At a public meeting last night, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) updated the community on the agency’s progress on the H Street-Benning Road and Anacostia streetcar lines. Scott Kubly, Director of DDOT’s Progressive Transportation Services Administration, which is managing the streetcar program, gave a brief presentation to an audience of about 150 people in the Atlas Performing Arts Center auditorium and then answered questions for about an hour. (DDOT Interim Director Terry Bellamy, who was scheduled to appear, did not attend.)
First the Good News: Kubly touted Mayor Gray’s recently released capital budget, which includes $99.3 million over the next six fiscal years toward construction of D.C.’s streetcar system, as a major investment. He said that this $99.3 million, together with the tens of millions of dollars already provided to complete the H Street-Benning Road streetcar line, represents the biggest investment in streetcars by a local government in the U.S. Kubly added that the significant investment in local capital funds will help DDOT leverage federal and private funds toward construction of D.C.’s 37-mile streetcar system, including: extending the H Street-Benning Road line eastward to the Benning Road Metrorail station and westward from Union Station along K Street to Washington Circle in Foggy Bottom; and extending the Anacostia line across the 11th Street bridge to M Street SW. Already this summer, DDOT will begin the Environmental Assessment process for the extension from Union Station to Washington Circle.
A DDOT colleague reported that streetscape construction on H Street is expected to be “substantially complete” by June 30, 2011, which was certainly music to the ears of business owners along H Street, who have suffered through the major, multi-year streetscape renovation. He said this means that all traffic lanes and sidewalks will be open although a “punch list” will remain for more minor construction items.
Kubly stated that construction of the three streetcar power substations along H Street and Benning Road is expected to begin this summer, and he said that DDOT intends to install overhead wires as soon as possible after a contractor is selected to operate and maintain the streetcar system (DDOT is working on a Request for Proposals to hire such a contractor).
Now the Bad News: The start date for the H Street-Benning Road streetcar line has already been delayed beyond the planned April 2012 opening because of ongoing negotiations with Amtrak for use of the H Street underpass, which is adjacent to Amtrak property and, therefore, requires Amtrak approval. DDOT plans to use the underpass to connect the streetcar line to Union Station and for a streetcar storage and maintenance facility. Kubly said that Amtrak has raised concerns about losing employee parking, stray electrical currents, and safety and security in the underpass. He does not believe that any of these concerns are “fatal flaws” that would force DDOT to pursue a far less attactive plan B, one that likely would not directly connect to Union Station and, thus, make the streetcar line far less functional.
Kubly said that streetcar service on H Street and Benning Road will likely be delayed until fall 2012, and unless DDOT is able to obtain Amtrak approval for use of the H Street underpass by this summer, the streetcar line would not open until 2013.