A streetcar line to National Harbor?

Streetcar on Hopscotch Bridge The first D.C. streetcars, like this one being tested near Union Station, will operate on H Street and Benning Road NE. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

The D.C. Department of Transportation plans to study a streetcar extension to National Harbor.

DDOT has submitted a request to the D.C. Council to use $90,000 to pay for a concept design for an extension of the streetcar line to National Harbor, said Thomas Perry, DDOT’s program manager for streetcar engineering and construction. The study could be a first step in considering the transit link between the city and the booming resort area in Prince George’s County.

A streetcar line to National Harbor could address demand for more transportation options for D.C. residents who work at National Harbor while also providing a connection to the city’s attractions for thousands of tourists and conventioneers who visit National Harbor. Many workers and visitors at the waterfront resort in southern Prince George’s have complained about limited transportation options. Metrorail does not have a stop at National Harbor, and the development is only served by a few Metrobus lines.  Having more transportation options is viewed as critical as National Harbor continues to grow. It is soon to be home to a $925 million MGM casino resort.

Perry said although the agency has requested the funding for the study, it is unclear if it will be done. “This is something that we have talked about, but we don’t have any commitments from anyone,” Perry said. “It is more to look at if it’s really possible.”

The Washington Business Journal first reported last week that the District has asked for a concept design for the streetcar extension.  The funding request is part of a $6.5 million modification to the city’s contract with HDR Engineering Inc, the WBJ said.

The District is poised to reintroduce streetcars a half-century after they stopped running in the city.  The first line is now being tested and covers a 2.4-mile segment of Washington, running east on H Street from behind Union Station, then along Benning Road to Oklahoma Avenue. The H Street/Benning Road Line is the first in a 22-mile network of streetcar lines that could eventually cover 37 miles.

Future lines under consideration are a Georgetown-Union Station line, an Anacostia SE/SW line, and a North-South corridor line that would connect the Takoma/Silver Spring area to the Southwest Waterfront area.  The city recently applied for federal funding for a streetcar line in Anacostia.

A line to National Harbor would be an extension of the plan for a streetcar line serving Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, the Naval Research facilities, and D.C. Water’s Blue Plains campus, Perry said. It makes sense, he said, to explore extending it farther south. The District’s 2010 streetcar system plan, which provides a framework of a network of streetcars, also envisions the expansion to National Harbor.

Luz Lazo writes about transportation and development. She has recently written about the challenges of bus commuting, Metro’s dark stations, and the impact of sequestration on air travel.

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