Officials attempt to restore funding for streetcar
City lawmakers unlikely to delay budget vote
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.”
“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.