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Arlington County’s “Friday News Dump”

According to reason #52 at StuffJournalistsLike.com, “Whenever the government or a business is backed into a corner and is forced to release less than flattery news, they have made the habit of dumping the bad news late on Friday afternoon and thus ruining journalists’ weekends. This is especially true for long and holiday weekends." They add:

“The theory behind the Friday Dump? According to West Wing’s Josh Lyman, “Because no one reads the paper on Saturday.” (How is that different from the other six days?)

“And dumping bad news late on Fridays gives journalists little to
no time to go through the accompanying stack of legal paperwork to actually
find the real dirt behind the bad news.”

So what news did Arlington County’s elected eminences dump yesterday? Let the folks at ARLnow.com provide the answer; they begin by saying:

“Late this afternoon, Arlington County revealed that the estimated cost for the proposed Columbia Pike streetcar line has increased by as much as $100 million over a 2007 cost projection.

“The five-mile Columbia Pike streetcar line will run from Pentagon City to the Skyline area of Fairfax, and cost between $242 million and $261 million, according to “a new, more detailed analysis.” In 2007, officials pegged the cost at about $161 million.

“Inflation, an increase in the scope of the proposed project, additional engineering requirements, and federal requirements for higher contingency funding and escalation accounted for the increase in projected costs,” the county said in a press release. “The $50 million per-mile cost now estimated for the proposed streetcar project is comparable to the costs of similar projects across the nation.”

Washington Post reporter Patricia Sullivan starts off slightly differently, saying:

"The cost of a five-mile Columbia Pike streetcar line has jumped as much as $100 million since 2007, officials for the initiative said Friday, pushing the cost of the transit system to as high as $261 million.

“Inflation accounted for about $20 million of the increase, said Arlington County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman (D). Federal requirements for higher-contingency funding added $34 million to the cost, and an increase in the number of vehicles and higher engineering costs boosted the price another $20 million. Zimmerman said the jump in cost was not surprising or unexpected because the last estimate was done four years ago.”

Not to worry says current Arlington County Board chairman, Chris Zimmerman, who “said the staff analysis made a convincing case for building a modern streetcar line on the Pike” in the county’s press release. In the Post, Sullivan included the following paragraph:

“The increase is “actually fairly slight,” Zimmerman said. “These numbers are always a moving target in transportation projects. . . . We build high schools that cost $150 million.”

Move over Artisphere and Long Bridge Park for the Streetcar and homeless shelter. Just another example of underestimated costs and overestimated demand? Or even better, vast projects based on half-vast ideas? I never cease to be amazed at how the elected eminences always seem to be living in an alternative reality when it comes to spending taxpayers money.

For more information, the county’s Friday press release contains a number of embedded links. Additional information is available the the Department of Environmental Service’s webpage for the streetcar transit project, or search the Arlington County website for “Columbia Pike Streetcar.”

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