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Constructing the Columbia Pike Streetcar on Fiscal Sand?

Let's see now:

  • In their June 27 newsletter, Update, the Virginia Municipal League (VML), one of the two big lobbying outfits for Arlington County in Richmond, told Virginia's local governments that state "general fund revenue collections portend tough times ahead," and especially noted that "general fund revenue collections fell an eye-popping 20.7 percent in May."
  • Two weeks later, the VML newsletter told Virginia's local governments the federal "transportation spigot (was) running dry," and emphasized the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which had just recently approved a six-year, $32.5 billion transportation plan, "recognizes that future reliability of federal funding is a major concern."
  • Then yesterday, "Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe announced (yesterday) that preliminary figures indicate the state concluded Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 with an approximately $438.5 million shortfall in general fund revenue collections, excluding transfers," adding that "revenue collections declined by 1.6 percent in FY 2014, behind the revised revenue forecast of 1.0 percent growth. This marks the first time that Virginia revenues have declined outside of a national recession."

Now today, we learn, at ARLnow.com, the local online news site, that Virginia has agreed to kick-in an additional $65 million for the Columbia Pike street car project, the vanity project for three of the five members on the Arlington County Board. ARLnow.com starts their updated reporting this way:

"The Commonwealth of Virginia is increasing its funding of the Columbia Pike streetcar system by $65 million, Arlington County announced today.

"The county says the new funding will enable to Arlington and Fairfax to proceed with the streetcar project more rapidly — accelerating the construction timetable by at least a year — partially thanks to eliminating the need to obtain federal funding.

“The Commonwealth is committed to supporting the Columbia Pike project as a funding partner,” Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne said, in a letter to Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette and Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova.

"The new funding will also help save $25 million in project costs, according to an Arlington County press release. The Columbia Pike streetcar is now estimated to cost $333 million, about half of which will be funded by the state. The other half of the cost will come from regional transportation funds and local commercial property taxes dedicated to transportation projects.

“No Arlington County homeowner-funded General Obligation bonds will be used to finance design and construction of the streetcar,” the county said."

The two County Board members who oppose the streetcar project -- Libby Garvey and John Vihstadt -- issued  their own statements. Their responses emphasized that scarce resources should be used on projects where there is a broad consensus.

In their press release, Arlington County's poobahs argue the $65 million in state money 1) enables the county to advance project schedules "at least a year;" and, 2) the "high-capacity streetcar will enhance northern Virginia’s economic competitiveness, generate new revenues for localities, Commonwealth."

So now we have Governor McAuliffe and his merry band of bureaucrats enabling the crown jewel of the Arlington County Board's vanity projects. If you oppose the Columbia Pike streetcar, use the link in the right-hand column to send your own message to the Arlington County Board. Tell them ACTA sent you!

The website of Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit (AST) contains the information you may need to construct your argument(s) to the three Arlington County Board members who continue to believe in the vanity boondoggle.

UPDATE (7/12/14): Here's the lede from Patricia Sullivan's report in Saturday's Washington Post:

"Virginia will increase state funding for the controversial Columbia Pike streetcar project by up to $65 million, the state transportation chief told officials in Arlington and Fairfax counties this week, allowing the streetcar line to be built at least a year faster and without federal funds.

“From a transportation perspective, it’s the right thing for this area to be doing,” Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne said of the project. “You can’t get buses big enough to carry the anticipated ridership on that road.”

"He warned that the details and timing of the additional funding still need to be finalized but described the letter sent to county officials Thursday as “us saying we want to work with you.”"

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