Housing Complex

DDOT Lays Out H Street Trolley Endgame

There it is: The light at the end of the tunnel for H Street's long suffering.

By June 30th, the District Department of Transportation announced last night at an update meeting on the streetcar, they expect to "substantially complete" street and sidewalk work in the corridor. And with $99.3 million in the Mayor's capital budget over the next six years–which streetcar czar Scott Kubly notes makes D.C.'s investment in a streetcar system bigger than that of any other U.S. city–they've got the funding to finish up the H Street/Benning line, and keep planning tracks into Anacostia and across K Street to Washington Circle.

But there's still a bit of a wait. The 2012 budget doesn't include operating dollars, which means that trolleys won't start trundling down those tracks until fiscal year 2013, or late 2012 in regular people years. In between, there's a lot more work to be done.  Power substations have to be installed on District-owned land behind the kiosk library at Spingarn High School and at 12th and H NE (the last will be temporary; a permanent station will be incorporated into the redevelopment of the Autozone site.) Though this phase will use overhead wires, in order to comply with legislation passed last summer, DDOT has to issue a request for proposals for streetcars that can run for at least a mile without them. The agency also has to solicit bids for an operations and maintenance contract, expected to cost between $3 million and $4 million annually.

Perhaps the largest remaining hurdle: Reaching an agreement with Amtrak over the eventual terminus at Union Station. They'll need to by the end of the summer, if DDOT is to hit its late-2012 deadline–but Kubly is optimistic that things will work out, and played down potential alternatives as likely unnecessary. "Nobody has signed on the dotted line, but nobody has told us no yet," he said. "What's slowing it down isn't a hard 'no' from Amtrak. What it is is uncertainty from Amtrak."

On the longer-term horizon, DDOT has to figure out funding for the rest of the system. The agency continues to seek federal grants, arguing that since trolleys that can run without overhead wires may be used in other cities like Seattle and Baltimore, the feds should help bear the increased cost (also, the Anacostia segment is undergoing the National Environmental Policy Act process in order to make it eligible for federal funds). Then there's the private financing piece, which could take the shape of additional property taxes on abutting landowners who will see their values rise as a result of the new transportation infrastructure, or a limited partnership created by voluntary contributions (read more about that stuff here).

When it does finally start running, the fare is expected to mirror that of the Circulator, which will increase to $2 per trip cash or $1.50 by Smartcard. Hours will match Metro's. Bus service will not decrease, though Kubly says that further streetcar line extensions will allow better integration between the two transit services.

  • Hillman

    I'm as big a streetcar fan as the next guy, but doesn't it seem really idiotic that it's nearly built and DC still hasn't managed to work out how it will connect to Union Station?

  • Skipper

    This streetcar will become a financial debacle of epic proportions.

  • Distantantennas

    @Hillman
    Laying down the streetcar track was timed to take advantage of the H street rebuild. They've actually dug down and have been rebuilding H Street from the ground up, and once you're doing that anyway, adding in streetcar trackage makes some sense - it's cheaper and faster to lay the tracks when you already have the street torn up.

  • Aleck

    Skipper, I agree. We should fill in the Metro tunnels and sell off the Metrobus fleet while we're at it--money losers all!

  • drez

    Agree with distantantennas.
    Starting the construction adds a certain momentum, and adds a certain inevitability that actually helps the project.
    Furthermore, it's harder to reallocate funds away from a project in which substantial dollar investments have already been made and substantial public expectations have already been raised.
    Nattering naysayers aside, doing it this way was brilliant.

  • Whoa_now

    They should just suck it up and continue the line to China Town. The rebuild of the H Street sucked up a lot of time and unfortunately left people thinking it takes 4 years to put in tracks. It doesn't. The line doesn't make much sense unless it connects the city center with H street. I glad its there, and I'll use it, but if it connected to Gallery place..Its utility skyrockets.

  • Whoa_now

    I should have stated better-that they should do that now-as opposed to 2014 or 15. You do it now and you increase awareness along with purpose. Other than taking people down H street, it would connect a whole corridor with the city center. This then adds momentum to the other phases.

  • Jacques

    While the planned extension is to jig up New Jersey and then west on K, I agree with Whoa_now, that following H Street to 10th or so (then maybe cutting through City Center to K) seems like a better route, in terms of connecting commercial areas.

    As the plan is currently written, I'm not sure how it manages Mt. Vernon Square -- the image in this article seems to suggest that the streetcar would run straight through the square and the old library building.

  • Donna

    The Street car starts on Benning Road and that connects an undeserved and under developed segment of the city to Union Station and beyond. It has already spurred redevelopment and housing purchases further east so the real push should be connecting to the Benning Road metro station IMHO because it has the potential for a larger economic impact on NE as a whole.

  • oboe

    @Hillman
    Laying down the streetcar track was timed to take advantage of the H street rebuild.

    It really is amazing that this has to be hammered home again, and again, and again. C'mon Hillman, surely you don't pine for the good old days when DDOT would've ripped up H Street streetscape to the foundation, rebuilt everything from the ground up, then as soon as it was finished, tore everything out again six months later to lay track.

    Don't punish them for foresight.

  • H Street Landlord

    Good point Donna.

    Can't wait!

  • DC

    Ummm...it appears reading comprehension isn't a given with the set that posts here.

    Hillman didn't say anything about whether it was good or not to put tracks in while the street was torn up, or why it has taken so long, or why do it at all.

    His ONLY critique of this Silverline like boondoggle in the making is that:

    "it seem really idiotic that it's nearly built and DC still hasn't managed to work out how it will connect to Union Station?"

    That is an understatement. They broke ground on these specific tracks 3 years ago and still haven't figured it out. Then again, they haven't figured out most of the streetcar debacle yet, which is amazing considering this streetcar thing is ~6 years into planning and development and we've bought streetcars already that have been sitting in storage for a couple years.

  • Boris

    Cracks me up that detractors seem to think that other public works projects like this just instantly sprang fully-formed from the ground without fits and starts, the inevitable hiccups, political bickering, mistakes, disruption and costs.

    No, this is how these projects get done. Read about the decades-long battle to get Union Station built, or the difficult Metro planning (complete with intervention by Congress that almost torpedoed it).

    Relatively speaking, the numbers spent on streetcar so far is absolute chump change in the grand scheme of infrastructure projects. This is why every real cost/benefit analysis on this system seems to support its construction.

  • deedle

    The stupidity of this situation is that the route doesn't connect to the Minnesota Avenue Metro for the foreseeable future. The East end doesn't involve Union Station or building a tunnel, but if it reached over the river, it would actually be useful to the people in Ward 7. Talk about a route to nowhere: brilliant!

  • Scott

    Will the trolley get all ghetto-ized like most DC buses? That's the big question. If it's dirty, smells like urine, with trash everywhere and a rough crowd, people won't ride it.

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