Greater Greater Washington

NCPC Chair Bryant asks FTA to deny streetcar grant to DC

Is expanding the power of a federal panel more important than transit and economic development in the District of Columbia?


NCPC Chair Preston Bryant.

If you're Preston Bryant, the chair of the National Capital Planning Commission and an economic and infrastructure consultant in Richmond, yes it is. Bryant sent a letter to FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff asking the agency "to withhold federal funds from the District" for the streetcar system.

The H Street-Benning Road line would not involve federal funds, but DC is looking for an "urban circulator" grant to extend the planned streetcar across the Anacostia River to Benning Road Metro.

This segment would almost entirely lie outside the L'Enfant City, the only area that has ever had a ban on overhead wires. That means that Bryant is asking FTA to refuse to fund a project which is legal even without changing any laws.

NCPC is tasked with protecting the "federal interest." The federal government, and NCPC, have taken very little interest in most of the District's planned streetcar corridors, including H Street and Benning Road, Georgia Avenue, and neighborhoods in Wards 7 and 8.

Items that impact the Mall and views of major monuments are generally agreed to be part of the federal interest, and DC has clearly offered to protect those. The updated draft of the DC Council's overhead wire legislation even more clearly protects these. All new streetcar purchases will be required by law to operate for one mile without wires, and the Council will need to approve any new segments including a plan detailing the potential impacts on view corridors or historic districts.

However, Bryant is not satisfied with that or even giving NCPC heightened power to guard against wires on their view corridors (even though NCPC seems relatively uninterested in other blights on their view corridors). He has asked the DC Council to give NCPC the right to review and approve every single streetcar segment, no matter where in the District, even outside the L'Enfant City.

Has June been proclaimed Richmond Republican Power Grab Over Washington Month and nobody told me?

The full Commission didn't even approve these letters, despite their appearing on official NCPC letterhead. According to people who've spoken with various NCPC representatives, some members don't personally like wires, or aren't convinced that streetcars are worth the money. Some commenters here share some of these concerns.

However, appointees of the President, the Park Service, DoD, GSA, and Congress should not be deciding what individual DC neighborhoods should look like or what is or isn't a prudent investment of capital dollars. That's why we have a democratic political process of home rule, and that's what democracy is about. People get to decide for themselves instead of having some "king" decide for them.

Bryant also expresses concern that the public be involved in the streetcar planning. That is important, but since when is this NCPC's responsibility? They haven't done the same for other, not so federal items in the past.

H Street wants the streetcar. Downtown businesses want the streetcar. Georgia Avenue wants the streetcar. It doesn't affect the federal government if there are streetcars there, even ones with wires, except right past the national parks and on the view corridors. The NCPC members should stop trying to be the Mayor of DC and worry about the real federal interest instead of their personal interest.

We're working on a page for you to reach out to NCPC members about this, but in the meantime, feel free to email your Councilmembers and the Mayor. Thank them for their streetcar support so far and encourage them to stand up for our right to home rule.

David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

Comments

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This group honestly seems like an anachronism. It's pretty outrageous that they involve themselves in this issue so selectively. Hope the city sends a tough response (as I'm sure it will).

by Biff on Jun 25, 2010 4:22 pm • linkreport

Reading the full letter, it's a cogent argument.

by Lou on Jun 25, 2010 4:22 pm • linkreport

The argument rests on an assertion by the NCPC's own general counsel that may or may not be correct. In any case, it doesn't change the fact that NCPC is an anachronism whose actions go against the spirit, if not the law, of DC's Home Rule.

by Fritz C on Jun 25, 2010 4:29 pm • linkreport

Reading the full letter, it's a cogent argument.

While I appreciate your enthusiastic (and reflexive) support for Mr Bryant and the NCPC, there isn't actually an argument in the "full letter." It's simply a stop-payment request. The letter essentially says, "See the attached legal finding from our in-house counsel. Please withhold federal funds."

The argument--presumably--is in the non-existent attachment from NCPC's legal counsel. Right?

by oboe on Jun 25, 2010 4:36 pm • linkreport

I'll rephrase it: the full letter points out specific point of contention that is not discussed in this blog post.

