Frequently Asked Questions
The Columbia Pike Alternatives Analysis and Environmental Assessment that was presented to the County Board in July 2012 included an “Articulated Bus Alternative.” What features does the Articulated Bus Alternative have? Is it similar to bus rapid transit (BRT) projects implemented in other cities, including Eugene, Oregon?
The TSM 2 Alternative – Articulated Bus – enhances bus service by expanding service hours, adding 60-foot articulated buses on sections of the corridor (Routes 16G and 16H) and keeping standard 40-foot buses on other sections. Unlike Eugene, Oregon, it does not include a dedicated or exclusive lane for transit. Federal Transit Administration (FTA) defines a bus rapid transit system as a bus system that has at least 50% of the running way in dedicated or separated lanes.
Unfortunately, a separate lane for buses on the Columbia Pike corridor is not considered feasible. There is no space in the existing right of way for an exclusive bus lane. Securing a dedicated lane for a transit alternative, including BRT, would necessitate the acquisition of extensive private property or elimination of general traffic lanes.
In addition, widening the roadway for an exclusive bus lane would not support the County’s vision of revitalizing the Columbia Pike corridor to a more walkable, bikeable transit-oriented Main Street. The Columbia Pike Initiative – A Revitalization Plan – Update provides the overall planning framework for the corridor. The plan laid out goals and implementation strategies to transition the corridor from an auto-oriented commercial strip to a “more vibrant, pedestrian friendly Main Street destination.” The street configuration that was adopted includes five lanes, with the center lane either a left turn lane or landscaped median. Wide sidewalks, enhanced pedestrian crossings and high-quality transit are all aimed at encouraging a more livable and pedestrian friendly environment.
The TSM 2 Alternative includes elements often employed in an express bus or arterial Bus Rapid Transit projects. These include off-vehicle fare collection with proof of payment, multi-door boarding and alighting, and consolidated bus stops with expanded passenger amenities, including real time passenger information. However, since an exclusive right-of-way is not feasible on Columbia Pike, a true BRT option is not possible.
It should be noted that Lane Transit’s (service provider for Eugene Oregon) service area and transit ridership is significantly different from Arlington County’s. Lane Transit serves a much larger service area than Arlington Transit, with significantly lower population and employment densities. Lane Transit’s service area extends over 241 square miles, with the population density averaging 1,215.7 people/square mile. In contrast, Arlington County’s service area is 26 square miles, with the population density averaging 8,077 people/square mile (National Transit Database – 2010 reports). The employment density in Arlington is also far higher, with 227,500 jobs or 8,750 jobs per square mile vs. 139,000 jobs in all of Lane County (over 4,400 square miles).
Ridership on Lane Transit’s first BRT line – the Franklin Corridor – is significantly lower than transit ridership carried on the Columbia Pike corridor today. Lane Transit’s Franklin Corridor is carrying about 9,600 trips/weekday (Lane Transit website). In contrast, 16,000 trips are being carried on the Columbia Pike Corridor today (average weekday), with 26,200 trips projected with the Streetcar alternative (streetcar and buses). Lane Transit’s overall average weekday ridership is 38,800, with annual ridership at 11,454,000. Arlington’s average weekday ridership across all transit modes is approximately 300,000 and totals 82,000,000 annual trips (a seven-fold difference in 10.8% of the service area).
Please describe the process used for evaluating alternatives in the AA/EA Study. Why is the Articulated Bus Alternative called a Transportation Systems Management (TSM) Alternative? Did all alternatives undergo the same type and depth of analysis?
The FTA process to obtain funding requires the evaluation of options as prescribed by the FTA. When a “Fixed Guideway” alternative is being considered, a “No Build” Alternative and a “Transportation Management Alternative” must also be evaluated.
- The “Fixed Guideway” alternative involves either a separate right of way for transit (i.e., exclusive bus lane) or rail.
- The “No Build” Alternative is limited to transportation improvements that are in place or committed.
- The “TSM Alternative” is a relatively low-cost approach to addressing transportation problems in the corridor and represents the best that can be done for mobility without constructing a new transit fixed guideway. (FTA website – New Starts Program).
For Arlington, the Articulated Bus option was defined as a “TSM Alternative.” This option, along with a second TSM Alternative, enhanced bus service, the No Build option and the Streetcar option, all were thoroughly developed and evaluated against a full range of criteria as part of the Columbia Pike AA/EA Study process as prescribed by the FTA.
