D.C. scales back plan to expand streetcar network

The D.C. Streetcar will begin service Saturday, Feb. 27. (WTOP/Sarah Beth Hensley)

WASHINGTON — The D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT) had hoped to build a 22-mile streetcar network connecting all parts of the District, but now the agency admits that will not happen in the next 10 years.

DDOT Director Matt Brown told reporters that this summer’s D.C. Council funding cut forced the department to scale back plans to expand streetcar service in all quadrants of the city.

The agency did, however, name three companies that are going to compete for a contract to operate the eight miles it plans to have running before 2025.

“The announcement of the short list of contractors brings us one significant step closer to making the visions for a comprehensive District streetcar system a reality,” D.C. Mayor Vince Gray says in a release.

“Unfortunately, this announcement is bittersweet considering the steep funding cuts to the system made by the D.C. Council,” he adds. “By cutting streetcar funding by nearly 75 percent, the Council has prevented us from building out the full system over the next 10 years.”

The Council had proposed to fund $1.9 billion over 10 years to the streetcar initiative; this summer, the Council cut the number to $570 million.

“This is not the 22-mile system that really connects the city,” Brown says, “but having an East-West line, as well as the Anacostia segment, which is going to support Barry Farm, historic Anacostia and the base, I think provides great transportation options.”

The cuts forced DDOT to make other changes to the timeline for future streetcar projects. The Anacostia line would still open in 2017; the Benning Road extension that will connect the current H Street-Benning Road line to the Minnesota Avenue Metro station is still slated to open in 2019. But the three- mile Union Station-to-Georgetown Line is now slated to open in 2024, as opposed to 2022.

Streetcar lines connecting Southeast to Southwest D.C., and a North-South line starting from the Montgomery County border near Georgia Avenue and 16th Street, will not be built within 10 years.

“We’re still very excited about it,” Brown says. “There is a lot of congestion downtown and on K Street, we anticipate there will be a dedicated lane, so we think the performance will be pretty good.”

One lawmaker who supported the cut was D.C. Council Member Mary Cheh, who chairs the Committee on Transportation and the Environment.

“It’s going to be wonderful development,” she says. “But it is quite expensive, and we’re going to have to be careful about how we plan funding.”

DDOT will now work with three finalists interested in building and operating the three future streetcar lines: Capital Transit Partners, D.C. Transit Partners and Potomac Transit Partners. Each is actually a team of several companies, similar to the way big projects such as the Silver Line are built.

Capital Transit Partners teams up Balfour Better Rail and Parsons Brinkerhoff. DC Transit Partners has Clark Construction. Potomac Transit Partners has URS, M.C. Dean and Facchina.

A winning bid will be selected at the end of 2016; construction could begin in the spring of 2017.

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