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D.C. Unveils Four Possible Routes For North-South Streetcar Line

A streetcar on Benning Road NE.
WAMU/Martin Austermuhle
A streetcar on Benning Road NE.

Last September, the D.C. Department of Transportation started a round of public discussions on a proposed north-south streetcar route that would run nine miles between Buzzard Point in Southwest D.C. to Takoma. Today, the department released four proposed route maps for the streetcar line city officials would like to see built over the next decade.

A first proposal would see the streetcar travel an almost straight line up Seventh Street to Georgia Avenue until hitting the Maryland line. The second proposal would run up Seventh Street across to the National Mall, but turn left on F Street, right on 14th Street and up to U Street, where it would turn right before making its way up Georgia Avenue and ending at Butternut Street.

A third alternative would opt for Fourth Street instead of Seventh Street to cross the National Mall, include a short segment on Pennsylvania Avenue before heading north on 11th Street, Sherman Avenue and Georgia Avenue and terminated by the Takoma Metro station. The final proposal would see the trolley travel north up Fourth Street, Ninth Street, Sherman Avenue, and Georgia Avenue on its way to the Maryland line.

The proposed routes are not new: Before they were dismantled in 1962, streetcars crisscrossed the city for close to a century, including north-south routes that traveled along 14th Street, Seventh Street and Georgia Avenue. They were also narrowed down from a much broader set of proposals debated in November.

The proposed streetcar line is part of a priority 22-mile network that the department hopes to have built by 2024. As part of the network, the 2.5-mile route along H Street and Benning Road NE would connect to Georgetown through downtown D.C., and a short segment in Anacostia would be expanded.

The H Street line — the city's first in over 50 years — has suffered from numerous delays, and last week DDOT officials confirmed that passenger service may not start until the end of the year. To avoid similar delays on the next lines, DDOT has opted to farm out the projects to a consortium of firms that would design, build, operate, and maintain the lines. The firms will have to rely on streetcars that can operate on battery power, since overhead power lines are forbidden in portions of the city.

The department is finalizing its study on the north-south line, and is hosting public meetings this week to take public comment. After the study is completed, an environmental assessment will have to be completed.

The fate of the north-south line is up in the air after the D.C. Council voted to cut funding for the streetcar program, saying that DDOT had not yet spent the money it has available to it and that a proposed funding mechanism proposed by Mayor Vincent Gray would funnel huge amounts of money to the department. Gray warned that the vote would imperil the 22-mile network, though legislators have said that they are committed to building out a 37-mile streetcar network for the city.

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