All four alternatives underwent the same type and depth of analysis. Detailed information was prepared for each alternative, including ridership, travel time, capacity, service reliability, capital and operating costs, traffic operations, property requirements, environmental justice implications, parking, economic impacts and consistency with local plans and zoning. Each alternative was then evaluated against the established project needs and goals:
- Project Needs: improve transit capacity and mode share, invest in service that supports growth and economic development, improve transit access and regional connectivity to Skyline
- Project Goals: improve mobility, economic development catalyst, livability and long term economic and environmental sustainability, integrated regional multimodal transportation system, safe environment
The AA/EA Study report includes the detailed analysis that was undertaken on all alternatives as well as the findings of the comparative evaluation. The information was shared with the public as well as policy makers, regularly throughout the process, with the feedback considered and reflected as the project developed. The project website includes copies of the reports and study materials.
Did the evaluation address the fiscal impacts associated with each alternative?
Yes; estimates of the capital and operating costs were prepared for both TSM Alternatives as well as the Streetcar Alternative. In addition, potential operating and capital funding strategies were presented for each alternative. This information can be found in Chapter 4 – Financial Analysis of the AA/EA Study.
Why was the Streetcar Alternative selected when the cost of the Articulated Bus Option is significantly lower?
Cost was not the only factor considered when evaluating the transit alternatives for Columbia Pike. In July 2012, the Arlington County and Fairfax County Boards selected the Streetcar Build Alternative as the Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) because of its ability to accomplish the goals of:
- Increasing transit capacity and improving mode share.
- Enhancing livability and long term economic and environmental sustainability.
- Serving as a catalyst for economic development.
The Streetcar Alternative performed better than the Articulated Bus Option in the following areas:
- Increasing transit capacity and improving mode share. The Streetcar provides greater transit capacity, and has higher projected ridership than the Articulated Bus Option in the opening year (2016 in the analysis) and in 2030. A typical articulated bus can carry 90 – 100 passengers per vehicle; the capacity of a streetcar vehicle ranges from 116-160 passengers per vehicle. This additional capacity is critical since the Columbia Pike Streetcar and the Crystal City Streetcar will serve areas of County projected to add 37,000 jobs, 21,000 residents, and 11,600-plus housing units between 2010 and 2040, (58% increase in jobs, 38% increase in residents, based on currently approved plans and development projects).
In addition, implementation of the Streetcar achieved a greater decrease in vehicle miles traveled.
- Enhancing livability and long term economic and environmental sustainability. The Streetcar Alternative will encourage high-quality, mixed use development, and support the vision of revitalizing the Pike as a more walkable, bikeable, transit-oriented Main Street. It would have a more pronounced effect on the local economy by increasing property values along the corridor which would provide greater opportunities for future growth and development.
- Serving as a catalyst for economic development. The Streetcar Alternative would best support long-term private investment in transit-friendly development because the in-street tracks are permanent. The permanence of the route inspires confidence in developers that bus routes, which can change, do not.
Another planning study on the corridor undertaken by WMATA in 2005 also recommended the Streetcar Alternative versus the bus-only alternative. The Columbia Pike Transit Alternative Analysis, conducted by Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) in cooperation with Arlington and Fairfax Counties in 2005, concluded that the Streetcar Alternative would respond more favorably to the project goals related to community and economic development. The recommendation was preceded by extensive analysis and community outreach. In 2006, the recommendation was endorsed by the Arlington County Board and Fairfax County Board.
The Return on Investment Study presented to the Arlington County Board in July 2012 cited significant positive impacts along the Columbia Pike Corridor with the construction and deployment of the streetcar. Was an analysis of the real estate development benefits also undertaken for the TSM 2 Alternative?
Yes, as part of the AA/EA study, an evaluation was undertaken of the economic effects of each alternative. The economic development analysis examined the impact on property values, the opportunity for new development investment and the opportunity to increase the pace of corridor revitalization.
The analysis and findings are presented in Chapter 3.6 – Economic Development Columbia Pike Transit Initiative AA/EA – Volume I, with the methodology presented in the Economic Development Technical Memorandum AA/EA - Volume II, Chapter 6.
The study concluded that the Streetcar Alternative is projected to produce the highest increase in property values along the alignment, which would in turn increase the tax base and annual property tax revenue received by each county. In addition, it has the greatest potential to attract development and increase the pace of investment in the corridor.
“Collectively, the mobility gains, the permanence of the investment, and the close alignment with the nature of commercial district are anticipated to provide the greatest support for attracting investment and accelerating revitalization in the corridor” (Page 3-49).
The permanence of the investment was one of the main factors attributed to the higher economic development impacts for the Streetcar Alternative than for the TSM 2 Alternative. Because the TSM 2 alternative does not have a dedicated lane, the development community does not see the bus improvements as a permanent fixed investment (i.e. bus routes are easy to change). This finding was obtained from a developer survey and workshop, as well as other research efforts. Details on the developer survey and workshop can be found in the Columbia Pike Transit Initiative Return on Investment Study.
