Questions Raised About Streetcar
The District's ambitious plan to create a billion-dollar network of streetcars and rapid buses over the next two decades is supposed to begin next year along a 1.3 mile track in Anacostia. But some District leaders are questioning whether they've picked the right place to start.
At $45 million, the Anacostia line represents a tiny portion of the overall cost of the network, but it's still a hefty hunk of change as the District government looks ahead to some lean years on revenue. So it's worthy of attention all across the city. And for transit advocates regionwide, the debate over this streetcar plan offers some insights into issues they will face repeatedly over the next 20 years.
Here are the sides of the argument, in very reduced form.
The District Department of Transportation and some D.C. Council members:
-- Before we can create a full network of streetcars, we need a test drive. It's been more than four decades since trolleys operated in Washington and the people who managed that system are long gone. We need a demonstration project on an easy route to work out the inevitable bugs.
-- We're on the verge of getting started. We can get construction bids this summer and start looking for a contractor to operate the line. A successful test will build enthusiasm for more lines. We already bought the streetcars, which are ready and waiting in the Czech Republic.
-- We promised this to Anacostia, a community that was among the last to get Metrorail.
-- This will spur economic development in an area that desperately needs it.
Other council members and some transit advocates:
-- Most people in Anacostia will never see this line. The route follows the path of least resistance from the Anacostia Metro station down to Bolling Air Force Base. Completely funded by D.C. money, the line will most likely serve people from outside the community traveling to their federal jobs.
-- Don't expect a route bordered by federal institutions and an interstate highway to spark development. There's no place for it to go.
-- If your test drive works, how will you know? Your route guarantees limited ridership and limited development. You can't build enthusiasm for a streetcar most city residents won't see.
-- For Anacostia residents, the streetcar is an expensive toy that will get tucked in a closet and never used. Why not give people a system of rapid buses that they're more likely to ride?
The Anacostia streetcar project has been in the news on and off for more than five years. In fact their was a well-attended groundbreaking in November 2004, during the Anthony Williams administration. But it's still a sleeper issue. When Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) convened a hearing about it on Monday, he said he believed it might be the first oversight session on the streetcar line.
While most of the participants in this debate believe in the streetcar system, some have an interest in placing the first line elsewhere. For example, Council members Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) and Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) have a natural attraction to the proposed Benning Road-H Street streetcar line, the foundation for which will be laid during a streetscape project already underway.
Graham recessed his Monday hearing after making a reasonable request: He wants the District Department of Transportation to show him a document that says, We picked this route for these reasons.
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