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How will Arlington pay for its streetcar system?

Arlington is making a strategic investment in streetcars, just as it did a half-century ago in Metrorail. By investing in this crucial infrastructure now, the County is ensuring that the heavily traveled Route 1 corridor and Columbia Pike, areas that are growing rapidly, will attract high-quality development and become more transit oriented and pedestrian friendly. Modern streetcar lines are far less costly to build than subways or even light rail — and they pay big community dividends.

Because both streetcar segments are in the planning stages, costs shown below are preliminary estimates and will change as plans are finalized and construction gets underway. Arlington is partnering with neighboring Fairfax County on the Columbia Pike streetcar, and will share both capital and operating costs with that jurisdiction.

Arlington is putting together streetcar funding plans that rely on multiple sources of dedicated transportation funds and ensure that the County stays within its debt and financial plans. Local funding will come from the County’s Transportation Capital Fund, which is generated by a 12.5-cent real estate surcharge on commercial property. This tax cannot be used for education, public safety, human services or anything except transportation.

Project costs are currently being refined as part of the FY 2015-2024 Capital Improvement Plan, which is expected to be released in late spring 2014.

Columbia Pike streetcar (preliminary estimates):

Estimated capital cost: $250 million. That total includes the following funding  sources:

  • Estimated federal funding: $75 million (30% of total project cost)
  • Estimated state reimbursement: $35 million (14% of total project cost)
  • Estimated local share: $140 million, divided as follows between the two jurisdictions:

                 — Arlington’s estimated local share: $105-112 million

                 — Fairfax’s estimated local  share: $28 million

Estimated operating cost: $3.6 million annually

Note: A 2013 Federal Transit Administration (FTA) review of this project, based on its conceptual design, found that the “most likely” cost to design and build the Columbia Pike streetcar was $310 million. The FTA’s cost estimate is based upon a very conservative methodology, applied to a project still in the early stages of development, and their review provided a roadmap by which to identify and mitigate project risks.

Route 1 streetcar (preliminary estimates):

Estimated capital cost: $144 million. That total includes the following funding sources:

  • Estimated state reimbursement: $33 million
  • Estimated funding from additional tax revenues generated by new development planned for Crystal City, commercial real estate tax and GO bonds: $111 million

Estimated operating cost: $3-5 million annually