There it is: The light at the end of the tunnel for H Street’s long suffering.
By June 30th, the District Department of Transportation announced last night at an update meeting on the streetcar, they expect to “substantially complete” street and sidewalk work in the corridor. And with $99.3 million in the Mayor’s capital budget over the next six years—which streetcar czar Scott Kubly notes makes D.C.’s investment in a streetcar system bigger than that of any other U.S. city—they’ve got the funding to finish up the H Street/Benning line, and keep planning tracks into Anacostia and across K Street to Washington Circle.
But there’s still a bit of a wait. The 2012 budget doesn’t include operating dollars, which means that trolleys won’t start trundling down those tracks until fiscal year 2013, or late 2012 in regular people years. In between, there’s a lot more work to be done. Power substations have to be installed on District-owned land behind the kiosk library at Spingarn High School and at 12th and H NE (the last will be temporary; a permanent station will be incorporated into the redevelopment of the Autozone site.) Though this phase will use overhead wires, in order to comply with legislation passed last summer, DDOT has to issue a request for proposals for streetcars that can run for at least a mile without them. The agency also has to solicit bids for an operations and maintenance contract, expected to cost between $3 million and $4 million annually.
Perhaps the largest remaining hurdle: Reaching an agreement with Amtrak over the eventual terminus at Union Station. They’ll need to by the end of the summer, if DDOT is to hit its late-2012 deadline—but Kubly is optimistic that things will work out, and played down potential alternatives as likely unnecessary. “Nobody has signed on the dotted line, but nobody has told us no yet,” he said. “What’s slowing it down isn’t a hard ‘no’ from Amtrak. What it is is uncertainty from Amtrak.”
On the longer-term horizon, DDOT has to figure out funding for the rest of the system. The agency continues to seek federal grants, arguing that since trolleys that can run without overhead wires may be used in other cities like Seattle and Baltimore, the feds should help bear the increased cost (also, the Anacostia segment is undergoing the National Environmental Policy Act process in order to make it eligible for federal funds). Then there’s the private financing piece, which could take the shape of additional property taxes on abutting landowners who will see their values rise as a result of the new transportation infrastructure, or a limited partnership created by voluntary contributions (read more about that stuff here).
When it does finally start running, the fare is expected to mirror that of the Circulator, which will increase to $2 per trip cash or $1.50 by Smartcard. Hours will match Metro’s. Bus service will not decrease, though Kubly says that further streetcar line extensions will allow better integration between the two transit services.