The following are key findings from this developer outreach:
- 60% said that higher quality transit, like a streetcar, was very important or important in choosing to develop along the corridor
- 64% said that a streetcar would cause them to add more residential units to their developments (32% indicated a 25% or greater increase in units while another 32% reported a 4 -14% increase)
- 70% said that a streetcar would increase retail sales volume per square foot
- 40% reported that they were more likely to develop along the corridor as opposed to other places in Arlington County or Fairfax County without rail service.
Another study undertaken for the District of Columbia Department of Transportation found that:
“Because the TSM Alternatives would not add permanent infrastructure investment along the corridor, large property value impacts are not anticipated for these alternatives; developers are less likely to invest private capital when there is a risk that buses can be readily rerouted (AECOM, District of Columbia Transit Improvements Alternatives Analysis Return on Investment Report, DDOT, May 2005).
The results of our land value analysis of BRT corridors also is consistent with the perception that the permanence of BRT features may play a role in spurring development and increasing land values. For example, the University Circle portion of the Healthline (Cleveland, Ohio) which received significant infrastructure and private institutional investments (i.e., investments that are more likely to be perceived as permanent by developers and others), experienced modest to large increases in land values. In contrast, the East Cleveland segment of the Healthline—which includes fewer BRT features and less investment than other segments of the line experienced a slight decline in land values in the years immediately before and after BRT operations began (page 34, GAO Study).
Why was a formal cost-benefit analysis not undertaken on the alternatives, including the Streetcar Alternative?
The application process for the Small Starts Program, the funding program that Arlington County and Fairfax County are counties are pursuing, was undertaken in close coordination with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), the agency overseeing the evaluation process used on projects seeking federal funding. While FTA does not require what might be considered a typical cost/benefit analysis, it does require detailed analysis and reporting of cost, benefit and financial information. Projects must first emerge from an Alternative Analysis (AA) that evaluates alternative modes and alignments and presents information on the benefits, costs and impacts of each alternative. To address environmental requirements, the impacts on the human and natural environment must be projected.
The Columbia Pike Transit Initiative Alternative Analysis/Environmental Assessment Study presented to the public and stakeholders in May 2012, presented the findings and recommendations from the detailed planning and environmental work. Analysis areas in the AA/EA included the following:
- Ridership, travel time, and service parameters for opening year and design year (2030)
- Traffic operation impacts, including intersection performance; parking and access
- Bicycle and pedestrian connections
- Impact on minority and low income populations
- Economic development and fiscal impacts, including
- Economic impacts associated with construction and operations
- Fiscal impacts to the tax base related to property acquisitions and property premiums experienced by parcels
- Economic development impacts related to the value of travel time saved, property premiums for adjacent properties, opportunities for new investment and economic revitalization
- Visual and aesthetic conditions
- Cultural resources, parklands
- Air quality, water resources, contaminated materials
- Financial analysis:
- Operating and capital costs, with operating costs presented for the opening year and design year (2030)
- Operating and capital funding plan, including the projected fare revenue
The analysis evaluated each alternative against how well it addresses the project purpose, needs, goals and objectives. The evaluation findings were presented to show the advantages and disadvantages as well as trade-offs for each alternative (Chapter 5 – Evaluation of Alternatives of the AA/EA Study).
Following this analysis, additional work was undertaken to evaluate the Locally Preferred Alternative – the Streetcar Alternative, against project justification and financial criteria required by the federal Small Starts Program. The effort included preparation of detailed information on the project, ridership and service projections, operating and capital costs, as well as an evaluation against the following measures
- Cost Effectiveness – cost per hour of travel time saved
- Land Use and Economic Impact
- Financial Plan, including local financial commitment
FTA is currently reviewing the information as part of the effort to determine if the project meets the Small Starts Program requirements.
When will FTA make a decision on whether to fund the Columbia Pike project and what is the maximum amount of federal funding that can be provided to the Streetcar Project?
Federal funding under the Small Starts program is considered after the project development process is complete. It is estimated that project development of the Columbia Pike Streetcar project will be completed in 2014.
The maximum federal participation in a Federal Small Starts project is $ 75 million. The Small Starts program is restricted to projects that are under $250 million in total capital cost.
The New Starts Program funds higher-cost projects and does not have an established maximum federal funding ceiling. The Columbia Pike Streetcar project could be eligible for either program but is currently being evaluated for entry into the Small Starts program.
