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Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette: An Election Message on the County’s Future

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Here are a few thoughts from Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette on the upcoming election between Democrat Alan Howze and Republican John Vihstadt. I strongly agree with Fisette on the streetcar, and on the importance of voting for Howze on Tuesday. 

 

Arlington was recently ranked the 3rd best place to live in the U.S.  We boast fantastic schools, strong infrastructure, high quality services and low crime. Our fiscal management is top rated in the country. These things don’t happen by accident.
 
I attribute our success to: (1) having a common vision/commitment to long term planning; (2) robust civic engagement; (3) leveraging of outside resources; and (4) follow-through/making strategic investments that ensure a return on that investment into the future. At the end of the day, it’s all about Arlington’s sustainability – the ability to prosper through change and to build a community that supports generations to come.
 
30+ years of electing strong and forward-thinking Democrats to our County and School Boards have enabled our vibrant community to thrive.
 
Today our top challenges are: (1) growing school enrollments; (2) housing affordability, and; (3) economic competitiveness. With the first two, we are victims of our own success and we have made significant progress. We always have and always will have challenges. We can and will solve them if we continue to respect our past principles of success.
 
The national political climate has become dysfunctional and communication tools have expanded the ability to disparage and distort. Arlingtonians have traditionally prided ourselves on studying the issues and not responding to such tactics – though we are not immune. As Sy Sims said, “An educated consumer is my best customer.”
 
This brings me to the streetcar – what I believe to be Arlington’s next strategic investment and an issue that has recently re-surfaced to generate much conflict and consternation. Clearly the County was caught flat-footed as this decision had been made in 2006 with the staff working diligently toward that goal ever since, yet a savvy and strategic effort began to “derail” the streetcar project. And how many Arlingtonians have looked at the County’s webpage to review the power point, the FAQ’s and our professional staff’s rationale in support of this investment?
 
So why do I so strongly support this project? Here are six reasons:

  1. Reduces congestion – Over the next 30 years, 65% of Arlington’s population growth and 44% of job growth is projected to be along the streetcar route. Transit ridership on this route will double to nearly 60,000 daily trips. The workhorse streetcars (coming every 6 minutes) will replace busses and carry 60% of those riders. More people will choose to ride streetcar because it is more predictable, accessible and comfortable than a bus, thus attracting more drivers to public transit and further reducing congestion and pollution. Each streetcar vehicle can hold 100% more passengers than a standard Metrobus, and 40% more than an articulated bus (any larger ones aren’t permitted in the U.S.). Accommodating more people in fewer vehicles is key to keep traffic moving. And finally, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is a false option for Columbia Pike due to restricted right of way and the inability to have a dedicated lane. Bus yes. Rapid no.
  2. Improves regional rail connections – It will expand rail connections to Metrorail and VRE commuter rail – from Skyline/Bailey’s Crossroads in Fairfax County through Crystal City. The 7.4-mile streetcar system will connect to job centers, neighborhoods and shopping.
  3. Maximizes Return on Investment – The streetcar will yield $3-4.2B in new real estate value for Arlington and Fairfax over 30 years and generate $375-735M in new tax revenues that can be used for county-wide needs, such as schools, parks and affordable housing. That’s 3X more than the highest-capacity bus alternative – after operating costs are netted out for both bus and rail.
  4. Leverages 100% DEDICATED transportation funds to build – The Arlington-Fairfax streetcar successfully leverages State and regional transportation funds. No homeowner property tax funds are needed and there will be no impact on the County’s debt burden. No tax rates will change on anyone. If the streetcar is not built, over $100M will be redirected to other parts of the state and many funds would be redirected to other parts of Arlington. These funds are not “fungible” and cannot be used for schools, parks or affordable housing – they are legally required to be spent on new, transportation projects. The State and Fairfax are strong project partners. You ask us to leverage outside funds, and we have done that.
  5. Transforms Columbia Pike – Streetcars are central to achieving the Main Street vision for Columbia Pike, just as METRO transformed the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor. Arlington’s success is tied to transit and it’s time to invest in the Columbia Pike corridor. We must respect the lengthy community process that developed this plan.
  6. Helps preserve affordable housing – The corridor plan has won national awards for integrating housing with land use and transportation – including the goal of “no net loss” of affordable housing. The streetcar is key to achieving this goal through encouraging private investment along the Pike. Innovative financing and planning incentives are in place to preserve existing affordable housing that would otherwise be at risk. 

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We are at a crossroads and we must lead for the future. As former County Manager Ron Carlee once said, “We don’t do easy in Arlington!” We must choose sound policy over sound bites, continue to be a community of innovation and partnerships, and not shy away from the strategic investments that will continue to distinguish Arlington and keep our economy and our community moving forward. If we do so, I am confident that Arlington will remain the place that other communities look to for inspiration.
 
Please vote for Alan Howze for Arlington County Board.

If this message resonates with you, I encourage you to forward it to your friends and neighbors.