Better?

by Lou on Jun 25, 2010 4:40 pm • linkreport

To the barricades!

by Fritz on Jun 25, 2010 4:40 pm • linkreport

David, Who made up this word viewshed? When you figure that one out, you'll understand why your argument doesn't hold water.

by Lance on Jun 25, 2010 4:41 pm • linkreport

I was not aware that Mr. Bryant is a federal judge tasked with interpreting the scope and authority of the Home Rule Act. Fascinating.

by Adam L on Jun 25, 2010 4:42 pm • linkreport

I'll rephrase it: the full letter points out specific point of contention that is not discussed in this blog post.

And that is?

by Alex B. on Jun 25, 2010 4:43 pm • linkreport

The contention appears to be that because DC plans to have a city-wide, integrated system, at some point it will affect federal property, and therefore DC doesn't have the right to overturn the wire ban, only congress does.

by jcm on Jun 25, 2010 4:56 pm • linkreport

I'm not sure how "Republican" Bryant is any more, after being appointed first by Kaine in Richmond to be Secretary of Natural Resources and then getting Obama's nod for the NCPC. Last fall he supported the Democrat for re-election to his old seat as Lynchburg delegate:

http://www2.newsadvance.com/lna/news/local/article/republican_serving_in_kaines_cabinet_endorses_valentine/20575/

by John Mitchell on Jun 25, 2010 5:12 pm • linkreport

@jcm

Mr. Bryant runs into the classic fallacy of the argument that proves too much. Using his logic, any planning action taken by the District of Columbia that affect federal property would therefore require federal approval, even though the Home Rule Act makes it clear that is not the case.

by Adam L on Jun 25, 2010 5:17 pm • linkreport

By the way, I wasn't trying to support Bryant's action, just pointing out that using partisan labels might not be the best way to address the substantive issues here.

As for those, I find something very curious about the letter to FTA: How can the NCPC, on the one hand, support a District law "repealing" the Congressional wire ban as long as it gives NCPC oversight powers, but oppose the same law as being beyond the authority of the District Council, if it doesn't grant powers to the NCPC? Maybe we can get their general counsel to explain their way out of that contradiction.

by John Mitchell on Jun 25, 2010 5:23 pm • linkreport

I suppose when you're ceding veto power over major DC infrastructure decisions, it's better to give it to a newly minted-Democrat from Lynchburg whose previous job was stewardship of Virginia's forests and fisheries rather than a Lynchburg Republican, but, boy, what a choice.

:)

by oboe on Jun 25, 2010 5:28 pm • linkreport

@Adam L I agree. I was just trying to state his contention, not endorsing it. It's tough to have an opinion without seeing the attachment, but at face value anyway I'd say he's wrong. The council bill explicitly defers to NCPC et al near the mall and monumental core. That seems like enough to this non-lawyer.

by jcm on Jun 25, 2010 5:31 pm • linkreport

Yeah, this guy is a major hypocrite.

Ignoring his general counsel's worthless opinion was no problem for him when it meant extorting the council into giving him a kingly veto. Then the opinion all the sudden meant something when the city told him to buzz off.

His argument is absolutely absurd. You know what other integrated transportation system covers the whole District and thus affects federal property? Our road system, our bus system, our taxi system, our bike and pedestrian systems. All of these systems existed when NCPC was formed and how much authority did Congress give to NCPC to have veto power over them?

Zero.

There's nothing new about streetcars except that this hypocrite hates them.

by Reid on Jun 25, 2010 5:49 pm • linkreport

@jcm

Haha. I knew what you're getting it.

Though I do think this guy has the potential to become the new Bishop Jackson of streetcars. Just another out-of-town hack who thinks he knows better than everybody else, including nearly all of the people's elected representatives.

by Adam Lewis on Jun 25, 2010 6:03 pm • linkreport

"However, appointees of the President, the Park Service, DoD, GSA, and Congress should not be deciding what individual DC neighborhoods should look like or what is or isn't a prudent investment of capital dollars."

