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My column this week describes the tough spot in which the District Department of Transportation finds itself, trying to connect the H Street trolley line to Union Station while at the same time completing a credible NEPA study for the K Street extension. Part of the difficulty, some longtime streetcar watchers figure, is that the mayoral transition put a hitch in the project’s momentum at a critical time.
“Quite frankly, we’re suffering the consequences of the change in administrations,” says Downtown Business Improvement District director Richard Bradley. “I think from the business community’s point of view, if they’re going to be engaged in this, they need certainty, and that’s beyond the length of a political administration. As this system becomes more complex, it needs a different approach.”
What does Bradley mean by a “different approach”? Something that’s been envisioned for a while, actually: A dedicated governance structure for streetcar planning and administration. Back in 2009, Councilmember Jim Graham introduced legislation that would create a “D.C. Transit Board”, run by elected and appointed board members, to oversee both the streetcar and the Circulator; the bill never made it out of committee. Last year’s streetcar system plan also promised to convene a “governance taskforce” that would figure out what kind of entity should ultimately be created to run the thing. D.C. Surface Transportation, a loose body formed by the BIDs and Destination D.C. to organize around transit service, surveyed the options and recommended that it take the shape of a nonprofit corporation with the power to borrow money and set policy.
This latest streetcar episode is just a reminder that if such an entity makes sense, it should probably get set up sooner rather than later.