Arlington Transit facility heralds new day, but some questions linger

Artist's rendition of the new Arlington Transit (ART) facility in Green Valley.

County, regional and state officials descended on Shirlington Road on June 15, ceremonially kicking off construction of a much-awaited and oft-debated maintenance facility for the Arlington Transit (ART) bus fleet.

The $82 million project “is going to be one of the most environmentally forward and sustainable facilities you’ll ever see when it comes to bus-transit operations,” County Board member Christian Dorsey said at the kickoff event.

The project’s genesis dates to 2018, when the county government purchased three parcels on Shirlington Road with the intent of creating a modern bus-maintenance facility for ART, which is operated by a contractor and funded by Arlington taxpayers and other sources.

The development plan drew some brushback at times from the surrounding neighborhoods, but leaders at the groundbreaking said it would prove its worth.

“This facility is going to grow more and more essential – without it, we’re not going to be able to meet the needs of this county,” said Jennifer DeBruhl, acting director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, one of the partners in the project.

Among others helping move the project forward is the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, which kicked in $39 million in funding.

“This transit facility is going to provide more options,” said Monica Backmon, the agency’s CEO. “That means more riders – and that’s critical.”

But leaders in the surrounding community said more dialogue is needed as the project moves forward.

“While the ground has been broken, there are remaining issues for the County Board to address,” said Portia Clark, president of the Green Valley Civic Association.

Among the as-yet-unaddressed concerns of the neighborhood: A lit sign with the ART logo has been proposed to face a residential community, which Clark termed “an unnecessary nuisance.”

While the county government initially had “disregard for Green Valley insight,” that has changed up to a point, said Robin Stombler, the civic association’s vice president.

“The county has now agreed to outfit the facility for electric vehicles with photovoltaic panels,” she said.

But the proposal still calls for using a parking garage on the parcel exclusively for staff use.

“Given local parking challenges, a little creative thinking would open sections of the garage for public use, too,” Stombler said.

Specifics remain to be worked out, but civic-association leaders seem to be presenting a glass-half-full view.

“We hope this transit operations facility will strive to be a good neighbor,” Clark said.

ART is designed to supplement, and provide lower-cost service than, Metrobus within Arlington County. Like most transit systems, it was whacked around significantly by COVID and still has a way to go, rebound-wise.

In December 2021, the 16-route system averaged 5,706 riders on a typical weekday, compared to an average of 9,334 in December 2019 before the pandemic. Weekend service is significantly reduced and carries fewer passengers.

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