Drivers on busy Columbia Pike in Arlington can expect years of construction delays as the county prepares to give the entire neighborhood a face-lift.
Construction is set to begin in August between South Wakefield Street and South Four Mile Run Drive, where crews place utility lines underground, widen sidewalks, plant trees and install street lights, benches and bike racks.
But the $7 million, 18-month project is only a small part of the planned Pike-wide makeover. The county has a total of $80 million set aside for street improvements on the road that stretches westward from the Pentagon to the Fairfax County line.
"To complete the entire 3.5 miles of Columbia Pike is going to take three to four years," said William Roberts, who manages transportation projects for the county. "It's going to be done in phases."
From the short-term pain of construction will come long-term gain, county officials said.
"These street improvements bring us one step closer to realizing Arlington's vision for an accessible, diverse and vibrant Columbia Pike," Arlington board Chairwoman Mary Hynes said earlier.
The county is also installing larger, more comfortable bus stops and energy-efficient LED streetlights on the Pike. And roadwork may stretch even longer if the county board adopts a plan Monday to install a $249 million streetcar system.
"First all the utilities have to go underground, then you have the streetcar. So it's going to take a while," said Kamal Taktak, who will oversee the utility project and who promised work would be done only during non-rush hours and at night.
The county board is expected to vote on the streetcar Monday. A report issued earlier this month promised that the streetcar would generate hundreds of millions in property tax revenues and other benefits.
But critics complain the streetcar will cost too much; others worry the increased development will push out poorer residents along the Pike and change the street's historic character.
"We don't want Columbia Pike so gentrified that we drive away small businesses, like car repair shops or small venues that have been here for years, only to be replaced with chain restaurants," said Sarah McKinley, vice president of Arlington's Columbia Heights Civic Association, in a letter to the county board.