Streetcars at center of Arlington election - FOX 35 News Orlando

Streetcars at center of Arlington election

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Voters in Arlington will decide Tuesday on whom to elect to a vacant seat on the County Board. And the proposed streetcar project for Columbia Pike has become a central part of the debate.

Columbia Pike, in Central Arlington, is probably the busiest bus corridor in the Commonwealth of Virginia. It has long been the dream of the Democratic-controlled Arlington County Board to put a streetcar line on the Pike. With light rail, the development that's already occurring on the Pike will expand further, according to a recently commissioned study.

Because pro-streetcar board member Chris Zimmerman has moved to a private sector job, the scramble is on to fill his seat. Four candidates are on the ballot, but only two of the four have raised big money for the race, and they are very divided on the proposed streetcar line, which could cost an estimated $310 million.

Democrat Alan Howze supports building the streetcar line.

"[It] spurs additional economic growth," Howze told us. "It helps support the 25,000 people we're expecting in that corridor in the next 10 to 20 years. And it will also increase ridership and has environmental benefits that will help us meet the challenge around climate change too."

John Vihstadt is running as an independent, but with admitted Republican leanings. He objects to the price tag for the streetcar project, and maintains, for a small fraction of the cost of light rail, "enhanced bus service" could fulfill the transit needs of Columbia Pike.

Vihstadt argues for "a new generation of fuel-efficient buses. They're sleeker. Their boarding [is] lower to the ground, so the handicapped, the elderly will have easier boarding. Fare collection will be off the bus (at an adjacent bus stop). So boarding will be quicker [and] there will be dual boarding. You won't just have to funnel into one door, but you'll be able to get on in multiple doors."

Democrat Howze points out rail along the Orange Line has built Arlington into an economic powerhouse. Independent Vishstadt worries that rail on Columbia Pike might lead to over-development there.

The two other candidates on the ballot are Stephen Holbrook, running as an independent, and Janet Murphy, running as a candidate representing the Independent Green Party.

In local elections in Virginia, party affiliations are not listed on the ballot.

Early voting has already started in Arlington, but the majority of ballots are expected to be cast on Tuesday, April 8. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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