Mayor Vincent Gray and Terry Bellamy, his transportation director, appeared at a packed Atlas Performing Arts Center auditorium on Tuesday to update the community on the District Department of Transportation’s (DDOT) progress on the H Street-Benning Road streetcar line, which is now planned to open in summer 2013.
After being forced by Amtrak to abandon earlier plans to connect the line to Union Station through the H Street tunnel, in recent months DDOT considered several other options and ultimately narrowed it down to two options. The first would end at the top of the Hopscotch Bridge on H Street, and riders would enter Union Station along a walkway through the parking garage. The second would stop at Second and F Streets NE (near the Securities & Exchange Commission building) by way of a loop south of H Street. After news of the final two options became public leading up to the meeting, residents east of Union Station organized in opposition to the latter terminus, citing concerns about streetcars on narrow residential streets and the proximity to the Capitol Hill Montessori School at Logan. During his opening remarks, Mayor Gray made clear that he had vetoed the latter option, and he stated emphatically that DDOT would connect to Union Station via the Hopscotch Bridge instead.
Bellamy made brief remarks following the mayor and then introduced David Vozzolo, the DDOT contractor who is serving as Program Manager for the DC Streetcar Team, and he gave the bulk of the presentation. The main updates were that: (1) DDOT has selected a design-build firm to complete the work required to make the H Street-Benning Road streetcar line operational by summer 2013 (the D.C. Council still must approve the contract) and the remaining construction work is expected to begin in early 2012; and (2) DDOT proposes to site the Car Barn Training Center, where streetcars will be stored and maintained and streetcar employees will be trained, at the corner of 26th Street and Benning Road NE, just south of Spingarn High School.
Councilmembers Mary Cheh (Ward 3), who chairs the Council’s transportation committee, and Tommy Wells (Ward 6) also attended the meeting, which was hosted by Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6A in collaboration with ANC 6C and ANC 7D01 Commissioner Lisa White. ANC 6A Chair David Holmes kicked off the meeting by introducing Mayor Gray, and during the question and answer session, ANC 6A Vice Chair Drew Ronneberg read audience questions from notecards that were collected from the audience.
Mayor Gray concluded the meeting by saying of D.C.’s streetcar effort “I really think we’re on the front end of somthing tremendous.”
The meeting was an important step forward for DDOT and the Gray administration both in demonstrating that they are taking key next steps on the H Street-Benning Road streetcar line and in beginning what appears to be a stepped up effort at public engagement. DDOT announced that the agency is already holding another public meeting on Tuesday, December 20 at 6:00 pm at the same venue for a “DC Streetcar 101″ focused on the “Interim Western Destination & Car Barn Training Center.”