||This article may contain an excessive amount of intricate detail that may only interest a specific audience. (July 2014)|
|Owner||Government of the District of Columbia|
|Locale||Washington, D.C., U.S.|
|Number of lines||1 (under construction)
|Operation will start||2015 (no predicted specific date)|
|System length||2.4 mi (3.9 km) (under construction)
37 mi (60 km) (planned)
|Track gauge||1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in) standard gauge|
|Electrification||750 V DC, overhead wires|
The DC Streetcar is a surface light rail and streetcar network under construction in Washington, D.C. The streetcars will be the first to run in the District of Columbia since the dismantling of the previous streetcar system in 1962. The District of Columbia began laying track in 2009 for two lines whose locations in Anacostia and Benning were chosen to revitalize blighted commercial corridors. Initially, the system will be funded and owned by the District of Columbia Department of Transportation (DDOT), and a third party will be chosen to operate it. As of October 31, 2014, the system had yet to obtain all the necessary regulatory approvals to begin public operation but maintains a regular schedule as part of testing operations.
- 1 Development
- 1.1 First iteration of streetcars
- 1.2 Second iteration of streetcars
- 1.2.1 First line proposal
- 1.2.2 Financial problems
- 1.2.3 Circulator oversight
- 1.2.4 Electrification dispute
- 1.2.5 2010
- 1.2.6 2011 announcement and more delays
- 1.2.7 New task force
- 1.2.8 2012 update
- 1.2.9 Future in jeopardy
- 1.2.10 Testing and fares
- 2 Rolling stock
- 3 Lines
- 3.1 Anacostia Line
- 3.2 Georgia Avenue Line
- 3.3 H Street NE/Benning Road Line
- 3.4 K Street Line
- 3.5 Maine Avenue Line
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 External links
First iteration of streetcars
Second iteration of streetcars
In the late 1990s, Metro began considering a series of rapid bus, light rail, and streetcar projects throughout the Washington, D.C., metropolitan region as a means of providing intra-city and intra-regional mass transit and to meet the transit needs of the quickly growing population of the area. The first project was proposed for Alexandria, Virginia, in 1999. In January 2002, District of Columbia officials began studying the economic feasibility and costs of constructing a 33-mile (53.1 km) long system of streetcars throughout the city. The project received Metro's backing. DDOT studied the feasibility of both a city-wide system and one or more "starter" lines. D.C. City Council Member David Catania specifically requested that DDOT study adding streetcars in the Anacostia neighborhood.
First line proposal
DDOT issued a favorable report, and the D.C. City Council approved an expenditure of $310 million for the streetcar project in September 2002. The first line to be built would be a 7.2-mile (11.6 km) "starter" streetcar line in Anacostia. The goal of the project was to bring light rail to Anacostia first (rather than last, as had happened with Metrorail), and to provide a speedier, more cost-effective way to link the neighborhood with the rest of the city.
Initially, the line was planned to run along the abandoned CSX railway tracks (known as the Shepherd Industrial Spur) from the Minnesota Avenue Metro station to the Anacostia Metro station, then cross the 11th Street Bridges before connecting with the Navy Yard – Ballpark and Waterfront Metro stations. DDOT originally planned to purchase diesel multiple unit cars (self-propelled rail cars powered by diesel engines) from Colorado Railcar. Layton Lyndsey, reporting in The Washington Post, asserted the cars would be the first of their kind to be built in the United States and approved by the Federal Railroad Administration.
Financing for the plan proved problematic. The same month that the D.C. government agreed to co-fund the streetcar project, Metro formally changed its strategic plan and proposed spending $12 billion over 10 years on rapid bus, light rail, and streetcar projects throughout the D.C. area. Metro proposed allocating half the total amount to build the D.C. streetcar line, complete the Silver Line, build a streetcar line on Columbia Pike in Arlington County in Virginia, and build a Purple Line light rail link between Bethesda and New Carrollton in Maryland. However, state and local governments said they were unable to fund Metro's proposal, and the planned projects died.
The District of Columbia subsequently decided to build the initial components of the DC Streetcar system on its own. The Anacostia line was scaled back to a demonstration project just 2.7 miles (4.3 km) in length with only four stations: Bolling Air Force Base, the Anacostia Metro station, the intersection of Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE and Good Hope Road SE, and the Minnesota Avenue Metro station. DDOT began an environmental assessment of the CSX tracks in July 2003. In September 2004, Metro agreed to move ahead with the project (whose $45 million cost was now being funded completely by the District of Columbia), with construction to start in November 2004 and end in 2006.
