Of­fi­cials at­tempt to re­store fund­ing for street­car

City law­mak­ers un­likely to de­lay bud­get vote

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY RYAN M. MC­DER­MOTT

Of­fi­cials from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s ad­min­is­tra­tion made a last­ditch ef­fort Mon­day to re­store $55 mil­lion in fund­ing to ex­pand the D.C. Street­car’s route. But city law­mak­ers are un­likely to de­lay a vote on the nearly $14 bil­lion bud­get for a trans­porta­tion project plagued by prob­lems.

City Ad­min­is­tra­tor Rashad Young called on the D.C. Coun­cil to re­store funds that would al­low the street­car to run from Union Sta­tion to Ge­orge­town along K Street NW, ahead of the coun­cil’s vote on the fis­cal 2018 bud­get on Tues­day.

“A street­car that just tra­verses H Street un­til the next decade re­ally wasn’t what we had in mind to lever­age lo­cal trans­porta­tion ne­ces­si­ties for res­i­dents,” Mr. Young said at press con­fer­ence at the John A. Wil­son Build­ing.

“The over­all is­sue for the ad­min­is­tra­tion … is one of eq­uity and fair­ness and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment,” he said. “We need greater op­tions for res­i­dents and fam­i­lies and peo­ple that live east to travel down­town.”

But coun­cil Chair­man Phil Men­del­son, who struck the west­ward ex­pan­sion funds from the bud­get, said the street­car project “hor­ri­bly botched” over the last decade.

“Billed as an al­ter­na­tive trans­porta­tion sys­tem for com­muters, it is cur­rently a nov­elty and is likely to re­main so,” the at-large Demo­crat said.

In 2006, Mayor An­thony Williams an­nounced plans for a $13 mil­lion street­car line that would run from Union Sta­tion across the Ana­cos­tia River to the Min­nesota Av­enue Metro Sta­tion. Ten years and three may­ors later, the $200 mil­lion trol­ley op­er­ates along 2.4 miles of track along H Street NE from Union Sta­tion to Ok­la­homa Av­enue. Mr. Young said the street­car av­er­ages about 3,000 rid­ers per month. The city hasn’t charged fares since its maiden trip in Fe­bru­ary 2016, and of­fi­cials have yet to de­cide when to be­gin re­quir­ing rid­ers to pay.

On Mon­day, Mr. Men­del­son said that nearly $200 mil­lion is set aside in next year’s bud­get to ex­pand the street­car’s route east­ward along H Street to the Ben­ning Road Metro sta­tion. He also pointed out that the coun­cil voted two weeks ago to cut the street­car’s bud­get by about $55 mil­lion.

“There has been a lot of mis­in­for­ma­tion about whether we are cut­ting the street­car east to com­plete the con­nec­tion be­tween Union Sta­tion and the Ben­ning Road Metro Sta­tion, but we’re fully fund­ing that,” the chair­man told re­porters Mon­day.

He said the money cut from the Union Sta­tion-to-Ge­orge­town west­ward ex­pan­sion and funds to buy ex­tra street­cars. The city op­er­ates three street­cars and houses a fourth as a backup.

“What this gov­ern­ment has demon­strated is a com­plete in­abil­ity to build a street­car sys­tem at a de­cent amount of money. We spent hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars, and it will take an­other $200 mil­lion be­fore we com­plete Ben­ning Road,” Mr. Men­del­son said.

He charged that the city has bet­ter uses for the funds that would ex­pand the street­car line to Ge­orge­town.

Coun­cil mem­ber Vin­cent Gray, Ward 7 Demo­crat, called for full fund­ing and said res­i­dents de­serve to know the fate of the street­car east and west of Union Sta­tion.

“I fully sup­port this street­car sys­tem as part of our grow­ing city’s pub­lic trans­porta­tion in­fra­struc­ture, and the Metro strug­gles and traf­fic con­ges­tion make a clear case for the street­car,” Mr. Gray said in a state­ment. “The street­car has also proven to be an im­por­tant eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment cat­a­lyst that can re­vi­tal­ize neigh­bor­hood busi­ness cor­ri­dors.”

Demo­cratic coun­cil mem­bers Jack Evans, who also serves as Metro’s board chair­man, and Mary Cheh, head of the Trans­porta­tion Com­mit­tee, both backed Mr. Men­del­son.

Mr. Evans of Ward 2 said he sup­ports the Ben­ning Road ex­pan­sion but op­poses fund­ing for the street­car to Ge­orge­town. He said the money should be fund Metro rail and buses — the city’s main pub­lic trans­porta­tion re­source.

Ms. Cheh of Ward 3 told WAMU Ra­dio that she sup­ports the Ben­ning Road ex­ten­sion but was softer than oth­ers in her con­dem­na­tion the west­ward line, say­ing that more talks will come with the fis­cal 2019 bud­get.

Mr. Men­del­son of­fered a chal­lenge to those push­ing for build­ing the line along K Street from Union Sta­tion to Ge­orge­town: “Let the gov­ern­ment prove that this street­car ac­tu­ally lives up to what they say it will.”

RYAN M. MC­DER­MOTT/THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

“Billed as an al­ter­na­tive trans­porta­tion sys­tem for com­muters, it is cur­rently a nov­elty and is likely to re­main so,” said coun­cil Chair­man Phil Men­del­son, a Demo­crat.

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