The top complaint D.C. residents have about National Harbor is that they can’t get there by transit. There are other issues, certainly, but inaccessibility is challenge No. 1.
There are no plans to extend Metrorail to the Peterson Cos.’ resort on the Potomac, soon to be home to the MGM National Harbor casino, but maybe D.C.’s streetcar is the next best thing. The District has asked its private streetcar manager to draw up a concept design for a streetcar extension to National Harbor.
The District’s Department of Transportation on Monday submitted a request to the D.C. Council for a $6.5 million modification to its contract with HDR Engineering Inc. It is the seventh such modification, which will bring HDR’s potential payout to $41.5 million.
Of all the task orders within that $6.5 million, the smallest, $90,000, is simply titled “National Harbor Concept Design.”
Thomas Perry, DDOT’s streetcar program manager for design and construction, told me Tuesday that part of the streetcar effort is looking at potential markets for passengers and sources of revenue. As “some of our leadership” had been contacted by Prince George’s officials, Perry said, DDOT decided to do some due diligence, “vetting it to see if it’s possible.”
“Right now, it’s kind of a wish list, feasibility, let’s take a look at it thing,” Perry said.
He said DDOT hasn’t even committed to do the study, but as the agency had already started looking at extending the streetcar to D.C. Water’s Blue Plains campus, it made sense to turn their gaze south.
Scott Peterson, spokesman for Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, said he knows nothing about any streetcar conversations.
Let’s ponder, for a moment, extending the streetcar roughly 4.8 miles from Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling (the current terminus of the Anacostia line) to National Harbor, the region’s second largest convention destination.
The District’s planned 37-mile streetcar system, as currently mapped, extends as far west as Georgetown, north to Takoma, east to Benning Road and south to the base. It links key D.C. destinations, from Union Station to the Southwest Waterfront to Buzzard Point. But it does not leave D.C. proper.
A streetcar to National Harbor would have the potential to draw visitors to Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center and MGM to D.C. who might otherwise stay in Maryland, while carrying D.C. residents who work at either National Harbor or MGM to their jobs. Count both as pros.
At the same time, the streetcar would drive D.C.’s residents and tourists to National Harbor’s various attractions, sending valuable consumer dollars to Prince George’s County. That’s a big con, as is the cost — upward of $250 million, if the price per mile holds to what it’s been so far for the streetcar.
Cost sharing would “have to be part” of the conversation, Perry said, but that conversation is way, way off.
“Obviously, there’d be a whole lot of collaboration with other jurisdictions, but you have to start somewhere,” Perry said.
The $6.5 million contract modification with HDR covers services ranging from final design of the Anacostia Line ($700,000), general engineering support ($400,000) and implementation of the H Street/Benning Line ($1.5 million) to subsurface utility relocation for the Union Station to Georgetown Line ($300,000) and the design and delivery of the Car Barn Training Center at Spingarn ($500,000).
As for when the H Street/Benning line will carry its first passengers, early fall is looking like the best bet. DDOT officials told a council committee Tuesday that they hope to have functional testing underway by July, and the line ready for certification by August. The certification process can take up to 80 days, pushing the possible launch date to October.