The D.C. Council’s Committee on Public Works and Transportation held a hearing today on the recently introduced Transportation Infrastructure Amendment Act of 2010, which would authorize the use of overhead streetcar wires on the H Street-Benning Road streetcar line and establish a process by which the Mayor (through the District Department of Transportation) would create a city-wide plan for the use of overhead wires for other future streetcar lines across the city.
More than 20 public witness showed up to testify. Witnesses from DC Surface Transit, ANCs 6A and 6C, H Street Main Street, residents and business owners from the H Street corridor, the Sierra Club, Greater Greater Washington.org and others testified in support of the bill, which is a key step in getting streetcars up and running on H Street and Benning Road by spring 2012, as planned. It is also considered an important step in increasing the competitiveness of the city’s application for federal funding to extend the streetcar line across the Anacostia River to the Benning Road Metrorail station.
Three witnesses from the Committee of 100 on the Federal City and Capitol Hill Restoration Society testified against the legislation as drafted and called for it to be amended to focus narrowly on H Street and Benning Road. Although they were few in number, Chairman Jim Graham gave them plenty of time to describe their views on overhead wires and their other concerns about streetcars. George Clark, Chairman of the Committee of 100, strongly hinted that his organization will sue the District to challenge the overhead streetcar wire law if it becomes law.
District Department of Transportation (DDOT) Director Gabe Klein, who was accompanied by his streetcar point man Scott Kubly, testified after the public witnesses. Klein testified that Mayor Fenty and DDOT support the bill (with a minor revision to clearly delineate the boundaries of the H Street-Benning Road streetcar line). In his testimony, Klein described the state of streetcar power technology and how the agency came to the conclusion that a hybrid power system, using overhead wires as the primary power source and onboard batteries as a secondary power source, is the most feasible and cost effective option for D.C. To emphasize that DDOT is going to great lengths to address critics’ concerns about the aesthetics of overhead wires, Klein held up two pieces of overhead wire: one is the size of the standard wire used by the Portland Streetcar (it appeared to have a diameter comparable to a nickle), and the second – which DDOT plans to use — was about a third of the size of the standard wire, roughly the diameter of a regular sized pen (see inset photo by Brad Green with the regular size wire on the left, the slimmer wire in the middle and a pen on the right for comparison.)
Councilmember Tommy Wells, who drafted the legislation, was an active questioner throughout the hearing and appeared eager to advance the legislation as soon as possible so that the H Street-Benning Road streetcar line, which would serve his Ward 6 (along with Wards 5 and 7), is not delayed further. Councilmembers Muriel Bowser and Phil Mendelson also attended most of the hearing and directed a number of questions to the public witnesses and Klein.
A reporter from WJLA/News Channel 8 covered the hearing in a segment that aired tonight.