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Ready for D.C. streetcars? It's going to be a while

Wednesday - 6/29/2011, 1:19pm  ET

(Photo courtesy DDOT)
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Adam Tuss,

WASHINGTON -- The earliest any streetcar will roll through the streets of the District is now expected to be 2013 -- and late 2013 at that, WTOP has learned.

City officials have been touring D.C., showing off ambitious plans for a 37-mile network of streetcars crisscrossing neighborhoods. The first two lines were expected to be set up on H Street in Northeast and in Anacostia.

The city told residents that the first streetcars would likely start running in 2012. But that date is no longer achievable.

"2013 is what we are telling people now," John Lisle, spokesperson for the D.C. Department of Transportation, tells WTOP. "We're probably looking at the fall of 2013."

Make no mistake about it: D.C. is putting a lot of stock in the streetcar. All you have to do is take a drive down H Street from about Third to 14th streets to see the kind of change the streetcar is bringing.

What once was an almost undriveable, crater-filled street has been transformed into a smooth, fresh-looking surface, complete with streetcar tracks, new lamp posts and better sidewalks. In fact, city officials are expected to hold a press conference on H Street on Thursday, touting the success of getting the corridor ready for the streetcars.

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray has fast-tracked the project.

But there still are no streetcars running on H Street, and it looks as though it'll be at least a year and a half before any are.

The latest delays in getting the streetcar project up and running will not be welcome news for many along the avenue. Businesses moved into the area (many considered hip and trendy) in the hopes that the streetcar will anchor an economic revitalization on the corridor.

H Street has drawn comparisons to the popular U Street corridor in Northwest because of the change. Many of those businesses have had to deal with construction, literally at their doorstep.

"Some of them have told us 'The project is killing us,'" says Lisle.

As WTOP reported back in 2008, D.C. had already purchased three streetcars, which were rolling through the streets of the Czech Republic while the District laid down tracks and got the infrastructure in place.

Now, three years later, there is another delay in the process.

"In terms of over the next several months, we hope to finalize a contract on the design-build portion of H Street," says Lisle.

In the "design-build" process, things like power substations and overhead wires will be set up along H Street. In addition, D.C. is still in negotiations with Amtrak about constructing a storage facility under what is known as the "Hop-Scotch" bridge on H Street behind Union Station.

"The goal is to start building early next year," says Lisle.

And while those negotiations and contract details get figured out, the District still has another issue on its hands: It needs more streetcars. Right now, DDOT has three streetcars, but Lisle says H Street alone will need five or six. The three streetcars the city purchased years ago cost roughly $10 million total.

A source also tells WTOP that the Anacostia segment of the streetcar system -- which was supposed to be the first segment running -- has now moved in back of H Street. An environmental review process is currently underway on the Anacostia line segment, and service on that line now isn't likely until somewhere nearer 2014, or possibly even later.

For now, the good news for those on H Street is that the road is a lot more pleasant to drive, walk and bike. The bad news is if you wanted to take a streetcar down that smooth corridor, it's going to be a while longer.

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