Infrastructure & Environment

Arlington Streetcar Sees Surprising Opposition

June 18, 2014
 

A majority of the Arlington County Board on Tuesday declared its opposition to a referendum on the Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcar projects, a step that took opponents of the projects by surprise and set up a possible showdown between pro- and anti-streetcar factions in November’s general election.

Board Chairman Jay Fisette (D) and two other members who support the streetcar projects said the five-member board does not have the legal authority to order a non-binding, advisory referendum. They said a vote by the public would have to take the form of a bond referendum, which could burden county homeowners.

“I’m committed to the streetcar, but not at any cost,” Fisette said in an interview just before giving his public statement. “If it requires Arlington homeowners to take on bond debt to pay for it, I will walk away from it.”

Board members John Vihstadt (I) and Libby Garvey (D) — as well as other referendum proponents — seemed to have been caught off guard by the coordinated statements delivered by their colleagues at the board’s workshop session Tuesday afternoon. They warned that voters would have their say at the ballot box this fall.

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and there’s no such thing as a free streetcar,” Garvey said. “We all are going to be paying for this streetcar.”

Under Virginia law, any referendum vote on the streetcar would have to involve a proposal to issue general obligation bonds. If streetcar construction becomes part of a successful bond proposal, Arlington homeowners would end up footing part of the bill, Fisette said. That is something he and fellow board members Mary H. Hynes (D) and J. Walter Tejada (D) said they oppose.

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