Last Tuesday, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) submitted its DC Streetcar System Plan to the D.C. Council. The FY2010 Balanced Budget Support Emergency Act 2010 required that DDOT submit “a comprehensive plan for financing, operations and capital facilities of the streetcar project” to the Council, and the Council must approve the plan before DDOT receives $34.5 million of the roughly $50 million the Council approved for streetcars in May. According to a source at the Council, the Committee on Public Works and Transportation (Councilmember Jim Graham, Ward 1, Chairman) is expected to hold a public hearing on the DC Streetcar System Plan in the coming weeks as a prelude to the committee and the full Council acting on an approval resolution for the plan. It is not yet clear when the Council will take action on the plan to release these crucial funds, which will permit DDOT to deliver on its commitment to begin streetcar service by spring 2012.
The document details DDOT’s plans for the initial segments of the H Street-Benning Road streetcar line and the Anacostia streetcar line and planned extensions of both lines.
H Street-Benning Road Line
The H Street-Benning Road streetcar line will initially serve seven stops: Union Station; 5th & H Streets NE; 8th & H Streets NE; 13th & H Streets NE; 15th Street & Benning Road NE; 19th Street & Benning Road; and Oklahoma Avenue & Benning Road NE. The plan confirms what DDOT had previously announced publicly — that the initial operational segment of the line will connect to Union Station by traveling through a cutout in the H Street overpass and terminating at the western abutment of the H Street underpass (H Street and 1st Street NE) where a streetcar storage and maintenance facility also would be located.
DDOT will build a pedestrian tunnel connecting the western terminus of the streetcar line to the Union Station Metrorail station, and according to the plan, DDOT intends to use eminent domain to obtain an easement from Potomac Development Corporation, which apparently has been unwilling to negotiate “an amicable settlement” with DDOT to provide the easement necessary for the pedestrian tunnel. On the eastern end, the line will initially end with a turnaround in the median of Benning Road near the intersection with Oklahoma Avenue.
As part of the electrical infrastructure for the initial two-mile streetcar line, DDOT will need to install three power substations. The document states that DDOT intends to place two substations on D.C.-owned property at the ends of the line with a third substation at about the midway point – on the southeast corner of the intersection of H Street and 12th Street NE (next to the Auto Zone).
The plan describes how DDOT plans to extend the initial two mile streetcar line an additional 1.95 miles to the east to connect with the Benning Road Metrorail station on the Blue Line. DDOT previously applied for, but did not win, federal transit funding to cover part of the estimated $77 million extension, and according to the plan, now DDOT “is requesting $73.4M in federal funds through the District’s annual appropriation request of the federal Office of Management and Budget” to fund the Benning Road extension, which would be offset by any competitive federal funds D.C. may win in the future.
The plan indicates that beginning in 2015 DDOT intends to reconstruct the H Street bridge, and as part of this project, DDOT will include streetcar tracks on the bridge, allowing the westward extension of the H Street-Benning Road line, as planned.
According to DDOT’s map of D.C.’s planned 37-mile streetcar system (see inset map), when the H Street line is extended to the west, it will jog northwest on New Jersey Avenue and then westward along K Street to Georgetown.
The plan describes a scaled back Anacostia streetcar line — called the Anacostia Initial Line Segment — with a length of 0.75 mile and three stops between the Anacostia Metrorail station and the Naval Annex with a stop in between at Barry Farms Residential Area. A storage and maintenance facility will be located on South Capitol Street south of the Naval Annex.
The rationale for this streetcar line initially seems weak. The plan describes its purpose as “providing an opportunity for the public to see and experience streetcar vehicles in operation[,]” but now that the H Street-Benning Road line will be operational around the same time, this seems like a poor rationale for the Anacostia line. The plan also states that this initial segment has “low ridership potential[,]” which seems obvious given the short distance, few stops and specific route. This seems to call into question the rationale for building this streetcar line. However, the plan describes this initial segment as “a critical link for streetcar service east of the river[,]” which will also connect to a streetcar storage and maintenance facility east of the river. Further, the plan makes a more compelling case for the streetcar line when it states that ”the project corridor has substantial concentrations of low‐income and transit‐dependent households, with approximately 45.6 percent of the households within ¼ of a mile having incomes below $35,000, and 51.8 percent of households have no access to a car[.]”
DDOT plans to extend the line eastward to downtown Anacostia, and the document indicates that next month DDOT will begin a NEPA process “to determine the optimal alignment” for the Anacostia line extension. The document states that DDOT submitted a TIGER II grant application to the U.S. Department of Transportation; however, awards were announced last week, and unfortunately, D.C. did not receive the requested funding.
Less Funding Means Less Frequent Streetcar Service
The streetcar plan notes that initially DDOT had requested $63 million in capital funds from the D.C. Council to complete the initial operation segment of the H Street-Benning Road streetcar line by spring 2012, and because the Council only appropriated $50 million — which the plan calls “the bare minimum required to initiate streetcar service” — DDOT was forced to scale back its plans. In order to work within the reduced budget, DDOT will purchase only three new streetcar vehicles instead of the planned six vehicles, meaning longer wait times between streetcars. With a planned total of six streetcar vehicles (three new vehicles plus three vehicles already owned by the city) for both streetcar lines by spring 2012, four vehicles would be available to operate on the H Street-Benning Road line (and the remaining two vehicles would be available for the Anacostia line). This means that streetcars would run about every 10 minutes on the H Street-Benning Road line and about every 15 minutes on the Anacostia line.