Arlington set to re-start transit-stop program along Columbia Pike

Artist conception of the planned transit stops along Columbia Pike. (Arlington County government)

More than five years after derision over the cost of constructing transit stops on Columbia Pike put the project on ice, Arlington officials are ready to start up again with lower-cost alternatives.

County Board members on July 16 are expected to approve a contract for up to $1.65 million for construction of four bus stops along the Pike corridor, the vanguard of what is anticipated to be 23 new stops to augment a single station that was completed in 2013.

The cost for the four new shelters works out to about $412,000 apiece, far less than the 2013 prototype and below the $470,000 per stop projected after plans had been scaled back in 2014.

Construction is slated to begin in the fall and be completed next spring. The timetable for the remaining stations is incomplete.

Funding for the four stops comes from a variety of sources – local, state and federal – and will support stops on the Pike at Glebe Road (westbound), South Oakland Street (westbound), South Buchanan Street (westbound) and South Four Mile Run (eastbound).

Construction can’t start too soon for Kim Klingler, executive director of the Columbia Pike Redevelopment Organization (CPRO).

“As development progresses along Columbia Pike, streamlining transit is essential,” Klingler said.

“The four new transit stations coming to the Pike are the critical first step in the larger multi-modal project that will enhance transit along the Pike, and bring us one step closer to providing connectivity between the Columbia Pike Corridor, Crystal City and the new Amazon HQ2,” she told the Sun Gazette.

Construction of the original new-generation bus shelter – then dubbed a “SuperStop” – on Columbia Pike eastbound at South Walter Reed Drive was completed in March 2013, and almost immediately led to an uproar.

Opponents of the proposed Columbia Pike streetcar project derided that first station, designed by the county government but constructed under auspices of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, as an example of the grandiosity of the streetcar concept and cluelessness of Metro’s leadership. County Board member Libby Garvey used what soon became known (incorrectly but widely) as the “million-dollar bus stop” as another weapon to bludgeon the $300 million streetcar project, which aimed to connect Pentagon City west to Skyline.

Following the brouhaha, county officials put the transit-stop project on hold, coming back in 2014 with a plan that lowered the average price to $470,000 per station. But then, a few months later, the streetcar project was abandoned when Democratic County Board members Mary Hynes and Jay Fisette switched sides and called for it to be killed off.

Like a struggling television series, the transit-shelter plan then was put on hiatus while county officials worked out how to regroup and move forward. That process took almost five years.

In a new report to County Board members, staff say community response to the current plan has been “generally positive,” but acknowledged that concerns have been expressed (as they were with the prototype) that the shelters won’t actually provide much shelter against the elements.

For the most part, however, waiting time at the stops is minimal, as the Columbia Pike corridor has the highest concentration of bus service in Virginia.

The new stops will include kiosks providing real-time transit information, and will be able to be integrated into any future bus-rapid-transit (or even a revived streetcar) network in the corridor.

The Arlington County government received two bids on the project; Sagres Construction Corp. was the low bidder at $1.37 million. The other bid came in at $3.91 million.

County officials add 20 percent to construction amounts to provide a contingency fund, although they may not necessarily have to dip into it.

(1) comment

Allen Muchnick

Roughly $400,000 per bus shelter still seems at least 10 times higher than necessary. What's wrong with the bus shelters used in Pentagon City?

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