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Tuesday, December 7, 2021
Editor’s NotebookEditor’s Notebook: A long and winding road, indeed

Editor’s Notebook: A long and winding road, indeed

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Arlington officials are giddy, as perhaps they should be, that the countdown has started for the gleaming new Long Bridge Park aquatics center and fitness facility. The “soft” opening is slated for Aug. 23, with something more formal occurring in September.

And it indeed is good news to get this behemoth up and running, even though it has taken 17 years to do it.

Yep, it was the fall of 2004 that Arlington voters approved funding for the Long Bridge Park complex, which they were told would include both outdoor facilities as well as the indoor amenities that just now are coming online.

Almost from the start, “mission creep” took over, and like so many Arlington capital projects of the era, the cost projections ballooned as additional gold-plated bells and whistles are added to the plan. (The phrase a camel is a horse designed by committee seems applicable here, although that seems a little rude to all the versatile dromedaries out there.)

In 2012, the county government had to go back to the voters for more money, which the electorate gave, though somewhat grudgingly. That 2012 election should have been the canary in the coal mine for Arlington leaders – Democrats all – that the public was getting restive with its tax-tax-tax-and-spend-spend-spend mentality.

Those chickens would come home to roost in 2014-15 with the election of John Vihstadt, the killing off of the Columbia Pike streetcar project, the shuttering of the money-pit Artisphere and, a little later, elimination of what The Washington Post called (wrongly, but cleverly) “million-dollar bus stops” along Columbia Pike.

But time rolls on, and with the exception of me and Falls Church News-Press columnist Charlie Clark, nobody in the local press corps[e] has watched this show from beginning to end.

But that history worth a reprise, so in an upcoming edition we will have all the details, from start to finish, with twists and turns, of getting to this point.

With the opening day now nearly behind us, the only question will be: Can the county government manage the facility in a way that reduces the risk to Arlington taxpayers? Time will tell; as the Artisphere proved, good intentions and overly optimistic financial projections can lead to ruinous results. No desire to see a rerun of that debacle.

  • Scott McCaffrey
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