Report Quantifies Costs of Columbia Pike Streetcar

photoA new, more detailed analysis for a proposed Columbia Pike streetcar line estimates that the cost, including contingencies, would be between $242-$261 million for a five-mile line meant to speed growing numbers of commuters between the employment centers of Pentagon City and the Skyline area of Fairfax.

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 from the $161 million estimated in 2007, shortly after the counties announced their partnership to build a streetcar on the Pike. The $50 million per-mile cost now estimated for the proposed streetcar project is comparable to the costs of similar projects across the nation.
The analysis, prepared by staff and consultants for the Columbia Pike Transit Initiative External link Policy Committee, is the first step in qualifying for federal funding for a transit project expected to help transform the Pike. Arlington and Fairfax Counties formed the committee after they agreed in 2006 to partner in a streetcar project for Columbia Pike.
“I’m glad to see this project moving forward,” said Sharon Bulova, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. “Columbia Pike needs multi-modal transportation options to get Fairfax and Arlington County residents to where they need to go. I look forward to working with Arlington to advance this innovative solution.”
Arlington County Board Chairman Christopher Zimmerman, who co-chairs the policy committee with Fairfax County Supervisor Penelope A. Gross, said the staff analysis made a convincing case for building a modern streetcar line on the Pike.
The project will both enhance the regional transit system by extending transit options beyond Arlington’s two Metro corridors, and benefit thousands of people living and working in and around Columbia Pike External link, Zimmerman said.
“Clearly, a streetcar-and-bus system is the best solution for people who live and work on the Pike and the people who travel along it between two major employment centers,” he said. “A streetcar will enhance the Pike’s livability, help realize the vision that Arlington and Fairfax have for this vital corridor, and help ensure its long term economic and environmental sustainability.”
“Pike transit will provide the nucleus for a larger network of transportation options, enhancing the opportunities for residents, workers shoppers and other activities. The potential for economic development is enormous,” Faifax County Supervisor Penelope A. Gross said.

Renewed Pike

A transit plan for Columbia Pike is central to the vision established by Arlington and Fairfax counties for the corridor. That vision calls for transforming the Pike from a car-dominated roadway into a mixed-use, transit-oriented Main Street.

Between now and 2040, the Pike is expected to add another 2.2 million square feet of commercial development, 7,000 jobs, 3,900 homes and 7,300 residents. Residents, land owners, businesses and local government have been engaged in an intensive, years-long effort to plan for that growth and to ensure that the Pike’s rich cultural and economic diversity, its large stock of affordable housing, its character and history are preserved and enhanced by the process.

Substantial benefits

Arlington and Fairfax county staff, working with consultants, analyzed three transit project alternatives for the Pike. Their analysis found that a streetcar-bus combination would offer the greatest accessibility, best improvement of travel time along the corridor, greatest connectivity to the Washington, DC area transit network and the region’s major activity centers, and the best potential for supporting anticipated growth and enhancing livability along the Pike.
The three transit alternatives analyzed were:
  • Enhancing the Pike’s current transit service by increasing service to underserved areas, consolidating existing local bus stops and slightly increasing transit service.
  • Adding articulated buses to an enhanced bus service, constructing a new transit center at Jefferson Street, introducing off-board fare collection, multi-door boarding and alighting, service changes and improved rider amenities.
  • Building a modern streetcar line, coupled with continued bus service between the Skyline area of Fairfax County and Pentagon City. This alternative is similar to the articulated bus alternative but would provide more capacity, attract more riders, and follow the proven Smart Growth strategy of transit-oriented development.

Streetcar option 

The streetcar option requires the largest capital investment of the three options, with an estimated cost of $214 million – $231 million in FY 2011 dollars, including an 18 percent contingency, nearly twice the 2007 contingency estimate. Escalated at 3 percent annually to the mid-year of construction,  the construction costs of the streetcar option range from $242 million to $261 million. A variety of factors contributed to the cost increase from the 2007 preliminary estimate:
  • Project refinements and enhancements, including a slightly longer alignment, increasing the vehicle fleet size from 11 streetcars to 13, a larger maintenance facility, power and systems requirements, more accurate right of way needs, modifying Four Mile Run Bridge, and re-grading Jefferson Street, (adds $20 million to base cost).
  • A larger contingency, up from 8 percent in 2007 to 18 percent, (adds $34 million to base cost).
  • Escalation of the contingent cost estimate at 3 percent annually to the mid-year of construction, FY 2015, (adds $29 million to base cost).

Federal funding

Arlington and Fairfax counties plan to seek funding from the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) New Starts/Small Starts Program. External link The program could fund about 30 percent of the project (up to $75 million), and requires a funding match from local governments. If the project receives a Small Starts grant from the FTA, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and Arlington and Fairfax counties will provide the remainder of the capital funding for the project.
The Commonwealth is expected to provide about 14 percent, or $35 million of the funding. Arlington and Fairfax Counties would fund the remaining 56 percent or $140 million, with Arlington providing approximately 80 percent of the local funding and Fairfax providing 20 percent.

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Truman Lewis
A former reporter and bureau chief, Truman Lewis has covered presidential campaigns, state politics and stories ranging from organized crime to environmental and consumer protection.