The Columbia Pike streetcar project was the focus of many debates among residents and officials in Arlington, VA when it was first proposed. The $249 million transit system will offer transportation between Bailey’s Crossroads in Fairfax and Pentagon City.
With the project approved, the next step was to begin the procurement process. Rather than the traditional ‘design, bid, build’ approach the county has taken in the past, the Arlington County Board voted to update their procurement guidelines, adding amendments that will encourage public-private partnerships (PPP) on major transportation projects.
Opposition and Accusations
Newly elected Libby Garvey’s opposition to the streetcar was a fundamental part of her campaign. Out of the five board members, she was the only one to vote against the new guidelines. Board member Jay Fisette pointed out, however, “If you’re only talking about the streetcar, then you can design the guidelines for this one thing. But that’s not what we’re doing.”
Garvey also attempted to stall progress by publicly announcing her concern over fellow board member Chris Zimmerman’s role with AECOM as a consultant. The Canadian company advised the Arlington County Board on estimated costs for the streetcar, as well as PPP practices, but the County Attorney found no conflict of interest between the two.
The Benefits of Public-Private Partnerships
PPPs allow the public sector to use the knowledge and funding opportunities of the private sector through a partnership that benefits everyone involved. Garvey raised concerns that this change would limit the number of bids received on county projects and would rush the process, but other officials said that several recent projects have had a single bid under the current policy. Chairwoman Mary Hynes promised, “If a large, complex project comes in, we will take a sufficient amount of time. No one wants to make a bad investment in this community. Everyone wants to try to achieve our goals.”
The scale of the Columbia Pike transit project may have played a big role in the decision to change the procurement guidelines, but public-private partnerships have the potential to deliver long-term benefits in Arlington County.
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