Arlington County releases new ridership and cost estimates for streetcar projects

Written by Jenifer Nunez, assistant editor

By 2035, transit ridership along the Columbia Pike and the Crystal City-Pentagon City corridors is expected to more than double, according to updated ridership forecasts released by Arlington County, Va., with more than 62 percent of projected daily transit trips to be on streetcar versus bus.


“The projections of a substantial increase in population, jobs and transit ridership in these vital corridors and of more people choosing streetcar over bus, underscores the need to add streetcars to our transit mix,” County Manager Barbara Donnellan said. “Columbia Pike already is the busiest bus corridor in Virginia and it is going to get much busier as more people live and work there. Investing in streetcars now will ensure that we have the transit capacity we need to manage growth in a sustainable way and to ensure that our neighborhoods and businesses continue to thrive.”

By 2035, total daily transit trips along the two corridors are projected to reach 59,800. Of those, 37,100 are projected to be on streetcar and 22,700 on bus. The county expects bus ridership to decline or hold steady, compared to 2010 totals, as transit users and some who now drive alone rather than use transit are attracted to modern streetcar systems.

“The partnership between Fairfax and Arlington Counties to invest in streetcar serving Columbia Pike will pay dividends for both current and new residents and businesses along the corridor. Already we are seeing renewed interest in redevelopment, which will benefit both counties,” said Fairfax County Board member Penny Gross.

The new ridership projections reflect updated county and regional plans that show 65 percent of Arlington’s population growth and 44 percent of its employment growth will be along Columbia Pike and Route 1 over the next 30 years. Only by combining streetcar and bus along these two corridors, Donnellan said, can the county create enough transit capacity to accommodate increased growth. A streetcar vehicle can hold 100 percent more passengers than a bus and 40 percent more than an articulated bus.

The Proposed 2015-2024 Capital Improvement Program (CIP) project capital costs of $358 million for the Columbia Pike streetcar incorporates the 2013 Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) mid-range estimate of $310 million, plus inflation. The new cost estimate is a $109-million increase from the 2013 CIP estimate for the Columbia Pike Streetcar. Of the new estimate, Arlington’s share is projected at $287 million, up from $199 million in the 2013 CIP. Funding from Arlington’s partner in the project, Fairfax County, is proposed at $71 million.

The Crystal City streetcar estimated capital cost is now $227 million, up from $146 million in the 2013 CIP. Both project schedules have been extended to reflect more conservative timeframes for engineering, procurements and FTA approvals. The Crystal City streetcar is planned to start service in spring 2020, with the Columbia Pike streetcar opening in 2021. The longer timeframe resulted in increased costs due to inflation.
The revised cost estimates incorporate recommendations the FTA made in its review of the Columbia Pike streetcar project. The FTA recommended adding longer streetcar vehicles to accommodate higher projected ridership, assuming higher engineering and start-up costs and a higher annual inflation rate and increasing project contingencies.

Arlington plans to fund its modern streetcar system through a combination of federal, state, regional and local sources dedicated to transportation projects.

Categories: OFF Track Maintenance, Rapid Transit/Light Rail