The D.C. City Council is endorsing a multimillion-dollar streetcar project this week by lifting a federal ban on the use of overhead wires in the District. But it's unclear if the Council actually has the authority to do that.
The overhead wire ban was enacted by Congress in the 1880s to protect the District's historic, monumental views. Council members say they have the legal power to supersede this ban, but the agency that protects federal interests in the District, the National Capital Planning Commission, has expressed doubts.
D.C. council members say they need to use overhead wires to make the streetcars viable.
"That's the cheapest way to go," says Councilmember Tommy Wells, a strong streetcar backer. He says overhead wires are necessary because wireless streetcars are less reliable and much more expensive.
"It would substantially increase the cost of the project to the citizens," Wells says.
He says the city is working with the Capital Planning Commission, and he hopes it won't overrule the council.