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The District Department of Transportation issued a mysterious press release on Tuesday. “Megaproject Update,” it said. “DDOT Preparing Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for an Integrated Premium Transit System and South Capitol Street Corridor Projects.”

The South Capitol Street component was relatively straightforward: a $600 million project to upgrade two segments of the corridor. But the “integrated premium transit system” was murkier; the release revealed only that it involved a public-private partnership to deliver “an urban streetcar system under a design, build, finance, operate and maintain (‘DBFOM’) framework” and “a Premium non-regional bus system within the District, including the provision of buses storage and maintenance facilities.”

Fortunately, DDOT streetcar spokeswoman Dara Ward was able to provide some clarity.

According to Ward, the “integrated premium transit system” will be an entity apart from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which oversees Metro and Metrobus. There’ll likely be a governing authority entity* for the transit system plus a separate private operator to carry out day-to-day operation of the streetcar and local bus system. A task force set up by the mayor is currently exploring exactly how the system will be structured.

The first two lines of the streetcar already have some of the network’s eventual 22 miles built out: 2.2 miles on the H Street-Benning line, and 1.1 miles on the Anacostia line. The selected operator will presumably be responsible for building out the remaining 19ish miles. As for the bus system, it’s expected to absorb DDOT’s Circulator system, and may or may not be named “Circulator.”

Will this mark the beginning of a D.C. Transit Authority? Ward says the RFQ will be issued in two to three weeks, at which point more information will be available. Stay tuned!

*UPDATE 3:30 p.m.: Ward calls back to amend her word choice, noting that “authority” implies a body outside of the city government, while the governing entity for the premium transit system may stay within DDOT or become its own D.C. agency and won’t necessarily be an “authority.”

Photo by Michael W. Hicks