Yesterday, at its final legislative meeting of the year, the D.C. Council unanimously approved the Transportation Infrastructure Amendment Act of 2010 on the second of two required votes. The legislation authorizes the use of overhead wires to power streetcars on the H Street-Benning Road streetcar line, which is under construction and scheduled to begin operating by April 2012. It also establishes a process for the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) to seek D.C. Council approval for the authority to use overhead wires to power future streetcar lines in other parts of the city. The legislation establishes two overhead wire-free zones along the National Mall and Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and the White House.
archive for December, 2010
During its December 7 legislative meeting, the D.C. Council approved two important pieces of streetcar legislation to help the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) keep making progress on construction of the H Street-Benning Road and the Anacostia streetcar lines.
The Council approved the Streetcar Project Comprehensive Plan Approval Resolution of 2010, which releases to DDOT the remaining $34.5 million that the Council approved for streetcars earlier this year but made contingent upon DDOT delivering a streetcar plan to the Council.
On the first of two required votes, the Council also voted to approve the Transportation Infrastructure Amendment Act of 2010, which would authorize the use of overhead wires to power streetcars on the H Street-Benning Road streetcar line “between the intersection of North Capitol Street and H Street, N.E. on the west and the Anacostia River on the east[.]“ In July, the Council approved an earlier version of the bill as emergency legislation, which had only temporary effect. The new bill, for which the Council is using regular legislative procedures, would have permanent effect. The Council is expected to schedule the second vote on this bill before the end of the year.
In addition to authorizing the use of overhead streetcar wires on H Street and Benning Road NE, the bill establishes a formal procedure for DDOT to seek authority to use overhead wires to power future streetcar lines. It would require the mayor to “develop a plan for the use of aerial wires for each phase or extension of the streetcar transit system and submit the plan to the Council” for approval within a 45-day legislative review period or the plan would be deemed disapproved.
The legislation also establishes two overhead wire-free zones: “(1) Along the National Mall in the cross-axis area that extends from the U.S. Capitol on the east to the Lincoln Memorial on the west and from the White House on the north to the Jefferson Memorial on the south, including federal properties abutting this cross-axis area; and (2) Along Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and the White House.”
This morning District Department of Transportation (DDOT) Director Gabe Klein announced his resignation after receiving a letter from Mayor-elect Vincent Gray’s team last night informing him that Gray would not retain him as DDOT director, as many progressive transportation advocates had hoped. He has provided key leadership that has made D.C.’s streetcar progress possible in the last year and a half so his departure will be a big loss.
While streetcar planning began in earnest on former DDOT director Dan Tangherlini‘s watch nearly a decade ago, D.C.’s streetcar plans largely derailed following his departure in February 2006. It was not until spring 2009, when several of us met with Klein — following his December 2008 appointment — and asked him to get streetcars back on track that he made streetcars a priority within DDOT again. Within a matter of months of that meeting, he appointed Scott Kubly to lead the project, and they kicked planning into high gear. By October and November 2009, DDOT presented a plan for a 37-mile D.C. streetcar system at public meetings in all eight wards. DDOT also intensified planning for the H Street-Benning Road streetcar line where tracks were being laid, but DDOT had not yet planned how to connect the line to Union Station, how to turn it around at the preliminary eastern terminus of the line or where a storage and maintenance facility would be located. He changed all that, and DDOT developed aggressive plans for making streetcars a reality there by spring 2012. Importantly, he was able to identify roughly $60 million that could be used to pay to finish construction of this first streetcar line by that date (although the D.C. Council whittled this total down to about $50 million). He imported D.C.’s streetcars from the Czech Republic and put them on display downtown for citizens to experience first hand. He determined that overhead wires provide the most feasible power source for streetcars, but he also listened to those who raised aesthetic concerns about wires and opted for a hybrid approach with minimal wires providing the primary source of power and batteries providing a secondary source in certain areas. Along the way, he participated in public meetings in Wards 5 and 6 to update the community on DDOT’s streetcar plans as they evolved.
Klein resuscitated DDOT’s streetcar plans and achieved real progress toward making streetcars a reality in D.C. much sooner than DDOT was estimating before his arrival at DDOT. While Klein accomplished a great deal during his short two years at the helm of DDOT, breathing new life into D.C.’s streetcar plans will certainly be an important part of his legacy, and we all owe him a debt of gratitude for his leadership.
Two key questions for the future of streetcars in D.C. are: (1) who will Mayor-elect Gray appoint to lead DDOT next, and (2) will the next director bring the same level of leadership to the streetcar initiative, making it a top agency priority. We may know the answer to the first question soon, but the answer to the second question will likely take awhile. Fortunately, Klein has put a good streetcar team in place, and contractors are also on board to bring important expertise to ongoing planning and implementation efforts. Hopefully, these staff and contractors will provide enough continuity to keep streetcars moving forward and on schedule.
We streetcar advocates look forward to working with the next DDOT director soon after he or she is appointed, and we hope for a collaborative relationship, as we’ve experienced during the last two years.
Greater Greater Washington reported this morning that D.C. Council Chairman and Mayor-elect Vincent Gray’s proposed budget to close the $188 million budget shortfall in Fiscal Year 2011 does not cut capital funding for the H Street-Benning Road and Anacostia streetcar lines at a time when the Council is forced to consider painful cuts to a range of programs across the D.C. government.
Please call (202-724-8032) or email (email@example.com) Chairman Gray to thank him for ensuring that D.C. will continue moving forward with streetcar implementation so that the H Street-Benning Road streetcar line can remain on schedule to open for service in spring 2012.
First the good news: Greater Greater Washington reports that today, the D.C. Council’s Committee on Public Works and Transportation (chaired by Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham), marked up and unanimously approved a resolution that would approve the District Department of Transportation’s (DDOT) DC Streetcar System Plan. This action sends the resolution to the full Council for a vote in the weeks ahead, and if approved by the full Council, it would release $34.5 million to DDOT to keep the H Street-Benning Road streetcar line on schedule to open in spring 2012.
Now the bad news: As the Council grapples with a $188 million budget shortfall, this very $34.5 million in streetcar funding could be slashed in the days ahead. According to Greater Greater Washington, Council Chairman and Mayor-elect Gray’s “budget staff and transition team are considering the [streetcar] program for cuts.” However, the Greater Greater Washington post also notes that Gray’s team is “concerned about the certain backlash from residents who have come to feel the DC government made a fairly firm commitment to build the line.”
If you want streetcars rolling on H Street and Benning Road by spring 2012, as promised, now would be a good time to light up Chairman Gray’s switchboard (202-724-8032) and email account (firstname.lastname@example.org) again!