In December 2009, D.C. City Council member Jim Graham proposed establishing a D.C. Transit Board to oversee the DC Circulator bus system as well as the DC Streetcar system. The board would oversee the establishment of routes and transit fares. In order to determine whether the local business community would support the streetcar project, several local real estate and commercial developers visited the Portland Streetcar system which operates in Portland, Oregon. The goal of the trip was to investigate whether streetcars had the intended positive economic consequences and whether the return on investment seemed worthwhile. Local media reports indicated that the D.C. developers were impressed by the effect streetcars had on Portland's economic development.
Local preservationist groups such as the Committee of 100 on the Federal City as well as regional planning bodies like the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) have opposed the current design of the streetcar system, which relies on overhead electrical wires and a pantograph to conduct power to the streetcar motor. Opponents of the design cite an 1889 federal law banning such systems in Georgetown and the historic center city (defined by the Florida Avenue NE and NW south to the Potomac and Anacostia rivers. The NCPC has also opposed use of the wires along H Street NE, the 11th Street bridges, and in Anacostia. These groups have proposed a design change that would rely on wireless technologies, such as battery-powered vehicles which rely on conduit current collection (in which a metal arm or "plow" is inserted into a channel in the street and draws power from cables under the roadway). But District of Columbia officials say the current overhead lines are not visually obtrusive, and that conduit collection systems are costly and break down easily in cities with wet climates.
City transportation planning officials have also proposed building a system that would run on wires outside the historic core but switch to a hybrid battery/conduit system inside the area. On May 31, 2010, 12 of the council's 13 members co-sponsored a bill to exempt the H Street Line from the 1888 and 1889 laws that banned overhead electrication in the city's historic core. The legislation required that the mayor's office develop a citywide plan by 2014 to determine where additional overhead electrification could be permitted. The Committee of 100 supported the planning requirement, and the legislation passed the council on June 29, 2010.
But in late June 2010, the chair of the National Capital Planning Commission, L. Preston Bryant Jr., sent a letter to the Federal Transit Administration demanding that $25 million in federal money intended for the streetcar project be withheld until the NCPC and city reached agreement regarding the overhead electrication issue. The NCPC said they had legal advice which indicated that only Congress had the power to rescind the 1888 and 1889 laws. City council members, who had been negotiating with the NCPC, said the NCPC's action was a sign of bad faith in the talks. DDOT Director Gabe Klein said the NCPC was "blackmailing" city leaders, and that the NCPC was overstepping its boundary as a purely advisory body. Klein asked Bryant to rescind his letter, arguing that Bryant had purposefully misstated the city's plans for overhead electrification (claiming it would install overhead wires on the National Mall and near Congress) and asserting that the H Street Line was not covered by the 1888 and 1889 laws. Klein also cited two previous legal opinions which concluded the city had the power to rescind the 1800s legislation. On July 13, 2010, the D.C. Council passed legislation to allow the overhead wires along Benning Road and H Street NE. The legislation specifically banned the wires around the National Mall and along Pennsylvania Avenue between Capitol Hill and the White House, and established a process for seeking public and other input on whether wires should be used elsewhere in the city.
Funding for the DC Streetcar system became an issue in 2010. D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty proposed spending $60 million to $70 million in his fiscal 2011 budget to complete the H Street Line and purchase six trams, with a goal of activating the line in the spring of 2012. Funding for other lines would be withheld until the city was assured that the H Street Line was a success. Fenty also released the results of a study commissioned by the Downtown DC Business Improvement District (BID) and researched by the Brookings Institution, Robert Charles Lesser & Co. research firm, and Reconnecting America (a non-profit public transit advocacy group) which found that the DC Streetcar system could increase the value of businesses along the H Street Line by $1.1 billion over 20 years.
Fenty proposed levying a $375 million tax on businesses on the H Street Line to help pay for the streetcar system. But on May 25, 2010, the D.C. City Council voted to delete $49 million in proposed streetcar funding in order to help close a $550 million budget deficit. DC Streetcar advocates accused Sarah Campbell, capital budget director for the City Council, for deleting the funds, pointing out that Campbell is also a member of the Committee of 100 on the Federal City (which opposed the streetcar system as currently planned). DDOT Director Gabe Klein accused the Council of killing the program. Campbell denied both allegations. The Washington Post reported that the budget battle may have been sparked by Council Chair Vincent C. Gray, who was likely to challenge Fenty for the Democratic nomination for mayor in September 2010. The following day, after hundreds of angry phone calls from residents, the Council restored the funds by agreeing to borrow the money.
