WTOP’s Ari Ashe yesterday earned the momentous distinction of being the first reporter to get a city transportation official to admit what has been obvious for a year: There is no way the H Street/Benning Road streetcar line will be shuttling any passengers this year.
Renaldo Nicholson, chief engineer for the District Department of Transportation, tells Ashe the delay is due to the late delivery of the last two of the five streetcars necessary to start full service. But he also notes “all the construction going on H Street” that still needs to get done.
Anyone who has watched as construction crew finish the necessary track work at the line’s initial termini — on the Hopscotch Bridge near Union Station, and near Spingarn High School on Benning Road — knew the timeline of debuting revenue service by year’s end was, to put it charitably, overly ambitious. Besides the track construction, catenary wires need to be strung, and a maintenance facility needs to be at least partially completed on a lot near Spingarn.
The streetcar optimism has its root in the 2010 mayoral campaign, when then-Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) went whole hog in favor of streetcars after having his intentions questioned following a controversal and swifty-reversed budgeting maneuver. Since then, Gray has resisted any suggestion he is less than fully committed to streetcars, quieting his prior criticism of the system’s poor planning and holding out hope for a 2013 opening as recently as July.
But the botched procurement of the streetcars, the delayed construction of the maintenance facility and the slapdash planning dating back to the days of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty have made it clear for some time that a 2013 streetcar launch was a pipe dream, no matter how loath transportation officials might have been to admit it.