D.C. Shifts Light-Rail Plan From Waterfront to Streets in SE

By Steven Ginsberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 28, 2005

District transportation officials said yesterday that they want to run a planned light-rail line through neighborhood streets rather than along the Anacostia waterfront because they are unhappy with a deal to purchase land for the project.

District officials had agreed to pay CSX Transportation Inc. $16 million for 2.7 miles of right of way between the foot of the John Philip Sousa Bridge, which carries Pennsylvania Avenue SE, and Bolling Air Force Base.

But city officials said yesterday that a thorough inspection of the property revealed that CSX does not own all of the right of way -- in fact, the District is among the property owners -- raising concerns about what the city was paying for and what it was getting.

Dan Tangherlini, the District's director of transportation, said a detailed analysis "showed us that we weren't really getting what we thought we were getting. We're not getting enough to actually build the line on."

Tangherlini said that the city is willing to fight CSX over the deal and that he believes the line can still be built along its original route, although it probably would not open in fall 2006 as projected. But he said he prefers to shift the line onto city streets, many of which are scheduled to be rebuilt, to bring it closer to the residents and businesses that would use it and to get it running by next year.

"Why not save the $16 million and really do it where we eventually want to do it anyway?" Tangherlini said, adding, "We've got to sell the community on this option or maybe put the thing on hold while we fight with CSX."

District officials said that they have set aside $36 million for the project and that they are unsure how much the new proposal would cost.

CSX spokesman Robert Sullivan maintained that his company has "the ability to sell the property to the District for its intended use."

The light-rail line has been hailed as an economic boon for one of the city's struggling sectors by serving existing businesses and spurring development of new ones.

The line also has been touted as a showcase project for a light-rail system that D.C. officials hope to eventually build in corridors across the city. It would be the first new transit system in the District in a generation and would represent a return to street-level rail that disappeared with the trolleys in the early 1960s.

The neighborhood route would run 2.2 miles from Pennsylvania and Minnesota avenues SE along Minnesota to Good Hope Road to Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue to Howard Road to Firth Sterling Avenue, where it would end at Bolling. Officials said they haven't worked out all the details of the line, including whether it should go in the median or alongside streets.

Tangherlini said that planners have always wanted the line on neighborhood streets but that they chose the CSX route because it appeared to be a quicker, easier way to get the project done.

"Our preference would actually be in the road," he said. "We just didn't want to take on the questions of parking and traffic. Now, we might as well, because we have to deal with these questions anyway."

Another question the city has to address is how residents feel about the change. City officials are holding a preliminary meeting with community leaders Saturday to discuss the new plans.

"That seems crazy to take up the streets," said Lendia Johnson, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Anacostia. "We have bus service that serves those streets quite well. I just don't see disrupting what we currently have that is working to replace it with something we're not sure about."

Resident Hannah Hawkins said that a light-rail line would take away space from crowded streets. "We are trying to get away from congestion, and I think it would add more to it."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company