When it's federal dollars, they should. Not directly related to Mr. Bryant's power grab here, just making the fairly obvious point that the sweeping statement above doesn't really apply to this project, or many others in the District, since federal money is required for completion. I'm guessing that Mr. Alpert is not suggesting that the federal government should not be deciding what is or is not a prudent investment of capital dollars that it is itself supplying.

by Dizzy on Jun 25, 2010 9:16 pm • linkreport

@Dizzy,

I'm pretty sure the Federal Transit Administration is plenty capable of determining prudent investments on their own.

by Alex B. on Jun 25, 2010 9:21 pm • linkreport

The Federal Transit Administration counts as "appointees of the President," does it not? As I said, my point was about the overly sweeping nature of the statement, not about the propriety of Mr. Bryant trying to engineer a power grab for his commission.

by Dizzy on Jun 25, 2010 9:34 pm • linkreport

I'm completely bewildered how someone doing their job can be accused of doing a power grab.

I think this is fantastic! It's like the Cavalry coming in to rescue the good citizens of Washington.

As David and I have discussed, there's no way DDOT can pull off this system on their own without outside help. This is the help we need. NOW we're going to have a real streetcar system and not just one line that goes 'from nowhere to nowhere'. Maybe they'll even be able to get it through to Union Station ... something DDOT hasn't figured out how to do. Those blasting this change of events really aren't understanding how bad a shape DDOT's proposal was. I know David understands this. And hence I can't understand why he doesn't see this for the good thing it is. Previously, we had a system that once it got built for H St NE, would have no funding or (realistic) planing to take it any further. Now we have the feds stepping in to say 'invite us to the table and we'll work with you to get this thing done.' How is this not a good thing? Does it really have to be DDOT doing it on its own? Or are there folks out there who really believe that these federal funds come without strings? If so, all I have to say to that is 'naive' ...

by Lance on Jun 26, 2010 1:33 am • linkreport

@Lance: Chairman Bryant does not represent the "good citizens of Washington"; he is a federal appointee representing the federal interests. The tram won't go from "nowhere to nowhere"; H St isn't "nowhere". The plans to connect the tram to Union Station are easily found by searching through previous GGW posts and elsewhere. And there certainly are plans to "take it further"; some track is already in the ground for the planned extension to Benning Road. And Chairman Bryant's complaints are centered around the overhead wires. If he has concerns about the financial viability of the tram, he also obviously feels those concerns aren't worth mentioning.

by Amber on Jun 26, 2010 6:45 am • linkreport

Meg Maguire or George Clark referred at the hearing to a Hogan & Hartson brief that they had asked for that came to the same conclusion Bryant claims his council came to. Why aren't these folks making these legal briefs public if they are so convincing, and instead representing the briefs for us? Is there more nuance in the briefs than Bryant, Clark and Maguire want to discuss?

by Ken Archer on Jun 26, 2010 7:34 am • linkreport

The "Republican" slap was unwarranted. Democrats have always owned DC and have done nothing to grow the transit system.

by Daniel Vovak on Jun 26, 2010 7:37 am • linkreport

It is nice to see the Committee of 100 and the NCPC playing so nicely together.

by William on Jun 26, 2010 7:57 am • linkreport

Can anyone tell me who invented the term 'viewshed' ... and for what purpose? In terms of historic preservation, the federal interest, and just plain old 'quality of life', this concept doesn't exist. It's not like we walk down our streets with horse blinders on us. No ... IMHO whoever invented this term 'viewshed' was trying to pull a fast one ... Move the debate from actually protecting the city to protecting 'camera shots'. Fortunately, other than maybe GGW, no one's bought off on this concept.

by Lance on Jun 26, 2010 10:10 am • linkreport

For a bunch of Washingtonians, this group is surprisingly politically naive. Whoever holds the purse strings has the final say, and you can only thumb your noses at them so long, no matter how right you might be on the merits. The shame is, DC could have avoided this whole problem years ago.

by crin on Jun 26, 2010 10:44 am • linkreport

@Lance:
Well, I didn't know anything about the etymology of the word, so I did what I normally do in these circumstances. I googled it.

