Housing Complex

District Exploring a Semi-Privatized Streetcar, Bus System

The priority lines.

Well, this could be a way to build a massive infrastructure project without busting the city's budget: The District Department of Transportation is asking for ideas on how to bring in private capital for a 22-mile chunk of the original 37-mile streetcar system, and build it over the next five to seven years.

A request for information issued today also includes a proposal for a non-regional bus network, possibly independent from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority, that would include and expand upon the Circulator.

"It's an exploratory look at privatizing the streetcar, and putting that together with bus service in the District," says DDOT spokesman John Lisle. "We're trying to find a solution to build out the system without running up against the city's debt cap."

The District has spent about $53 million on the streetcar thus far, funding the H Street/Benning Road segment itself. But it's going to need federal funding for the Anacostia extension, and has been studying ways to extend it across to K Street and Washington Circle (which they are still calling the "One City Line"). DDOT estimates that the 22 miles of the streetcar it's prioritized will cost another $1.2 billion, and doesn't plan to issue more bonds to pay for it. The bus system it envisions will cost an estimated $70 million per year.

Who could possibly be D.C.'s partner on such a large undertaking? Mayor Vince Gray is currently in China, and has been talking with a group of investors about underwriting the streetcar. But perhaps there's someone else out there; the request for information specifically invites input from "equity investors with a substantial development and investment track record in newbuild transportation projects exceeding US$250 million individually, particularly urban rail infrastructure."

So fear not, Marion Barry—if this works out, you'll be able to get a streetcar and pay for your rec centers too.

 

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