Transit Oriented Development is an innocent-sounding term that gets some critics of local government all wee-wee’d up. In a nutshell, it’s based on the belief that your Subaru is killing the planet, so we should all ride our bikes in the rain to a train that drops us at a station just a second soggy bike ride to the office. The city and county planners and regional agencies who dream up T.O.D. schemes exercise a twisted logic that says, build a light rail or streetcar line between Point A and Point B, and soon, “vibrant communities” will sprout up around the train stations and streetcar stops.
Logic like that explains how the unthinkable idea of a one million dollar bus stop becomes thinkable, then becomes a steel and glass reality. Adding insult to usury, the project was completed 18 months behind schedule, the roof leaked, and in the summer the steel benches reached butt-searing temperatures. Without a shred of irony, transit planners called this a superstop, and were about to build 23 more like it.
The million dollar superstop is in Arlington County, VA, which is just south of the Potomac from Washington, D.C., and home of the Pentagon, the TSA, and the DEA. The bus stop is at the corner of Walter Reed Drive and the Columbia Pike on a soon-to-be-built 4.5 mile streetcar line that connects the Skyline area of neighboring Fairfax County to the Pentagon City Metro station. Those are some spendy streetcar tracks. The cost for that short run is $249 million. But that’s another story.
The million dollar shelter was built by Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, and it’s long enough for two buses to pull up at once, and will cover 15 people at a time. It was supposed to be the first of 24, but once word got out how much it cost, citizens woke up.
One commuter asked, “Is this made of gold?” Another was less kind. “What?” said Robin Stewart. “That’s ridiculous. From a citizen, from a voter, whoever put that budget through needs to get their butt canned. It’s an outrage.”
After local, national and international news media did articles and broadcasts from the scene, Arlington County took over construction management of the superstop from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. When County Manager Barbara Donnellan ordered a halt to the remaining stops, she said, “This is a vital transit corridor for us, It must be done right.”
The buck was soon passed to Dennis Leach, Arlington County’s deputy director of transportation and development. Leach’s first attempt to find a more reasonable solution? Last year, he said, “Our goal if at all possible is to do it for less.” So the county budgeted $20.8 million for the remaining 23 stops, or about $904,000 each. Even in the epicenter of government fraud and waste, this was still hard to swallow.
So one year later, after hiring consultants, going back to the drawing board, lowering the roof, and deciding to use standardized parts, Arlington County is now proud to say the 23 new shelters will only cost taxpayers an average of $539,000 each.
Of course, this is just a ballpark estimate. The real costs could be different when the project is put out to bid.
For anyone who feels like a brief second of reality, according to the Census Bureau, the average price of new houses sold in December 2013 was $311,400.
photo: (Dayna Smith/For The Post)