The first entry is in Wikipedia. I didn't figure you'd trust that, because one of us GGWers could have edited that entry. But you should take a look at the article anyway.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viewshed

The next entry is for the Merriam-Webster Dictionary online.
http://mw1.m-w.com/dictionary/viewshed
It defines "Viewshed" as: the natural environment that is visible from one or more viewing points. It gives the date of the word as 1981 and says the etymology is view + shed in the same vein as "watershed".

I think that gets David off the hook, as I don't think he was coining terms for the planning profession in 1981, but who knows. I suppose it's theoretically possible.

The word is quoted in several publications by local and state governments that came up in the Google search, so I suppose it matters to them.

Unfortunately, I don't have time to go through all 83,000+ hits returned by Google. However, even if I did, I doubt I'd find the single person responsible. The funny thing about English is that the vocabulary is essentially infinitely expandable.

Let's take a look at "watershed", for instance. The term is used to refer to the catchment area for a body of water. Outside of North America, however, the term refers not to the catchment basin, but to the geographic features dividing catchment basins (the Continental Divide, for example). In the case of this word, "-shed" is derived from words in other languages meaning to "cut, shed, or divide."

So, there's our connection. "-Shed" means to divide. "Watershed" (outside North America) then meant 'thing that divides water basins'. It came into use around 1800.

It is also used in other contexts. Like, "2010 became a watershed year for healthcare reform". 2010 was the dividing point between eras, in the same manner that the Appalachians separate the Potomac and Ohio river basins (watersheds).

Since "watershed" refers to the basin in North America, "-shed" can also be used to refer to any kind of catchment area. For example, I often use the term "transit-shed" to refer to the quarter- or half-mile radius around a transit station typically thought of as the catchment area for that station.

Sorry I couldn't answer your question. But then you weren't really looking for an answer anyway, were you?

by Matt Johnson on Jun 26, 2010 10:47 am • linkreport

NCPC uses the term all the time. It's in Bryant's letter. I got the term from them. They have long been pushing the idea that the federal interest applies not only to federal property but places where you can see important federal property - it was an attempt to expand jurisdiction. But now that DC is agreeing to protect viewsheds, it's not enough.

by David Alpert on Jun 26, 2010 10:53 am • linkreport

@Matt Johnson ... I meant in this context ... This is its first use in the context of historic preservation and the federal interest in DC that I know of. I'm not surprised that NCPC is now using it since they need to respond to it ... But the issue here is who cares if the view one gets when taking a camera shot is protected? ... As far as I know, protecting that 'camera shot' view isn't the purpose of any of our historic preservation laws or of the federal interest in this city.

by Lance on Jun 26, 2010 11:05 am • linkreport

@David, Are you referring to Bryant's letter linked above? Are you sure it's in there ... ?

by Lance on Jun 26, 2010 11:09 am • linkreport

@Lance:
Well, as a photographer, I care. But I take your meaning.

Besides, streetcar wires are not the biggest obstacle to taking a picture down a viewshed corridor. Those pesky cars are. Ever tried to take a picture down 16th Street while standing on the centerline?

by Matt Johnson on Jun 26, 2010 11:10 am • linkreport

@David, They have long been pushing the idea that the federal interest applies not only to federal property but places where you can see important federal property - it was an attempt to expand jurisdiction.

But nearly all the streets in DC are federal property ... Wouldn't that mean NCPC has an interest throughout the city?

by Lance on Jun 26, 2010 11:15 am • linkreport

@Matt ... I dunno ... personally, I think I rather see the streets chock full of traffic ... than nothing at all. But then, maybe that's cause I remember that day back in 2001 when there wasn't any traffic on these streets other than the occasional military vehicle ... and guys on the corners of the streets with machine guns. Give me people going about their business in their personal vehicles any day ...

by Lance on Jun 26, 2010 11:19 am • linkreport

Lance and Crin,
NCPC doesn't hold the purse strings. We don't need their help. They are trying to insert themselves into the matter where they don't belong. This is so incredibly obvious to anyone with half a brain. So I understand why you don't get it Lance.

