D.C. seeks funding for Anacostia streetcar


The first D.C. streetcars, like this one being tested near Union Station, will operate on H Street and Benning Road NE, but an Anacostia project could follow. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

There was a time many years ago when the District’s first modern streetcar line was planned to run through Anacostia. Community concerns slowed down that idea, and the first project was shifted to H Street and Benning Road NE, through the Atlas District east of Union Station.

But the District Department of Transportation has not given up on the idea of a streetcar line in Anacostia. In fact, DDOT has reapplied to the U.S. Department of Transportation for a $20 million grant that would cover about a third of the cost of the streetcar line. There are hundreds of applicants for such grants nationwide, and this is the third time the DDOT has sought one.

DDOT Associate Director Carl Jackson said he was hopeful that revisions in the application, including details on how the streetcar line might stimulate economic development in Anacostia, would make the third time the charm. DDOT also is working with the U.S. Department of Transportation on an environmental assessment of the Anacostia project.

The line would connect Firth Sterling Avenue and Howard Road, near the Anacostia Metrorail station, with the foot of the 11th Street Bridge. Two potential routes are under consideration. One would follow an old CSX track bed parallel to Firth Sterling Avenue along the western edge of the Anacostia community. The other uses the Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue corridor through the heart of the community.

The CSX route, about six-tenths of a mile long, has less impact on historic Anacostia and probably would help support future development of Poplar Point along the Anacostia River. But at least in the early years, a streetcar along this route would be less accessible for the neighborhood’s pedestrians.

The alternative route along MLK Avenue and Shannon Place is about a mile and a third long. This route probably offers more opportunity for economic development through historic Anacostia, but it’s also more likely to disrupt traffic, parking and truck loading and unloading. The overall cost probably would be higher than a route following an existing track bed.

This most recent planning process dates from late 2010. But the idea of a streetcar line through Anacostia goes back to the mayoral administration of Anthony A. Williams. It gained both supporters and opponents over the years. Jackson said DDOT officials have been part of many community meetings on the latest proposal.

Thomas Perry, DDOT’s program manager for streetcar engineering and construction, said designing and building the new line would require at least three years.

Getting through Anacostia is just one issue facing this line. Another step still in the planning stages is getting it across the local span of the new 11th Street Bridge over the Anacostia River to the Navy Yard/Capitol Hill side, where it could link up with other parts of the future network.

On its southwestern side, the Anacostia line could link with the track already built along a small portion of Firth Sterling Avenue and South Capitol Street, near the federal Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.
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