On October 23, 2010, D.C. transportation officials published a revised plan for the DC Streetcar system. The new plan envisioned opening the H Street/Benning Road and Anacostia lines in March or April 2012. It also significantly scaled back the Anacostia Line, truncating the northern end of the line at the Anacostia Metro station. The plan estimated the cost of constructing the two lines at $194 million, with operating costs at about $8 million per year. DDOT officials said they believed 6,350 riders per day would pay the $1 fare in the system's first year, with ridership tripling to 23,450 riders a day in 2015. The cars would be equipped to accept SmarTrip cards but not cash, and officials said anyone transferring from Metro to the DC Streetcar system using a SmarTrip card would ride for free. The streetcars were expected to operate every 10 to 15 minutes, seven days a week, during the same hours Metro's rail system was in operation.
Funding for completion of the two lines was still unclear, however. DDOT had applied for a $110 million federal grant, but had already lost a competition for an $18 million grant. City planners said they continued to look at tapping into a $180 million fund designed to service Metro's debt, enacting BID or zoning taxes in areas affected by the streetcar system, or creating public-private partnerships that would tap into private money for construction in exchange for tax breaks or concessions by the city. The overhead electrical wire issue also remained unresolved in the plan (although battery-operated cars were mentioned). Finally, the plan laid out a process for selecting a third party to operate the system (which may or may not be Metro). Funding issues continued to raise concern in other ways, too. The rising cost of the project became an issue in the reelection bid of D.C. City Council member Tommy Wells, whose ward encompasses H Street. The City Council held a hearing on the newly unveiled plan on November 16. Five days later, angry business owners along H Street demanded a tax refund and a moratorium on tax sales during a second council hearing. Business owners said construction of the streetcar line had caused sales to drop by as much as 70 percent, and City Council member Jim Graham introduced legislation establishing a $7 million fund to help businesses impacted by the construction.
2011 announcement and more delays
On August 22, 2011, DDOT announced the first streetcars would roll on the H Street line in the summer of 2013.
In January 2012, the D.C. Office of Planning released a report which asserted that the streetcar system had the potential to create 7,700 new jobs and added as much as $8 billion in new development over a 10-year period. The system could also increase office building property values by $5.8 billion, and residential property values by $1.6 billion, exceeding by 600 to 1,000 percent the cost of building the system. The study also said that 4,000 to 12,000 households would move back into the District of Columbia from the suburbs, and the number of people living on or near a streetcar line would triple. The report "conservatively" projected that up to $291 million in annual tax revenues would be generated by the fully completed streetcar system. Chris Leinberger of the Brookings Institution told the Washington Post that the streetcar system had the potential to finally move development out of the northwest quadrant of the city into the underdeveloped northeast and southeast. But not everything about streetcars was positive. The report also said streetcars would also be likely to worsen traffic congestion on Benning Road SE, Columbia Road NW, Florida Avenue NW and Florida Avenue NE, Georgia Avenue NW, and K Street NW, and might make it "prohibitively expensive" for small businesses to exist along the lines.
New task force
Concerned that the streetcar project was not well-managed and losing public support, D.C. Council member Mary Cheh introduced legislation to create a task force that would study whether the streetcar project should be removed from DDOT's jurisdiction and placed under a separate streetcar authority.
In March 2012, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray proposed a six-year, $237 million capital expenditure budget that would continue to expand the DC Streetcar system. But just a few days later, District officials admitted that it would cost $64.5 million to operate the first two lines during their first five years of operation — but the city only had revenues to pay for about 58 percent of those costs. Nonetheless, the city reaffirmed its commitment to opening the H Street line in 2013, and announced it had signed a contract with Oregon Iron Works subsidiary United Streetcar to buy two more streetcars for $8.7 million. Additional controversy over the future of the streetcar system occurred in June 2012 when the Cato Institute (an American libertarian think tank) issued a study denouncing government-built streetcar systems for being too costly, inefficient, and unable to generate economic revitalization.
