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Crystal City Streetcar Costs Creep Up as Alexandria Looks to Bus, Metro

Arlington, Alexandria originally planned to split the cost of a Route 1 streetcar.

Arlington County's investment in a planned Crystal City streetcar increased Tuesday night as the county copes with its partner, Alexandria, putting its end of the deal on hold.

The Arlington County Board voted 4-1 to pay an additional $664,000 to URS Corp. to make up the difference caused by Alexandria's departure, which may or may not be temporary.

Board member Libby Garvey, who opposes the Columbia Pike streetcar and spent much of the past week trying to defeat or delay a funding mechanism for major transportation projects, cast the dissenting vote Tuesday.

The county's plans call for the eventual connection of the streetcar systems along Columbia Pike and Route 1.

But Alexandria's use of a bus rapid transit system along the Route 1 corridor is but another indicator of how the region is approaching transit, Garvey said.

"Arlington should do a cost-benefit analysis ourselves before spending any more money and we're left holding the bag," she said.

In 2010, Arlington County and the city of Alexandria began environmental planning and conceptual engineering for the Route 1 Corridor Streetcar Project — a trolley that would traverse Crystal City and Potomac Yard, connecting Pentagon City with the Braddock Road Metro Station.

The two entities agreed to spend up to about $3.6 million, splitting the cost 50-50, and hired URS Corp.

Alexandria was about $315,000 into the project when things changed.

Faced with cuts to federal and state transportation dollars, Alexandria decided instead to focus on a bus rapid transit system along Route 1 and to construct a new Metro station at Potomac Yard.

Eventual conversion from bus rapid transit to streetcar is possible — a new Arlington County staff report says the neighboring city will resume planning once the Metro station is complete — but isn't guaranteed. Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille said as much in June.

Planners have said the two transit systems will hit a smooth transition at the Arlington-Alexandria border.

Meanwhile, the change forced Arlington to renegotiate its contract with URS Corp. The new contract is nearly $2.8 million — or about $664,000 more than what Arlington originally planned to pay for the front-end work.

Arlington County Board Chairwoman Mary Hynes said it was important to talk about Alexandria's decision in context. Over the past 40 years, the one thing that's proven true is that this area needs to plan for and advance multiple modes of transit, she said.

"Across the region, people do make different choices," she said.

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