On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported on the release of Mayor Vincent Gray’s transition team report on transportation and infrastructure, which is highly critical of how the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) implemented the streetcar initiative in previous mayoral administrations. The report, which was authored by Cellerino Bernardino and Thomas Downs, charges that DDOT has “skirted accountability and mismanaged the the transportation capital program, violating District law.” It goes on to criticize DDOT for undertaking “high-profile projects” like streetcars “without adequate planning or funding[.]”
The report betrays the authors’ ignorance of the history of streetcar planning on H Street and Benning Road NE when it states that “trolley tracks have been installed on H Street NE without provision for electric power, a storage/maintenance facility, or a way for the trolleys to turn around.” This ignores the fact that it was the community, led by five Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, that asked the city to install streetcar tracks as part of the Great Streets streetscape renovation already planned for H Street and Benning Road NE. This was during the administration of former Mayor Anthony Williams. As part of the construction on H Street and Benning Road, DDOT has been incorporating infrastructure for poles to hold overhead wires that will provide the electric power for streetcars. While it is true that DDOT had to play catch up to identify a storage and maintenance facility and turnarounds at either end of the H Street-Benning Road line, the transition team seems oblivious of the fact that DDOT presented its solutions to these issues to the community in April 2010 and to the D.C. Council in October 2010.
The kicker is that the transition team’s report states without any elaboration that “[t]he three trolleys that were purchased cannot be used because they do not meet federal ADA requirements.” That is a dubious statement given that the same Skoda-Inekon streetcars are already in use in cities like Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington. Recently departed DDOT Director Gabe Klein responded to the Gray transition team report in an Examiner article on Monday calling the report’s accusations “wholly inaccurate” and stating that the accusation that D.C.’s streetcar vehicles are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act “absolutely false.”
Mayor Gray and his transition team must set the record straight. If these three streetcar vehicles cannot be used — which would delay the opening of the H Street-Benning Road streetcar line beyond 2012 – then Mayor Gray should give the public a complete explanation as to why his team believes that is the case. If this statement is inaccurate then Mayor Gray should direct his transition team to correct the report immediately.