The D.C. Council made way for the first leg of a 37-mile trolley system Tuesday, passing legislation to allow the use of overhead wires along Benning Road and H Street NE.
The debate over the use of the electrical wires for streetcars has centered on whether the lines violate a long-standing ban intended to preserve the appearance of the federal city.
The temporary legislation approved unanimously Tuesday specifically prohibits overhead wires around the National Mall and creates a public process for determining whether the wires can be used in other parts of the city.
Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who has championed the streetcars that have become a popular mass transit option in cities such as Portland, Ore., has said alternatives to overhead wires are too expensive.
Local preservation groups and the National Capital Planning Commission have opposed the lines. George Clark, president of the Committee of 100 on the Federal City, called the temporary legislation an improvement because it also prohibits overhead wires along Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and Congress.
Clark said the group believes that "everybody in the city is entitled to unobstructed views" and raised concerns about funding the planned $1.5 billion system.
"We've got to make sure we know how we're going to pay for it," he said. "Right now, we don't."
With some reservations, the council also gave final approval Tuesday to the creation of a nonprofit to run United Medical Center, the city's only hospital east of the Anacostia River.
The move comes after the city seized control of the financially troubled hospital following a foreclosure auction http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/09/AR2010070905336.html last week, putting it under the control of a District-appointed board.
The measure, approved unanimously, essentially establishes who will serve as the temporary guardians of the hospital while the government looks for a more permanent solution.
Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) called the undertaking a "Herculean effort," and council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) cautioned that the District "is in possession of a hospital that we have little idea of how we'll finance."