Big Year Ahead for Columbia Pike Corridor


(Thursday, December 14, 2006 6:31 AM EST)

Columbia Pike “reached a new turning point” in 2006, County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman says.

The key, outlined Dec. 12 at a meeting sponsored by the Columbia Pike Revitilization Organization, is to keep the momentum going.

This year saw the completion of Alcova Row townhouses, and also saw progress on construction of several condominium projects.

More projects are waiting in the wings, including the redevelopment of the Penrose Square (formerly Adams Square) and neighboring Safeway sites.

With development finally being attracted to a corridor that has languished since the late 1960s, one key question lingers: Does the corridor need a pricey trolley system that some see as essential for its future success?

Both the Arlington and Fairfax governments have voiced support for the proposed trolley line, which would connect Pentagon City to Baileys Crossroads and Skyline by way of the Pike.

“It's really becoming a reality,” said Robin McElhenny, a planner with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

Two key questions remain, however: Will residents of the Columbia Pike corridor embrace the concept - response has been mixed so far - and where will the funding come from?

Transportation officials estimate the cost of a trolley project at $120 million to $150 million, although several private developers estimate it likely would be higher.

A “financial capacity analysis” is in progress, and the results will be revealed in four to six months.

“It really is an affordable investment,” said McElhenny. “We're following the guidance of the Federal Transit Administration, so we can be eligible for federal funding.”

While federal funding would be a logical option, officials are looking at a variety of other options.

If public support can be built and funding found, officials estimate construction time to be about two-and-a-half years. While the streetcar system could take traffic off the roads, officials say it will still be quicker to drive from one end of the corridor to the other.

Although development will change the face of Columbia Pike, maintaining the essence of the corridor is important to Jim Whittaker, executive director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization.

“Community-building is one of our objectives,” Whittaker said. “We like Columbia Pike as it is today. We don't want to lose that.”

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