence? Where's the independent analysis?" Vihstadt says. "Or was this merely a political rush to judgement to accommodate their friends?"

Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne says the streetcar proposal is nothing new, and state leaders have been examining the issue for some time. He says his office continues to conduct due diligence on arguments made about economic development, for example, leading up to a final decision about whether or not a state grant will be awarded.

"Our first initial review looks like this is a good project supported by facts. I'm sure people will offer different opinions as we go through the public process," Layne says.

Those concerns about factual assertions were echoed by Peter Rousselot, founder of Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit.

"As the process unfolds, our group and others are going to be pointing out to the secretary of transportation that many of his factual statements are wrong," Rousselot says.

One of those statements is that streetcars carry more people than buses. Critics and supporters disagree about the validity of that assertion. Secretary Layne says his office will be digging into the issue.

"We'll see as we continue our due diligence as we work with them if this actually results in a grant," he says. "We think it will, but we've got a lot more work to do."

Those different opinions may be heard at the ballot box. Voters in Arlington and Fairfax will head to the polls next month in a special election in a House of Delegates race that features one candidate who opposes streetcars and another who supports them.

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