The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved the construction of a 5-mile streetcar line along Columbia Pike that will extend into neighboring Arlington County.

The 7-2 vote, with one abstention, allows area officials to seek up to $75 million in federal funding to help underwrite the project's estimated $249 million cost. Last week, the Arlington County Board unanimously approved the same proposal, allowing the line to run from Pentagon City to the Skyline area of Fairfax.

"The streetcar will relieve congestion and present economic development opportunities for the Skyline area and serve a population with the demonstrated support and need for transit," Chairwoman Sharon Bulova said.

Arlington-Alexandria bus line work begins
Alexandria began construction Tuesday on a 5-mile bus rapid-transit system between the city and Arlington County.
The region's first BRT line, known as the Crystal City/ Potomac Yard Transitway, will run between the Braddock Road and Pentagon City Metro stations.
The first phase of the project includes widening nearly a mile of Route 1 and adding sidewalks and pedestrian ramps. Lanes will be designated for bus use only.
Alexandria received $15.9 million in federal and state funding for the project
Bus service is expected to begin in early 2014. The city will explore whether the bus routes can be converted later to streetcar service.

Board members Michael Frey, R-Sully, and Pat Herrity, R-Springfield, voted against the line, citing concerns about cost and effectiveness.

"I think [the streetcar's overall cost is] three times more than the next cheapest alternative, which is a BRT bus system," Herrity said. "It's more expensive to operate. I believe it's less flexible, it's got unproven economic development potential and it doesn't provide time advantages that users look for. I don't think we can look at the most expensive solution."

Supervisor Linda Smyth, D-Providence, abstained during the vote because her husband has an interest in property along the line's proposed route.

In addition to the $75 million in federal funding, the streetcar project would be financed with $35 million in state funding and $140 million from Fairfax and Arlington counties. Only three of the streetcar's 19 stops are in Fairfax so 80 percent of the local cost will be paid by Arlington.

Neither county has decided how to pay for operating expenses.

"Whether it's streetcar, whether it's bus, whatever it is, we have to kind of find our way out of the transportation nightmare that we're in," said board member Catherine Hudgins, D-Hunter Mill. "I think it's a good idea."

Columbia Pike is already the busiest bus route in Northern Virginia, with 16,000 riders a day. The proposed streetcar line, which could begin operating by 2016 or 2017, is expected to move an estimated 10,000 additional daily riders along that route.