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Vihstadt: Cease All Planning on Columbia Pike Streetcar Until Voters Decide

"If voter referendum is to be 'truly meaningful and anything beyond a political gimmick or a campaign stunt,' it is imperative that the County Board direct the County Manager to immediately cease all County expenditures relating to streetcars."

A rendering of the proposed Columbia Pike streetcar line. Arlington County photo
A rendering of the proposed Columbia Pike streetcar line. Arlington County photo
Calls to let voters decide whether to bring a streetcar to Arlington County's Columbia Pike has prompted reaction from the county board's newest member, Republican John Vihstadt, who was elected in a special election April 8.

The streetcar issue has divided the county board; Jay Fisette, who chairs the board, said earlier this week that the streetcar "is a key project for the redevelopment of Columbia Pike, one of our County’s most important business corridors."

"The streetcar project has turned into a political nightmare in Arlington," Treasurer Frank O'Leary said in a statement earlier this week. "A referendum is the only valid way to get us out of this mess. If there is not a public vote on this project, the public will weigh in through other elections — and that is not a good idea for the Arlington Democratic Party."

Vihstadt said in a statement Wednesday that he is "pleased to see that two more Arlington elected officials—Treasurer Frank O’Leary and Commissioner of Revenue Ingrid Morroy—have joined Delegate Patrick Hope in agreeing with me that Arlington taxpayers should have a voice regarding the County Board’s misguided proposal to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to install streetcars in Arlington."

"While their call for a referendum represents further acknowledgment of the well-deserved unpopularity of installing Arlington streetcars, I regret that none of these elected officials have yet agreed with me that streetcars are a poor investment for Arlington," Vihstadt said.

"As I noted last week when Delegate Hope joined the call for a referendum on the streetcar, many people have already stated that my election on April 8 with 57 percent of the vote was referendum enough on the wisdom of Arlington streetcars."

"Yet, if a further specific streetcar voter referendum is to be truly meaningful and anything beyond a political gimmick or a campaign stunt, it is imperative that the County Board direct the County Manager to immediately cease all County expenditures relating to streetcars, as I attempted to do at our April 16 County Board work session."

"Not a penny more of taxpayer dollars should be spent on promoting, planning for, or in any way implementing Arlington streetcars until such a referendum is held and Arlington voters have had their say once again."


"Accordingly, I call on Delegate Hope, Treasurer O’Leary, Commissioner of Revenue Morroy and my County Board colleagues, to support my and colleague Libby Garvey’s efforts to ensure that (a) no funds shall be expended in the FY 2014 or FY 2015 operating budgets for the purpose of furthering a streetcar on Columbia Pike or anywhere else in Arlington, except to the extent that such expenditures are required to meet contractual or other legal obligations entered into by the County prior to the date of passage of such a motion; (b) no funds be included in the FY 2015-2024 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) for similar purposes and that (c) any referendum question on streetcars to be included on the general election ballot in Arlington in 2014:

• be clearly worded to specify in detail the estimated total costs for all proposed Arlington streetcars,

• detail the proposed financing plan for all of them, and

• not combine streetcar financing with any other project so that it is clear to voters precisely on what subject they are voting.

Garvey said Wednesday: "I also think our public needs to get full information on why these stops cost so much and why we should want them instead of much less expensive regular stops."

"I am pleased that John's election seems to have prompted calls for a voter referendum on the streetcar," she said. "I still think the streetcar is a bad idea for Arlington, but if we can't simply halt the project, I certainly would favor an opportunity for the voters to let the Board know if they want a streetcar or not."

"I am confident the results of such a referendum would show widespread opposition to the streetcar, much like the margin by which John won his special election," she noted.

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