The D.C. Council is expected to vote by the middle of this week on the final budget for the coming fiscal year, and streetcar supporters need to take action now to let their councilmembers know that they should support crucial funding for streetcars so that the H Street-Benning Road streetcar line can begin serving riders by spring 2012. Mayor Fenty’s budget included $63 million to allow the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) to get the H Street-Benning Road streetcar line up and running by spring 2012, as planned.
However, as the budget moved through Chairman Jim Graham’s Public Works and Transportation Committee recently, this amount was reduced to $52 million. This means that DDOT will be forced to be a lot more creative in order to stretch these resources and ensure that this first streetcar line is able to begin operating by spring 2012. Despite chopping about $11 million from the requested streetcar budget, Chairman Graham has provided leadership in seeking to ensure that the full Council approves this funding.
Of greater concern, at both the committee hearing on May 13 and again before the full Council on May 19, Councilmember Phil Mendelson raised concerns about this vital streetcar funding. At the Public Works and Transportation Committee hearing, Mendelson voiced his concern that the H Street-Benning Road streetcar line has “no beginning” and “no end” aftering driving the route and seeing the tracks end at 3rd and H Street on the west and at 23rd and Benning Road on the east. He seemed unaware that DDOT recently presented its plans for connecting the streetcar line to Union Station and constructing a temporary turnaround at Benning Road and Oklahoma Avenue until funding becomes available to extend the line to the Benning Road Metrorail station. Mendelson also seemed unaware that the funds DDOT is requesting in the budget would enable the agency to do the very work that he observed needs to be completed in order to make the streetcar line functional. He also expressed concern about providing the requested streetcar funding before the legal issues associated with using overhead wires to power streetcars have been resolved (although Councilmember Tommy Wells is expected to introduce legislation soon to address this issue.) Mendelson repeated these concerns during the full Council’s discussions of the budget on May 19, and he called for further reducing the streetcar funding in the coming fiscal year.
It sounds like Councilmember Mendelson needs to hear from more of his constituents who support streetcars that he should support this important funding to avoid further delays. He may be reached by telephone at (202) 724-8064 or email.