In mid-June 2012, the city signed a $50 million contract with Dean Facchina LLC (a joint venture between M.C. Dean, Inc. and Facchina Construction Company) to design and construct the car barn, power system, and turnarounds for the H Street line. Mayor Vincent Gray said the contract was a sign that the city was going to adhere to a summer 2013 opening. But a few days later, D.C. Council member Marion Barry filed paperwork that placed a 45-day "hold" on the automatic council approval of the contract. Barry argued that too much money was being spent on a system that served too few people. Barry withdrew his objection just a few days later after Gray assured him that D.C. residents would be hired for construction jobs on the project.
Financing the system continued to generate controversy in June 2012. Mayor Gray opened a city office in Shanghai to promote Chinese trade with and investment in the District of Columbia. In his talks with Chinese trade officials, he discussed having the Exim Bank of China fund the system's construction. Gray said that Chinese officials expressed surprised that it would take the city 20 years to build out the entire system, and Chinese officials suggested they could fund all or part of the $1.5 billion streetcar project in exchange for all or a portion of the fares generated by it. After the meeting, Gray told the media that an independent financing authority might be needed to finance the streetcar system. Even as Gray was suggesting that the city government continue to build and run the DC Streetcar system, DDOT officials released a "request for information" (RFI) to construction and operations contractors regarding the proposed construction schedule, financing, and governance of the project. The RFI noted that, if the city privatized the entire streetcar project, it would seek a 30-year contract and give the private entity a free hand in designing, financing, and constructing the streetcar system (although the city would retain final say over fares). D.C. Council member Tommy Wells said he opposed any privatization effort. He argued a private company would seek to raise fares, reduce the number of routes built, and provide low-quality service to gain the highest profit. Wells also expressed his belief no private company would want to serve Ward 8, where the city's poorest but most mass transit-dependent population lives. DDOT countered by saying that although building the system would cost $1.2 billion (which included purchasing 50 streetcars), it would only cost $65 million a year to operate (compared to DC Circulator buses, which need $70 million a year to operate). DDOT also said its RFI was intended to see if there was a market for building and operating its streetcar system, and not a request for proposals.
As the city's RFI was being considered, DDOT announced it had signed a five-year, $4 million contract with RATP Dev McDonald Transit Associates (RDMT), a subsidiary of RATP Group, to operate the H Street/Benning Roadline. The contract also assigned training and the operation of maintenance facilities to RDMT.
Future in jeopardy
In September 2012, the future of the H Street line was thrown into question. DDOT had long planned to build its streetcar barn on the grounds of Spingarn High School. But the Kingman Park Civic Association filed an application with the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board to have Spingarn High School declared a city landmark. That would force DDOT to find a new location for the car barn. On October 8, 2012, DDOT director Terry Bellamy told the D.C. Council that the civic association's actions would push the opening of the H Street line into early 2014, even if landmark status was not awarded to the high school. Bellamy expressed optimism, however, that the H Street line would still open, and said that DDOT was already planning to extend it to Minnesota Avenue. He also said the city was still working on plans to open an Anacostia line in Ward 8. D.C. Council members, however, expressed dismay at DDOT's apparent lack of a strategic plan for the streetcar system. They also voiced scepticism that DDOT was planning ahead and concern that more problems (similar to the Spingarn High School issue) would continue to plague the system because of poor planning.
Testing and fares
In April 2014, DDOT estimated that the H Street Line would open in the fall of 2014. A temporary car barn at the former Spingarn High School was scheduled for completion in July. Testing of the system would take several weeks, and then the system would need to be certified for operation by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), which would take another 60 to 80 days. DDOT also said it needed to take delivery of a sixth streetcar, likely in June, before any testing could begin.
DDOT also began the process of setting the system's fare in the spring of 2014. Mayor Gray proposed a $1 fare, which would require a $4.65 million subsidy to meet the H Street Line's anticipated yearly operating cost of $5.1 million. On April 29, however, DDOT Director Terry Bellamy suggested the fare might be as high as $1.50 for SmarTrip farecard users and $2 for cash users (the same fare structure proposed for the DC Circulator bus system).
With a decision on the fare structure still months off, Council Member Marion Barry threatened to cancel all funding for all planned DC Streetcar lines. Barry argued that the rider subsidy was too high and that the $800 million planned for construction of the remaining lines could be better used for road maintenance and school construction.
Current railcar fleet
The D.C. government owns six streetcars that will serve the system, built by two manufacturers to very similar designs.