On a side note. Holy crap it's like Ashley Halsey is trying to write the worst article of the year.

by Reid on Jun 26, 2010 11:21 am • linkreport

@Reid, I'm surprised you don't understand that this is precisely their role (and their business) and FTA will indeed not release funding until told to do so by NCPC. Why would think otherwise? Our federal government may be big and thus slow moving ... but one very big advantage it has over smaller entities is that it operates on rules and, importantly, protocols ... of which the letter is obiviously one. I.e., FTA doesn't have the latitude to not follow what is being requested.

by Lance on Jun 26, 2010 11:26 am • linkreport

@ Lance Heres NCPC using the term "viewshed" in a Staff Recommendation from 2003. That's the oldest document I could find amongst the 112 documents Google has indexed on ncpc.gov containing the term you're so obssessed with.

I await your concession that the term does, indeed, predate GGW - just as the dictionary claims.

by jcm on Jun 26, 2010 11:39 am • linkreport

@ Lance NCPC is an advisory body, and their recommendations are not binding. Here's a cite from a federal appeals court.

by jcm on Jun 26, 2010 11:49 am • linkreport

@jcm, Yes, I'll concede that based on what you're linking to, that the term pre-dates this issue. Still I don't see how it applies to the issues here ... at least not as it is being defined. The entire L'Enfant City Plan is on the
National Register ... so, if we're to be concerned about a'viewshed' in this issue then we'd be talking about an area extending across the Potomac and into the hills of Maryland or anywhere that can be seen from the L'Enfant City ... And not a 'blinders view' down an avenue ... of a federal building ...

by Lance on Jun 26, 2010 11:52 am • linkreport

Interesting Post article on the subject:

www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/25/AR2010062504923.html

by Lance on Jun 26, 2010 1:58 pm • linkreport

It's all rather touching to see such enthusiastic NCPC concern for the visual aspects of DC. Would that they had been more enthusiastic in the past. May I ask where they when the Southwest/Southeast Freeway was being built and obliterating the "viewshed" of South Capitol Street toward Capital Hill? I'm sure there are countless other examples around the Federal City where NCPC forgot to practice its "advisory" role.

by Glen on Jun 26, 2010 2:21 pm • linkreport

Yes. And what about when they obliterated Delaware Ave. S.W. in the interest of urban renewal? I'm sure NCPC didn't object.

This is a power grab pure and simple. Bryant does not give a crap about whether D.C. gets streetcars. He only wants to throw his weight around. I hope FTA ignores him. The city should complain loud and clear and not roll over for this.

by Steve on Jun 26, 2010 11:49 pm • linkreport

Late commenting here -- but WOW!!! It looks like the Committee of 100, via Lance's early comment, has just admitted that they are against full home rule for DC!!!! NCPC and Preston Bryant coming to our rescue?!? Really?!? So, essentially, the 100 are saying "thank god we have a resident of Lynchburg who votes and pays taxes in Virginia looking out for the best interests of the District. It would be folly to leave decisions about transportation and economic development to the officials duly elected by the people of DC. Only local elected officials in visionary, cutting edge cities such as Lynchburg should be allowed such extreme authority. Maybe one day the people of DC will be ready to govern themselves. But for now, thank god for our unelected savior." But I guess we should not expect strong support for full representative democracy or home rule from a self-selecting group of 100 people who with a straight face claim to speak for the remaining 599,900 of us......

As for the feds owning the roads, technically true. But the courts, much to NCPC's chagrin, have ruled that their management and maintenance is a District government policy. NCPC has never gotten over that decisions, hence this power grab. But when you read the law, it is pretty clear that transportation and streets are pretty much the exclusive domain of the DC Government. NCPC has only an advisory role, and then only on federal buildings and the federal "interest." (In that advisory role, they have spent much of the last half century moving tens of thousands of jobs from the District to far-flung office parks in the outer reaches of the suburbs. Good job!)

by rg on Jun 27, 2010 10:10 am • linkreport

@rg, please stop putting words in my mouth to advance your agenda. What I said was you gotta face reality. And sorry, but I don't see one lone councilmember advancing his re-election agenda and rushing through a badly planned, un-financed $1.5 Billion streetcar system as having anything to do with homerule in the least.

