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Before raiding streetcar funds, Gray was against raiding streetcar funds


It's been about a month since Vincent Gray's first big stumble as a mayoral candidate -- his late-night move to cut funding for city streetcars, then restore it under pressure by borrowing more money.

Gray has recovered well in the month since -- aided in no small part by Mayor Adrian Fenty's inability to avoid missteps of his own (such as his no-show at Monday's education debate).

But I revisit the streetcar issue briefly to highlight a notable piece of correspondence: More than four years before Gray decided to use streetcar money for other purposes, he opposed using streetcar funds for other purposes.

In a Jan. 3, 2006 letter, helpfully archived by D.C. Watch, then-Ward 7 Council member Gray, along with members Marion Barry and Kwame Brown, wrote Mayor Anthony Williams urging him not to shift $10 million in funds earmarked for streetcars to expanding the Navy Yard Metro station in anticipation of the opening of Nationals Park.

"Because of the time and money already invested in improving transportation technology in the city beginning with East of the River communities, it greatly concerns us that there may be consideration of using funds already dedicated to the Streetcar project to upgrade the Navy Yard metro station," the members wrote. "We respectfully request that any such proposal be reconsidered, as we would be greatly disappointed at the District's inability to follow through with yet a second plan to modernize transportation in East of the River communities."

The letter noted that Gray and Barry had traveled to Portland with then-transportation director Dan Tangherlini to inspect that city's much lauded streetcar system. They noted: "A streetcar system in the District has the potential to improve the connectivity of neighborhoods and spur economic development as has occurred in a very dramatic way in Portland. "

Now it should be noted that while the money in both cases fell under the streetcar umbrella, they concerned two distinct projects: A line connecting the Anacostia neighborhood with communities to the north, via Martin Luther King Avenue, Good Hope Road and Minnesota Avenue SE, and a line connecting Union Station with H Street and Benning Road NE.

Gray spokeswoman Traci Hughes says that the letter "reaffirms what we've been saying all along -- that Chairman Gray has always been a proponent of the streetcar program." Gray's concern, she reiterated, was "that this Mayor's lack of planning would derail the long term success of the program."

Gray indeed maintained throughout last month's affair that he was pro-streetcar and that he simply wanted to see more planning be done before large amounts of money were thrown at the project.

But, in 2006, Gray et al acknowledged in their letter that the planning process wasn't complete and that there was additional community engagement to be done.

"As with any major development plan, support for the streetcar system is not unanimous," they wrote. "Some residents have raised concerns, for example, regarding traffic gridlock resulting from the stopping and starting of streetcars in one-lane thoroughfares, but dialogue to date has provided an opportunity to discuss these matters and refine approaches."

Photo courtesy of D.C. Department of Transportation

By Mike DeBonis  |  June 30, 2010; 4:36 PM ET
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While this is "information" I am not really sure what your point is. That was over four years ago. The economy was booming, the political arena was totally different, the streetcar program was just getting going, and the amount of money concerned here was far less.

While Gray's midnight flip-flop was a moderately boneheaded move, I don't see how his position on streetcars a long time ago matters one way or the other or is in any way in conflict with his current position.

Posted by: jamietre | July 1, 2010 8:49 AM | Report abuse

Too bad that there still isn't enough money in the budget to connect the H Street line to Benning Road. And, too bad the Anacostia line doesn't run along MLK Ave, either. A lot of compromises, even while the dollars keep getting spent.

Posted by: emrj | July 1, 2010 12:45 PM | Report abuse

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