The amount of federal funding for a project is defined in the grant agreement: the Project Construction Grant Agreement (PCGA). The federal share is capped at the amount specified in the grant agreement.
How much has been spent on the project to date?
Approximately $3.1 million has been spent on the AA/EA, with funding coming from both the Transportation Capital Fund and the State Transit capital aid.
How will Arlington County pay for its share of the project cost? What are the expenses expected in FY 13 and 14 and will the Board approve them? Why are we spending more than $35 million in FY13 and 14 without any guarantee of federal funding? What will happen if the County does not receive the federal funding?
Based on the current County Board adopted CIP, Arlington County would fund its share of the project costs from the Transportation Capital Fund (TCF), which is the existing ad valorem tax applied to commercial and industrial property Countywide. The existing TCF rate is $0.125 per $100 in assessed value. This is the maximum rate established by the General Assembly. Other sources of funds for the project are anticipated to be state transit capital aid and federal funding.
Expenses associated with preliminary design and engineering are expected to be incurred during FY 13 and 14. The Board will be asked to approve any construction contracts over $250,000 (per County Purchasing regulations). Other items may not require Board approval, but the Board will receive regular briefings by staff, as discussed during the development of the FY 2013 – FY 2022 CIP.
Although the CIP is based on cash needs, it is not necessarily a strict expenditure schedule. Therefore, it is not likely that the full $35.3 million budgeted will actually be spent by the end of FY 2014. After the first year, the CIP is a funding and planning document, including planning for the timing of bond issuance. The first $10 million of revenue bonds are part of the FY 2014 budget amount of $25.8 million, and depending on the timing of issuing these bonds, it is likely that a portion of the proceeds will not be actually spent in FY 2014.
If federal funding is not provided, it would mean a loss of $60 million that is currently included in the funding plan for the streetcar. The Board would need to make a determination regarding how to proceed.
The CIP states that more than $10 million will be spent over the next three years to acquire land for the Columbia Pike Streetcar. What land is being acquired and what will it be used for?
The land acquisition is for a maintenance facility and traction power stations for the streetcar; in addition, small portions of property would be required for some stations. More detailed right-of-way and engineering work needs to be done in order to determine the actual costs. This will be done during the preliminary engineering phase.
What are the next steps for the project?
The current project timeline, subject to funding availability, calls for the streetcar service to be operational in 2017, with the major phases as follows:
- Preliminary engineering/project development from 2013 - 2014
- Final Design and construction beginning in 2015
- System testing and service beginning in 2017
Work currently underway includes efforts to position the project to be eligible for federal funding assistance, define critical design concepts for the system and complete the environmental requirements. The efforts include the following:
- Preparation of the Project Management Plan, which describes the project, including the budget and schedule, the project team, and procedures and processes to develop, manage and implement the project.
- Participating in meetings with Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and their consultant, the Project Management Oversight Contractor (PMOC), where the federal representatives assess the technical capacity of the Arlington-Fairfax project team to implement the streetcar project. FTA approval of the project into the Small Starts Program must be obtained before project development work can proceed.
- Developing recommended revisions to the Arlington County Procurement Ordinance to establish guidance related to accepting and evaluating proposals for transportation facility public-private partnerships; this will be an action item at an upcoming Arlington County Board meeting. A work session on alternative project delivery methods is being scheduled with the Arlington County Board. The session will include a panel of representatives from other transit agencies that have implemented alternative project delivery methods.
- Holding a work session with the Arlington County Board to provide information on the type of streetcar vehicles available in the North America market and how they address the design requirements important for Arlington County
- Coordination with Transportation Planning Board representatives to program the project in the region’s Cost Constrained Long Range Plan (CLRP). In addition, the Transportation Improvement Priority (TIP) document will be updated to program funding for the design effort.
- Coordination with Fairfax County to update the Interlocal Agreement between the two counties which defines the roles, responsibilities and funding arrangement for the project design phase. This will be an upcoming action item at the Arlington County Board.
- Continued coordination with projects and initiatives impacting the Columbia-Pike corridor, including two projects which are implementing improvements that will support the streetcar project.
- Columbia Pike Multimodal Street Improvements Project which is upgrading the Columbia-Pike corridor in Arlington County to a “Complete Streets” design.
- Columbia Pike Super Stops Project which is upgrading high volume bus stops along the corridor, with a larger, customized shelter, sidewalk improvements, enhanced passenger amenities and information, more seating, and heating.
- Crystal City Streetcar Project which is undertaking environmental work to evaluate a streetcar line along a 2.5 mile corridor from the vicinity of Potomac Avenue and South Glebe Road to the Pentagon City Metrorail Station in Arlington County.