UPDATE, 3:51 p.m.: Wow, that was fast: Looks like Vince Gray suddenly found that being the guy who killed the streetcar would not help so much in an election campaign. The Post is reporting that Gray freed up $10 million in the near term to purchase streetcars, plus “Another $37 million would be place in reserve pending an operations and funding proposal from Mayor Adrian Fenty.”
A few hours ago, the City Council—with Tommy Wells, Jack Evans, and Jim Graham in opposition—voted to strip $49 million from the budget for the H Street-Benning Streetcar line. So, those tracks they’ve been laying for months now? Streetcars won’t be rolling down them for another three years at least.
“When those projects are done, you’ll have tracks, but nothing else,” DDOT spokesman John Lisle told Housing Complex. “We need a maintenance facility, a place for them to turn around at Benning and Oklahoma, to power them, buy new cars.”
Tommy Wells had a decidedly doomsday assessment. “I believe this action today will kill the streetcar for another generation,” said the Ward 6 Councilman.
I strongly support streetcar development, and remain committed to seeing it become a reality here in the District of Columbia. I’ve visited Portland, Oregon, twice in recent years, seen first-hand the positive economic impact and transportation impact on communities, and I am firmly committed to a new streetcar system in the District which brings about similar benefits to our city.
But we owe it to ourselves to have a well thought out planning process. We can’t afford the Mayor’s approach of “build now and plan later,” which only results in poor outcomes and much higher costs in the end. There needs to be proper planning, comprehensive transportation and engineering work, which is why we allocated $5 million to complete the planning process. Streetcars aren’t scheduled for completion until 2030, and over the next year, we’ll do the kind of planning that’s necessary to give us the most efficient use of our dollars.
I have full intention to move forward with streetcars, however, while we do the planning over the next year, we can take some of the dollars for desperately needed and more immediate capital projects, like renovation of middle schools, while our dollars are dwindling. This approach, which passed Council by a vote of 11-2, will allow for better collaboration and cooperation with residents, business owners, and other stakeholders, and result in a much stronger streetcar system in the end.
The release seems to get a few things wrong: The Business Journal reported that only $3 million is left, not $5 million, and three members voted against the action, not two.
The project won’t affect the Anacostia line, where the streetcars the District currently owns will run. Though it makes a good point, they’re not actually up for sale on Craigslist.