Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Why the 11th Street Bridge won't have streetcar tracks

October 7, 2011 - 12:15 PM
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Streetcar tracks on H Street. (Photo: John Hendel)

Who is responsible for the reality that the 11th Street Bridge will no longer incorporate streetcar tracks? The $300 million project to build the bridge across the Anacostia now, we've learned, won't include tracks but simply leave room for them to be added at some future date. Mayor Vince Gray voiced a desire for a streetcar line to Anacostia on multiple occasions in the past year, but complications in the review process and the relationship between DDOT and the Federal Transit Administration have derailed, so to speak, the plan to include the tracks.

Yesterday Greater Greater Washington reported that the plans for adding the tracks is no longer on the table. Why? "Environmental review rules, federal officials' interpretations of those rules, and DDOT's eagerness to move quickly all mixed together."

Today, DCist provides a contrary view from a Federal Transit Administration official:

"DDOT, however, refused to follow FTA's guidance," said Farber. "Had they done so, they would have preserved the City's long term options and perhaps saved taxpayer monies in the long run."

Read both reports for greater detail on the different narratives and the reasoning behind the moves. The official is right in one financial respect, at least  — according to the original Greater Greater Washington report, not installing the tracks will save $1.5 million in the short run but cost more in the long run. The word DCist editor Aaron Morrissey uses is "shortsighted."

When the 11th Street Bridge project first began construction in late December, 2009, DDOT referred to the $300 million investment as the "largest [project] DDOT has ever undertaken" in the following video:

Who is really to blame for what seems like a bizarre, unfortunate move? These dispatches are a shame to read and don't bode well for the D.C. streetcars, the onset of which increasingly feels like a dream. Mayor Vince Gray said the 37-mile streetcar lines amounted to a $1.5 billion investment but stressed that it would all be worth it eventually when speaking at the Anacostia Metro station in late summer. Less than a month and a half ago, DDOT announced it would ensure that the H Street/Benning Road streetcar line would open "no later than mid-2013" and cheerfully offered red D.C. Streetcar bags for free at H Street Festival in late September.

But what of Anacostia and the 11th Street Bridge tracks? Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells dismissed yesterday's news as "ridiculous" on Twitter, as Huffington Post D.C. noted, as did ANC commissioner David Garber with an emphatic "FAIL." Projects of this immensity — with as much stake for the future of the District's transportation, establishing infrastructure meant to last countless years — deserves better coordination and foresight, and this mid-course change defies easy understanding or acceptance. The streetcar project is expected to continue, of course, and as DDOT phrases it, the bridge will still be "streetcar ready," but new delays and additional steps have now been added to the process.

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