Breaking: Gray cuts streetcars (now restored)
At approximately 2 am last night, Councilmembers received the proposed budget from Chairman Vincent Gray and his staff. Among the 11th-hour (or should it be 14th-hour) changes was a near-complete elimination of the H Street-Benning Road streetcar line.
Update: The streetcar funding was subsequently restored.
Last night, Council supporters and DDOT officials went to sleep with the understanding that the final budget negotiations had preserved the streetcar.
The line had been approved by the Committee on Public Works and Transportation last week, but the final proposed Budget Support Act removes it and returns funding to some of the Great Streets streetscapes which DDOT said they could backfill with federal funds.
Sarah Campbell, Gray's Deputy Director for Capital Projects, has been pushing for an elimination of the project, according to sources in the Council. Campbell has expressed concerns about the process involved in the planning, which was fairly rapid, but she is also friends with Meg Maguire, leader of the Committee of 100 campaign against overhead wires. There's no way to know for sure how much of her opposition came from professional opinions or personal loyalties.
Many of the concerns over streetcars came from the speed with which this decision was made. Councilmember Phil Mendelson, who opposed the streetcar funding at the committee markup, told Eric Fidler last night that he's not satisifed that DDOT has determined the exact costs of building what they have drawn and what it will take to secure the necessary easements. The station itself is owned by the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation, leased to a private company, managed by a different private company, and subject to Congressional oversight. The proposed streetcar terminus would be located under WMATA's Red Line and under tracks owned by CSX and leased to Amtrak.
However, DDOT also prepared a 110-page list of responses to questions from Ms. Campbell last week, of which I'm working to get a copy. I don't know if they specifically answered that question or not, but there are always details worked out with any project up to the end. It's true that the streetcar plan was put together fairly quickly, because DDOT saw an opportunity to get it funded with the capital money designated for WMATA that wasn't able to go to WMATA because of the FTA's timeline.
Complaints about the speed of the project also seem a little ironic given that Chairman Gray cut the streetcar program at 2 am the night before the Council vote.
Update: Here's the Budget Support Act proposal for the FY2010 budget, which is where most of the streetcar money was.
Gray's office is saying that the program isn't "cut" because the budget hasn't been voted on. It's true that this proposal is a substitute amendment to the budget, which has to be approved by Council, but since Gray is the chairman, it's essentially the baseline that they'll be using to modify today, and unless the Council overrides this part to reinstate streetcars, they're cut.
Update 2: The Council Committee of the Whole has approved the budget that strips streetcar funding. Wells and Evans voted against.
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