The first three streetcars, numbered 101 through 103, were built in the Czech Republic in 2007 by Inekon Trams, for the Anacostia line, but because of delays in the start of construction of the line in Washington, they were stored in the Czech Republic until December 2009. They are model 12 Trio. The second set of streetcars, 13-001 through 13-003, were built in the U.S. in 2013 by United Streetcar, of Oregon, based on a Skoda design (model Skoda 10T) that was originally developed jointly by Inekon and Skoda, and the shared design history explains the similarity between the two designs. They are United Streetcar model 100. The first United car was delivered to DC Streetcar in January 2014 and the third and last in June 2014. Visually, the United units differ from the Inekon cars in appearance with different fiberglass driver compartments, and cowling, but the overall dimensions are identical.
Since December 2009, the three Inekon streetcars were in storage at Metro's Greenbelt Rail Yard. Each car is eight ft (2.438 metres) wide and 66 feet (20.12 m) long, and each car consists of three connected sections, a design known as an articulated streetcar.
Rolling stock problems
Although DDOT awarded contracts to United Streetcar to build streetcars for the H Street/Benning Road line in mid-2011, these contracts were withdrawn and new bids solicited after the contract process was found to be flawed. D.C. City Council member Mary Cheh, chair of the council's transportation committee, said the DDOT's management of the streetcar project had lost the confidence of the public and that she would seek legislation establishing an independent authority to run the system. A new contract was awarded to United Streetcar in April 2012, for two streetcars, and the order was expanded to three cars in August 2012.
Ground was broken for the Anacostia Line on November 13, 2004, and two more stations were added to the line (for a total of six). District officials also decided that rather than diesel-propelled cars, the demonstration cars would be electric multiple unit cars drawing power from overhead lines. The Anacostia Line was permitted to use overhead lines, which are less expensive to install and maintain but which are prohibited within the historic city limits, because it is outside the old City of Washington. Three such cars were ordered in 2005 from DPO-Inekon (now known as Inekon Trams).
However, 10 months into the project, DDOT and Metro temporarily mothballed the streetcar line. Two days after the groundbreaking, CSX announced it would abandon the railway track but refuse to allow the city to use it for the streetcar project. DDOT officials say they believed that only the city and CSX owned the land under the tracks, but a legal review found that CSX was not the only private owner. The city was unwilling to build the project on the CSX tracks, only to have the other owners demand payment in the future. CSX disputed these claims, saying that it had the legal right to lease the tracks and land in perpetuity to the city for $16 million. Subsequently, DDOT announced that the streetcars would run on city streets instead of heavy railroad track, angering local residents who said the streetcars would worsen traffic congestion, eliminate parking, and reduce bus service.
DDOT and Metro announced in April 2006 that work on the revised streetcar line in Anacostia would start again in a few months. The new deadline for completion of the now-$10 million, 1.1-mile (1.7 km) line was set for the spring of 2008. Construction on the $3 million rail cars was complete in spring 2007, and the cars were tested on the streets of Ostrava in the Czech Republic at that time and then placed into indefinite storage there. In November 2007, work on the high-voltage electrical infrastructure needed for the light rail system was under way, the line was now planned to be 1.3 miles (2.1 km) long, and the projected cost was $30 million. Track construction was due to begin in the spring of 2008, with completion of the line anticipated for 2009. By 2008, completion of the line had slipped to late 2009.
DDOT opened bids for the now-$45 million contract to construct the Anacostia Line's tracks and infrastructure in August 2008. The city had intended to transfer $10 million from demolition of the 11th Street Bridges to fund the line, but put that plan on hold due to delays in the streetcar project. DDOT also canceled plans to run the streetcars up Good Hope Road SE to the Minnesota Avenue Metro station, creating the line's terminus at the Anacostia Gateway building (at the intersection of Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE and Good Hope Road SE). In March 2009, these changes reduced the cost to just $25 million, but design changes in the new 11th Street Bridges (to be completed in 2011) meant that the streetcar could be extended over the bridges to link up with proposed streetcar lines on 8th Street SE and Pennsylvania Avenue SE. However, DDOT had yet to award any track construction contract by this time. The contract was finally awarded to Fort Myer Construction Corp. in December 2008.
Delays and ridership projections
In April 2009, DDOT announced that the Anacostia streetcar line would not be complete until at least 2012. The delays had caused the warranty on the mothballed Czech-produced streetcars to expire, and storage costs were running $860,000 a year. Construction of the first segment of the line (from Bolling Air Force Base to the Anacostia Station) was to have begun in February 2009, but DDOT and the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority could not agree on the necessary permits or construction timing. Track to the Anacostia Station finally began to be laid in September 2009, with a completion date in the fall of 2012. DDOT ordered the transfer of the streetcars from the Czech Republic in late 2009, and the three rail cars arrived on December 12, 2009.
