D.C. streetcar launch delayed, no opening date set

WASHINGTON – With a new administration at the helm, the District Department of Transportation is taking a different approach to the oft-delayed streetcar line that outgoing Mayor Vincent Gray had hoped would be part of his legacy by altering the management structure and its relationship with an independent regulator key to the project’s success.

“I think the emphasis had been on getting it open,” says Leif Dormsjo, DDOT’s new director, of the Gray administration. “The emphasis that Mayor (Muriel) Bowser has placed on this project is getting it right.”

Tuesday, DDOT announced that the $190 million project would be delayed indefinitely.

The 2.4-mile H Street project has not yet received its safety certification and there is no timeline when the project might meet safety requirements and would be allowed to serve the public.

“I don’t think that the deadline that was imposed by the previous administration was informed by the facts on the ground and was pragmatic and realistic in any way,” Dormsjo says.

Gray had hoped to see his vision of streetcars rolling along city streets once more before he left office at the beginning of the month. Instead the opening was pushed back to Jan. 19, yet another deadline that would come and go without the public being able to board the first streetcar to serve D.C. in fifty years.

Dormsjo says DDOT must cultivate a better relationship with the State Safety Office, the independent regulator assessing the safety compliance standards for the project.

He was concerned that the State Safety Office had not been getting full and robust cooperation from the previous DDOT team.

He’s also put a new project management structure in place.

One of the first things he asked upon joining DDOT was who was in charge of the Streetcar project.

Five people raised their hand.

That told him DDOT didn’t have “the right structure to be effective,” Dormsjo says.

Despite the setbacks, Dormsjo pledges to launch the streetcar and to “put this long-delayed line on track.”

Test runs began last fall. On Jan. 3 a streetcar hit a black sedan during one of those trial runs at the intersection of 6th and H streets NE. At the time, DDOT said that the accident wouldn’t impact the once planned for January opening.

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