by Lance on Jun 27, 2010 12:17 pm • linkreport

And btw, I am speaking for myself, and not the Committee of 100. Just like Andrea Ferster, also a member of the Committee of 100, speaks for herself when she prepares a legal opinion stating that the Council can rescind the Wires Act. And as for '100' that's just figurative. There are far more people serving on the committee than 100 ... and they come from all walks of life and all parts of the District ... with no renumeration and only one thing in common ... all have at some point in the past shown their committement to DC by serving as ANC commissioners, neighborhood groups, teachers, former councilmembers, planning experts, etc. etc. ... And oh yeah, they've also shown an ability to separate their own interests so as to put the interests of the District's people above their own. Hence why the Committee of 100 does believe the funding of this system can't continue like the first segment which was essentially 'stealing from library funds and other social services' to pay for a line that goes from 'nowhere to nowhere'. We're above politics.

by Lance on Jun 27, 2010 12:55 pm • linkreport

...a line that goes from 'nowhere to nowhere'. We're above politics....

You hear this a lot, and I want to take the most charitable interpretation possible, but how is a line that links the Anacostia River to Union Station via Benning & H Street "nowhere to nowhere."

Surely what sounds like an utter lack of knowledge of DC's geography must be something else...

by oboe on Jun 27, 2010 12:58 pm • linkreport

@Lance

The issue of home rule comes up because I'd prefer that the decisions that affect DC are made by politicians accountable to the people of DC. The "one lone council member advancing his re-election agenda" comes to community meetings, answers my e-mails, chats with me on the street, etc. For the moment, let's set aside that he has 11 co-sponsors and the lone council member on this bill is Phil Mendelson, who opposes streetcars.

Let's also set aside the issue of streetcar policy itself, which we no doubt disagree on. The issue David and others touch upon in this post is who gets to make the decision. A City Council, that no matter how admittedly imperfect is answerable to me, or a Federal Advisory Board, that in practice is responsible to no one, and even in theory isn't answerable to me as a DC resident?

This may very well be bad policy. I don't think it is, and strongly support it, but even if it is bad policy, the DC Council is the body that should be making it, not NCPC. Running to the Feds whenever you're on the losing side of an argument, be it streetcar wires or gay marriage, ends up weakening our already tepid local rule powers.

And, finally, let's be honest. Whatever Tommy Wells motivation is, I really doubt he's pandering to win an election against what's his name.

by TimK on Jun 27, 2010 1:09 pm • linkreport

@Oboe but how is a line that links the Anacostia River to Union Station via Benning & H Street "nowhere to nowhere."

DDOT hasn't been able to secure a means of getting it to Union Station. The owners of the tunnel have said 'no', politely but firmly. Best case for DDOT would be a multi-year legal battle to take the tunnel. I also understand there are issues at the other end of the line. So, what we've got for now is a very expensive means of getting from one end of H St to the other end ... and back. That's all. And not that H St is 'nowhere', but I'd suspect whoever is gping to use it would want some rail connection to a larger system.

by Lance on Jun 27, 2010 6:19 pm • linkreport

@TimK, I don't see how we lose any sort of home rule by having to observe stricter, more quality-oriented standards for ourselves than we might otherwise force ourselves to obsserve were local 'politics' the sole driver here ... Especially, when these stricter standards come with dollars from the feds. And any place in the country, be it a state, municipality, territory, or 'district' like us, has to follow stricter federal standards if they are to enjoy the largesse of federal dollars. Yes, the federal standards imposed on us are stricter, higher, and harder to achieve because more is expected of us as the national capital than other areas. But those stricter, higher, and harder standards also come with many more federal dollars than the states and municipalities get ... and these also come with planning and other manpower assistance such as NCPC. I really don't see this as a home rule issue unless you're going to argue that all states and municipalities are also lacking home rule simply because they need to adhere to federal standards in order to get federal dollars.

by Lance on Jun 27, 2010 6:51 pm • linkreport

How the political types respond to this power grab by NCPC and C100 will speak volumes. Like it or not, it is an assault on home rule.