In July 2008, DDOT said a streetcar on the Anacostia Line train would take 10 minutes to travel from one station to the next on its route, and the line was predicted to serve 1,400 riders daily.
On August 26, 2010, DDOT officials ordered construction of the Anacostia Line shut down after city officials refused to extend the construction contract or give a new contract to another firm. Although $25 million had been spent over the past two years, rails at the intersection of Firth Stirling Avenue SE and Suitland Parkway were buried under asphalt and weeds grew among the rails at South Capitol Street and Bolling Air Force Base. DDOT officials pledged to finish the Anacostia Line project by December 2012, but said they would either fold the project into the Phase II construction plan (which is intended to expand the streetcar system along Rhode Island Avenue NE, Florida Avenue NW, along U Street and Calvert Streets NW, and into Georgetown) or issue a new contract that extends the build-out and thus makes the yearly costs of the contract less expensive. DDOT officials denied the project was mothballed, but admitted that they had not cost out a new contract and had not requested bids on a new contract.
Revised service plan
Despite DDOT's assertions in August, on October 24, 2010, D.C. officials unveiled a revised master plan for the DC Streetcar system which showed the Anacostia Line's northern end truncating at the Anacostia Metro Station (rather than connecting with the 11th Street Bridges). DDOT officials said they expected ridership on the Anacostia Line to be very low, because the new line was so short (now just 0.75 miles or 1.21 kilometers) and connected only the Navy Annex with the Metro station.
In January 2012, the Washington Post reported that the line was still planned to run along Firth Sterling Avenue. But planning for the line remained in flux, as both the Federal Transit Administration and DDOT held yet another series of public meetings in 2012.
On October 8, 2012, DDOT director Terry Bellamy said the city was still working on plans to open an Anacostia line in Ward 8.
In 2014, DDOT said it was planning to spend $64 million to begin construction on the Anacostia Line Extension from the Anacostia Metro station to the 11th Street Bridges. The agency said it would also spend another $16 million to acquire the right-of-way currently owned by railroad company CSX Transportation and $15 million to build a car barn for the line extension. DDOT applied for a $20 million National Infrastructure Investments — Consolidated Appropriations Act grant to assist it in building the extension.
Potential competition to the Anacostia line arose in January 2013. The Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District, a tax-financed group promoting business and residential development along the north bank of the Anacostia River between 2d Street SW and 15th Street SE, proposed constructing a light rail line between Union Station and St. Elizabeths Hospital. The line — whose route was not proposed — would more directly link the growing Union Station area with the large Department of Homeland Security workforce headquarters being built on the St. Elizabeths campus, while encouraging use of the Capitol Riverfront area (which itself began undergoing a major redevelopment). Capitol Riverfront officials said there had been no discussions about whether the proposed light rail link would be part of the DC Streetcar system or a separate transportation component.
Georgia Avenue Line
In October 2010, D.C. officials unveiled tentative plans to build a streetcar line up Georgia Avenue. The city began holding public hearings on construction of the line ahead of schedule, due to the imminent 2011 closing of Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The streetcar line was part of a proposed $500 million, 62-acre (25 ha) mixed-use housing, office, and retail development that would begin construction in 2013. D.C. officials moved up hearings on (and potential construction of) the Georgia Avenue Line because the redevelopment of the Walter Reed site would be heavily dependent on the streetcar reaching the area by the time the new homes and businesses opened.
In March 2011, the Washington Business Journal said that the city's reuse plan for its portion of the Walter Reed Campus included a retail hub serviced by a streetcar line.
H Street NE/Benning Road Line
In 2003, then-Mayor Anthony A. Williams unveiled a draft Strategic Development Plan which proposed redeveloping and revitalizing six blighted areas of the city, including H Street NE and Benning Road. Among the proposals to revitalize H Street was the construction of a streetcar line to downtown D.C. in five to 10 years. The plan was formalized during the next year. Residents and business owners in the area were cautious about the plan, fearing traffic congestion and threats to pedestrian safety in an area which needed greater auto and foot traffic.
