Trolley System Splits County Board Candidates

Arlington Sun Gazette
Trolley System Splits County Board Candidates
by SCOTT McCAFFREY, Staff Writer
(Created: Wednesday, September 5, 2007 8:25 AM EDT)

County Board candidates Mike McMenamin, Walter Tejada, Josh Ruebner, Joseph Warren and Mary Hynes at the Arlington County Civic Federation candidate forum. (Photo by Scott McCaffrey)

Is it an economic engine for South Arlington, or a choo-choo traveling down the tracks of fiscal irresponsibility?

The five candidates for County Board split decisively on the proposal for a $120-million-plus Columbia Pike trolley system, as they debated Sept. 4 in front of the Arlington County Civic Federation.

Democrats Walter Tejada and Mary Hynes expressed their support of the proposal, which remains unfunded, while Republicans Mike McMenamin and Joseph Warren and Green Party candidate Josh Ruebner strongly opposed it.

“How are we going to pay for it – we’re strapped so tight, there’s no wiggle room [in the budget] at all,” said McMenamin, who is making his second attempt for a County Board seat.

Hynes, the former School Board chairman who is making her first run for County Board, countered that the transit idea holds “great promise for moving folks onto transit.”

If it is built, the trolley would run west from Pentagon City and down Columbia Pike, then veer south and run to Skyline. Both the Arlington County Board and Fairfax County Board of Supervisors support the concept, while critics say an upgraded bus system would be cheaper and smarter.

Tejada, the board’s vice chairman, said he is a “strong supporter” of the streetcar concept, in part because it is the “preferred choice of the community there.” That brought hoots from the back of the room, as some South Arlington activists see the transit idea as a waste of time.

“I’m a resident of Columbia Pike, and I definitely don’t support the trolley,” said Ruebner, making his second bid for the board. “It’s a boondoggle designed to benefit developers.”

Warren, a first-time candidate who serves on a county transit advisory panel, said the idea for a trolley makes no sense, as it would narrow Columbia Pike for vehicular traffic, increasing congestion.

There was slightly more consensus among candidates on a second topic: funding for “public art” across Arlington. Funding for such art was not included in the most recent government capital-improvement program.

Four of the five candidates said the county government’s finances don’t lend themselves to more spending on it, although only one candidate came out for a total moratorium on funding art in public spaces.

“I don’t see the usefulness,” said Warren, who termed the public-art project “a waste.”

Hynes, McMenamin and Ruebner did not rule out future funding, but said public art is a decidedly secondary community goal.

“We need to be realistic about our priorities,” Ruebner said. “The real core services and human needs aren’t being met.”

With a financial picture that is tightening, “there’s not enough money to go around,” Hynes said. “I don’t think that’s a secret.”

Tejada offered no firm opinion on the public-art question expressed from the audience, but did say that the arts provide “important vitality” for the community. McMenamin voiced support for an arts center, but said a private developer should be found to build it as part of a deal with the county.

“We’re up against the ceiling on our AAA bond ratings,” McMenamin said of the government’s fiscal crunch.

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