D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D), who orchestrated a $50 million cut to the city's proposed street car program late Tuesday night without public input, is vowing he will move forward with the program at a later date.
Earlier Wednesday, the council agreed with Gray to cut most of the money from the budget to help pay for other needs, including Boys & Girls clubs. Secretary of Transportation Gabe Klein told D.C. Wire Gray's decision could "essentially kill" the street car program.
The District has already put down the first miles of track for the planned 37-mile streetcar network, estimated to cost $1.5 billion to complete. The first street car had been scheduled to run down H Street at end of next year.
Some transit and smart growth advocates are outraged over Gray's move, likely thrusting the streetcar issue into the mayor's race. Blogs such as DCist and Greater Greater Washington are running comments from people who say Gray's decision has convinced them to vote for Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D).
Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) and some African-American community leaders have questioned the importance of the street car program, but it appeared to have broad support in Capitol Hill and parts of Northwest.
In a statement issued by his office this afternoon, Gray said, "Street cars are not dead."
"I am firmly committed to a new streetcar system in the District," said Gray, noting he's been to Portland, Oregon to view their system. "But we owe it ourselves to have a well thought out planning process. We can't afford the mayor's approach of 'build now and plan later', which only results in poor outcomes and much higher costs in the end."
Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) may introduce an amendment later Wednesday to try to restore some of Gray's cuts, his office said. If the program is not funded this year, advocates fear, it will be even harder for city officials to come up with the money next year. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), chairman of the Finance & Revenue Committee, told council members Wednesday they should brace for across-the-board 4 percent budget cuts next year.