On January 20, 2006, the District of Columbia Department of Transportation announced that it would build a $13 million streetcar line on H Street NE, from Union Station to Benning Road and the Minnesota Avenue Metro station as part of its Great Streets initiative, on much of the same route established by the Columbia Railway Company in 1870. Construction was originally planned to begin in the spring of 2007 (to coincide with extensive improvements to parking and lighting and the beautification of H Street NE) and end in 2009.
Extension dropped; track construction
By 2008, the extension to the Minnesota Avenue Metro station had been dropped, and the H Street streetcar line was being designed to link up with a planned downtown streetcar line running along the same route as the downtown routes of the DC Circulator bus.
As of July 2009[update], streetcar tracks were being installed on H Street as part of the scheduled street re-construction, with streetcar service scheduled to begin in 2011. City engineers, however, had yet to determine how to get power to the cars, identify locations for the cars to turn around, or find land for a car storage facility for use at night when the line was not running.
In April 2010, DDOT officials announced that they intended to build a $74 million, two-mile (3.2 km) extension of the H Street line that would link with the Benning Road Metro station. The district had applied for a $25 million federal grant to help pay for the extension. DDOT also announced a plan to link the line to Union Station to link the H Street line's eastern terminus with the Union Station Metro and Amtrak. The city said it owned a right-of-way underneath the existing Amtrak railroad tracks on which it would build the extension.
The city also began encouraging riders to travel along the H Street corridor to Benning Road in 2009. The "H Street Shuttle" was founded in early 2009 by the H Street Business Cooperative (a nonprofit group of retailers whose businesses line H Street) to promote travel into the business district. The shuttle ran from the Gallery Place station to the Minnesota Avenue station, making just four stops along the way. The city provided $130,000 in operating funds in 2009 (although the shuttle did not run for a short period in November 2009 due to funding cut-offs). The shuttle also encountered public safety problems, as fistfights sometimes broke out between rowdy youths riding the shuttle. The shuttle has also had eggs thrown at it, been shot at with BB guns, and youth have attempted to slash its tires while it made stops. Although it was intended to be a temporary measure to bring customers into the retail corridor while streetcar construction occurred, D.C. officials said they would fund the shuttle only through the end of 2010.
Delays in 2011
In late August 2011, DDOT announced the H Street Line would begin operation in the summer of 2013. City officials said all platform stops had been constructed along the route, but overhead electricity lines, turnarounds at each end of the line, a streetcar overnight holding facility ("car barn"), maintenance facility, and three power substations remained to be built. The holding and maintenance facility would likely be constructed at the eastern end of the line, officials said, and might also contain training facilities in streetcar operation for local high school students. DDOT said that one of the major remaining issues confronting the line was the completion of the western terminus at Union Station. Originally, DDOT had wanted to cut through the footing of the bridge carrying H Street over the Amtrak rail lines, allowing streetcars to pass under the railroad tracks and access a streetcar platform on Union Station's west side. But Amtrak declined to allow DDOT permission to use this space, as the railroad intended to access it for high-speed rail in the future. DDOT said it was considering three new options: 1) Running streetcars over the bridge; 2) Adding about five blocks of additional streetcar track to allow streetcar riders to get off at the New York Ave–Florida Ave–Gallaudet University Metro station (to be renamed NoMa – Gallaudet University with the June 2012 edition of the official Metro map); and 3) Asking Amtrak for turnaround space under the existing Amtrak railroad track. DDOT said four companies had bid to design and construct these remaining pieces of the H Line, and another was being sought to operate the line. DDOT officials also said they were considering extending the H Street Line to the Benning Road Metro station as well as down K Street NW to Washington Circle.
In December 2011, the city announced that the H Street/Benning Road line would be routed over the H Street Bridge (colloquially known as the "Hopscotch Bridge" because of modern art on the bridge which depicts children playing hopscotch). Planners said that the trolley would still connect with Union Station, but did not say how.
