You hear a lot of talk about making suburbs into something more like cities, and if reporting like that of the Washington Post last week is any guide, it’s going to be a tricky sell to turn the talk into reality. On March 24, the Post published a story about what it calls a “$1 million bus stop” in Arlington, Virginia. It didn’t cost $1 million, technically, and it isn’t just a bus stop. The Post showed signs of having known as much, but went ahead and made a new transit project sound like a boondoggle anyway and stoked enough outrage to have a major county transit improvement project put on hold.
The stop is what Arlington transportation planners are calling a “superstop.” It is a prototype, the first of two dozen stops meant to handle both bus and, eventually, streetcar traffic down Columbia Pike, a four-lane commercial strip that runs three-and-a-half miles through the county from its outer suburbs to the edge of the Pentagon. At the Pentagon, buses unload at a very busy subway stop that takes people into Washington, D.C. Once the streetcar line is built as planned, the combined transit line is expected to carry about 30,000 passengers on a typical weekday.
The hard costs to build the stop were $574,000. There were other costs, too, about $433,000, as Dennis Leach, Arlington’s transportation director, told me. Those other costs involved design (by HOK), planning, reviews, fees, and so forth. There were also problems of construction delays, about 14 months beyond the four months originally scheduled. Arlington contracted the construction of three superstops to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, or Metro, which wound up for its own reasons scaling down its construction operations. (Metro can barely keep a single subway station fully functional these days.) “This project really became an orphan” at Metro, so Arlington County ended that relationship with just the one superstop.
Much of the $433,000 can be filed under research and development costs, one-time charges to create the first superstops that will spread over the creation of the other 23 stops. “Our intent was to do one [stop], evaluate it, and then go forward with modifications,” Leach said.
Ah, but the Post reported that “[t]he county has budgeted $20.8 million for the remaining 23 stops, or about $904,000 for each one.” With this burning fact, the Post’s reporter headed out to the superstop in question and baited commuters who were waiting for buses to offer their thoughts about all this million-dollar business. (more…)