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Council clears tracks for trolley cars

The D.C. Council made way for the first leg of a 37-mile trolley system Tuesday, passing legislation to allow the use of overhead wires along Benning Road and H Street NE.

The debate over the use of the electrical wires for streetcars has centered on whether the lines violate a long-standing ban intended to preserve the appearance of the federal city.

The temporary legislation approved unanimously Tuesday specifically prohibits overhead wires around the National Mall and creates a public process for determining whether the wires can be used in other parts of the city.

Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who has championed the streetcars that have become a popular mass transit option in cities such as Portland, Ore., has said alternatives to overhead wires are too expensive.

Local preservation groups and the National Capital Planning Commission have opposed the lines. George Clark, president of the Committee of 100 on the Federal City, called the temporary legislation an improvement because it also prohibits overhead wires along Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and Congress.

Clark said the group believes that "everybody in the city is entitled to unobstructed views" and raised concerns about funding the planned $1.5 billion system.

"We've got to make sure we know how we're going to pay for it," he said. "Right now, we don't."

With some reservations, the council also gave final approval Tuesday to the creation of a nonprofit to run United Medical Center, the city's only hospital east of the Anacostia River.

The move comes after the city seized control of the financially troubled hospital following a foreclosure auction last week, putting it under the control of a District-appointed board.

The measure, approved unanimously, essentially establishes who will serve as the temporary guardians of the hospital while the government looks for a more permanent solution.

Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) called the undertaking a "Herculean effort," and council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) cautioned that the District "is in possession of a hospital that we have little idea of how we'll finance."

By Ann E. Marimow  |  July 13, 2010; 4:39 PM ET
Categories:  Ann E. Marimow , City Life , D.C. Council , transportation  
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Oh, my, where to begin. Ohh, yes, the streetcar planning process. It is well known that the streetcar has been a pipe dream of a certain few in transportation for many years. What is most astounding to me is that the District transportation department has an ENTIRE administration dedicated to planning. I ask this, why hasn't this overhead wire issue been resolved prior to the purchase of streetcars? Why did they go off and purchase streetcars that require overhead wires before clearing this longstanding federal regulatory hurdle? For those that didn't know, this very issue this week resulted in the District application for a 25 million dollar federal grant to be rejected while other municipalities were granted the aid. What was Tommy Well's response, "we'll just have to get the 25 mill from local funds". Are we not in a fiscal recession? Where are these "local funds" coming from? Another thing, did you notice that the tracks on H street are flush with the roadway? (i.e. no barrier to cross traffic access to the rail).

While they look great, streetcars are not the beginning and the end of civilization. In fact, it is a retrogressive mode of transportation.

And what about D.C. General, oops, I mean United Medical Center. Does it not concern anyone that NOT ONE person on the Fenty Appointed board has any experience in hospital administration. NOT ONE!!! They are all crony loyalists. Check it out for yourself. So, this is the scenario. The most vulnerable residents in the city are now subject to healthcare at a hospital that is overseen by a board that wouldn't know a splint from an ice pick.

Wow, what a day. The stupidity that comes from the Wilson Building would be laughable if it weren't just so darn sad.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | July 13, 2010 7:26 PM | Report abuse


The purchased cars are for the Anacostia line which doesn't fall under the overhead ban.

Of course they're trying everything they can to be able to use the same type of car. Unified rolling stock is easier to maintain

Posted by: whfsdude | July 13, 2010 9:43 PM | Report abuse

who elects the Committee of 100 on the Federal City?

Posted by: rsm1 | July 14, 2010 7:42 AM | Report abuse

who elects the Committee of 100 on the Federal City?

Posted by: rsm1 | July 14, 2010 7:52 AM | Report abuse

@whfsdude: I understand that the regulation for the Anacostia line isn't restrictive of overhead lines. However, the plan has always been to run the trains along the Benning/H Street corridor. So, if a section of the anticipated route had federal regulatory restrictions, it seems to me, that those hurdles should have been crossed before laying out millions to purchase these cars. That is common sense and, I add, fiscal due diligence when we are talking about public tax spending.

The dismissive attitude of Tommy Wells is totally inappropriate in the face of the federal rejection of the District application for federal grant money to support this project. His response was as if the District treasury was his own piggy bank to spend as he pleases. A bank, I add, that is nearly broken.

Citizens latch onto these lofty ideas of politicians without taking into consideration how they are to be funded, and, more importantly, the DETAILS of the obstacles to get it done. This results in tremendous financial waste.

If this project is grounded because of the Districts failure to do their homework we will have ourselves to blame. It is not the federal governments responsibility to change laws to fit the pet projects of city bureaucrats. It is the bureaucrats responsibility to work with the federal government, IN ADVANCE, to work through those issues, if at all possible.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | July 14, 2010 9:33 AM | Report abuse

This is a great opportunity for DC to lead in "Green" transportation. Why not trolleys powered by lithium batteries?

Posted by: ritch_stevenson | July 14, 2010 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Streetcars are such an incredible waste of money. If we apply that money instead to increased and improved bus service, that would provide far better mass transit service to DC residents than streetcars would. Buses can travel around obstructions. Streetcars are useless when obstructed. Buses come much more frequently than streetcars -- a real advantage in inclemate weather. Bus stops are spaced closer than streetcar stops, making them easier for those who cannot walk far.

Posted by: DCResident22 | July 14, 2010 10:41 AM | Report abuse

If citizens in any city in the nation have a right to be anti-incumbent, it is THIS city. I am still steaming over Tommy Wells.

I won't be voting for him. He is just too comfortable in his position.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | July 14, 2010 1:15 PM | Report abuse

I used light rail when I was in college in Boston. Boy, were those streetcars cold in the winter. And the connection to the overhead wire (the show) was always slipping off. The conductor would have to get out, get this long pole off the side of the streetcar, and hook the streetcar back up. Most people hated them, and only took them where wasn't another alternative.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | July 14, 2010 7:15 PM | Report abuse

[It} "prohibits overhead wires along Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and Congress." Where exactly is the "Congress" building?

Posted by: CubsFan | July 15, 2010 9:02 AM | Report abuse

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