Several controversies arose over the H Street/Benning Road line in early 2012. According to United Streetcar, a streetcar manufacturing company based in Oregon, the city awarded United Streetcar $8.7 million in contracts to build trolley cars for the H Street/Benning Road line. Contracts were awarded in June 2011 and again in September 2011. On December 16, 2011, D.C. City Councilwoman Mary Cheh filed a "disapproval resolution" with the mayor's office, placing a 40-day hold on the contract after questions arose as to whether the contract called for the construction of two trolley cars (as the city claimed) or three (as Cheh believed). On December 21, 2011, Inekon Group filed a protest of the award with the D.C. Contract Appeals Board, claiming that cost/price trade-off analysis used by the city was inapporpriate. Streetcar proponents worried that the protest could delay the contract by up to 2.5 years, but DDOT moved much more quickly and canceled the contracts in early January 2012 after a formal internal review. In February, DDOT began the contract solicitation process anew. Due to the contract controversy, DDOT said it might begin running the H Street/Benning Road line with just three streetcars instead of five. D.C. City Council member Tommy Wells pressed DDOT to wait until it could run five trolley cars, arguing that with just three cars the streetcar system would not be convenient enough for passengers. Council member Mary Cheh, chair of the council's transportation committee, said the DDOT's management of the streetcar project had lost the confidence of the public and that she would seek legislation establishing an independent authority to run the system. A new contract for vehicles was awarded in April, again to United Streetcar.
At about the same time, DDOT announced a plan to build a $13 million, 14,000-square-foot (1,300 m2) trolley car barn, operations base, and maintenance facility on the grounds of Spingarn High School (which is near the eastern terminus of the line). The facility would house only a few cars at first, but would be able to accommodate 12 cars. Residents of the Kingman Park neighborhood opposed the facility on the grounds that it would be noisy, near a public school, cause traffic congestion, and cause a reduction in property values. They demanded that DDOT seek approval from the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC), but DDOT officials said that the site did not require ANC or other legislative approval.
On December 17, 2012, DC Streetcar officials said only 20 percent of the H Street line remained to be completed, and that they anticipated streetcars to be rolling in October 2013.
On December 13, 2013, the first streetcar was placed on the tracks on the H Street line.
As of April 2014, the H Street Line's western terminus was still planned for the Hopscotch Bridge (a bridge which connects H Street NE to North Capitol Street).
Testing on the H Street-Benning Road Line began in August 2014, with a planned opening date for the line in late 2014 (or possibly early 2015 if there are delays in the testing process).
After more delays, the line had been tentatively projected to open in January 2015, but on January 16 the DDOT's director Leif Dormsjo announced that the Department would no longer issue any estimates for an opening date and that he intended to reorganize the project's management team. On July 9, 2015, in a Washington Post article detailing problems with the heaters for the rails, Dormsjo indicated it would be "months" before the trolley line opened.
On Saturday February 21, at 11:45 p.m. a brief flash fire was ignited on the top of a streetcar in simulated service. In early March 2015, DDOT suggested that the project may be scrapped entirely, if an outside review being conducted by the American Public Transportation Association found "fatal flaws", but the findings, released on March 16, found no "fatal flaws" in the project.
According Dan Mauloff, reporting in the Greater Greater Washington, reported, on July 10, 2015, that a review prepared for the DDOT had identified 33 causes for continued delay in rolling out fare service. He asserted that none of the reported causes for delay were considered "fatal", but the DDOT had not yet responded to the report with a prediction as to when all the problems would be attended to.
K Street Line
In January 2010, the Washington Post reported that the K Street Line would probably be the third line to be constructed. The K Street Line would extend from Union Station to K Street NE, then run west to 26th Street NW. It would link with the H Street/Benning Road Line at Union Station, via a pedestrian bridge which would require passengers to alight at Union Station and board an unconnected line. Thus creating a cross-city streetcar line, however not directly. DDOT officials confirmed in August 2011 that linking to the H Street Line was still the option.
To help move the K Street line forward, the Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District (Downtown BID) proposed in March 2012 to fund a plan that would lay out how K Street should be reconfigured for streetcars, and how a K Street streetcar line would be planned, constructed, maintained, and serviced. The board of directors of the Downtown BID proposed a self-imposed $258 million tax on hotels and commercial property within the district to fund BID projects, which included the streetcar design proposal.
Maine Avenue Line
Another streetcar line was proposed for Maine Avenue SW. In October 2010, the D.C. government unveiled its long-awaited, $1.5 billion development proposal for the city's southwest waterfront district. This proposal included a DC Streetcar line down the middle of the entire length of Maine Avenue.
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Metro's ambitious plan to spend $12.2 billion over the next 10 years -- a strategy that called for eight-car trains and a spider's web of new trolleys and rapid bus service as well as renewal of aging escalators and other equipment -- is in jeopardy as strapped local governments say they cannot afford their share of the bill.
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Of course, the real test will come when the streetcars begin to carry passengers, hopefully around January 19.
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