Will Fenty have enough political capital and will he care enough to effectively use it?

Will Eleanor Holmes Norton get anything done? Can she?

And will Vince Gray do anything at all to stand up for home rule? Gray is the one to watch most closely here for obvious reasons.

by Mike S. on Jun 27, 2010 7:42 pm • linkreport

When you ask for federal funding you have to play by the rules irrespective of whether you're a state, city, or the District. Paying this off as a home rule issue only serves to highlight that you can't justify the wires on their own merits. And did anyone bother to read the link I gave above? In it NCPC explains that an amicable agreement has been worked out with DDOT, and the letter is only being sent as a precautionary measure because DDOT is behind on their parts of the agreement ... and otherwise funding is ready to be handed over to them this week.

by Lance on Jun 27, 2010 8:39 pm • linkreport

@Lance:

You keep lumping the "feds" together as if they were one coherent organization. It's not a home rule issue that we have to comply with FTA standards to get an FTA grant.

It is a home rule issue when we have the non-representative NCPC attempting to assert jurisdiction here where none exists. Just because you're a federal agency doesn't mean you get to chime in on all Federal decisions. Why don't we see if the Army has a viewpoint. Perhaps overhead wires will inhibit National Defense.

You object to the process in which streetcars are going through in the District. You also object to overhead wires. You feel that DDOT has not properly thought out these plans. (correct me if I'm misinterpreting you, please). Those are all arguable points, but I'm saying the correct forum for the discussion is the lowest level of applicable government, in this case the City Council and the Mayor's office (represented by DDOT), not NCPC.

By all means, we need to adhere to Federal standards to get Federal money. And it's FTA that sets those standards in this case, not NCPC.

by TimK on Jun 27, 2010 9:48 pm • linkreport

@Lance:

And did anyone bother to read the link I gave above? In it NCPC explains that an amicable agreement has been worked out with DDOT, and the letter is only being sent as a precautionary measure because DDOT is behind on their parts of the agreement ... and otherwise funding is ready to be handed over to them this week.

It's a bit late, but are you sure you gave the correct link? Because I'm reading through the article, and don't get that sense at all. Here's the most-relevant passage I came across:

in a letter Friday to Peter M. Rogoff, head of the Federal Transit Administration, Bryant said a legal opinion prepared for the commission indicates that Congress has the power to repeal the ban and that the FTA ought to withhold federal funds for the streetcar system until "I am able to communicate with you regarding a successful resolution of the issues."

Bryant, now with McGuire Woods Consulting in Richmond, said in an interview that the commission has generally expressed support for a streetcar system. But he said that without a resolution of the overhead wires issue, he needed to make the commission's position known before the FTA makes a decision on the city's application for funding. He said he expects a decision as soon as next week.

"We have been holding off on that letter for quite some time while we continue to have these very collegial discussions with the District officials," he said.

D.C. officials, however, said Bryant's letter was a setback to negotiations and an example of federal intrusion into city governance.

Wells said he went out of his way to protect historic views with his bill to require that all streetcars bought for the system -- after three cars already purchased for the H Street-Benning line -- be capable of running for at least a mile on another energy source. The bill, which has wide support and could pass next month, also stipulates that no wires be installed near the Mall, the White House, the Capitol and other sites.

Wells said that the commission wanted veto power over any legislation and that he and his colleagues would not agree to it. "They wanted that from the very beginning so I don't see any change," he said.

by oboe on Jun 27, 2010 9:56 pm • linkreport

@TimK By all means, we need to adhere to Federal standards to get Federal money. And it's FTA that sets those standards in this case, not NCPC.

NCPC has many 'legislative authorities' ... and not just the role assigned to it under the DC Home Rule Act which David referenced. Here's the list from their website.

/www.ncpc.gov/ncpc/Main(T2)/About_Us(tr2)/About_Us(tr3)/LegislativeAuthorities.html

If you think it can't enforce those authorities by leveraging other federal agencies, then I think you're very mistaken.

by Lance on Jun 27, 2010 10:17 pm • linkreport

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