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D.C. Streetcar Opening Delayed Again, Won't Debut Next Week As Planned

Launching the streetcar next week has been "taken off the table," says a source with knowledge of project planning.
Martin Di Caro/WAMU
Launching the streetcar next week has been "taken off the table," says a source with knowledge of project planning.

Update, 3 p.m. Friday: DDOT Acting Director Leif Dormsjo released this statement on the D.C. Streetcar today:

Passenger safety is the number one priority for public transportation in the District of Columbia. Further, given the need to achieve safety certification, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) will not set arbitrary deadlines for the independent State Safety Office (SSO) to complete their regulatory compliance review. The Bowser Administration will work to launch the H Street line of DC Streetcar as part of our effort to expand the District’s transportation infrastructure and will put this long-delayed line on track. DDOT will continue to work with the independent SSO to ensure that Streetcar meets — and exceeds — all safety specifications before setting an official date to begin passenger service

Original story:

D.C. will have to wait even longer to ride the return of streetcar.

In late December, days before leaving office, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray announced the long-delayed H Street/Benning Road Northeast streetcar line was "exceedingly close," and could open the week of Jan. 19.

Gray, who promised streetcar service in 2013, had just made a final, failed push to open the line in 2014. But as he departed office he released a statement (since removed from DDOT’s website) that the wait would not be much longer for the first streetcars in Washington since 1962. Muriel Bowser succeeded Gray on Jan. 2.

As the Jan. 19 target date approached, a curious silence descended upon the District Department of Transportation. The agency made no public announcements and declined all requests made by WAMU 88.5 to speak with project leaders.

To the surprise of almost no one who has followed the bungled rollout of the $160 million, 2.4-mile system, next week’s target will be missed.

Launching the streetcar next week has been "taken off the table," according to a source with knowledge of project planning, WAMU 88.5 has learned. The source spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue. DDOT, under new director Leif Dormsjo, has ordered its project team not to discuss the streetcar with news media.

At least four planned launch dates have been scratched recently, the source said, frustrating specialists at the District's contractor, Omaha-based HDR, which provides oversight and management of the streetcar program.

Exactly why the launch is delayed again is unclear. DDOT did not respond to multiple requests for comment. For the past two weeks WAMU 88.5 repeatedly has requested an interview with project chief Thomas Perry to no avail.

Jan. 19 marks 30 days since the start of “pre-revenue operations,” the final test phase before passenger service under federal criteria being followed by the District’s project team and safety oversight officials within the D.C. Fire Department.

While the 2.4-mile system has been held up by a host of technical problems and disputes over safety documentation, the new administration in the Wilson Building and fresh leadership at DDOT are re-examining the entire endeavor, according to the source.

Unlike her predecessor, Mayor Muriel Bowser has refrained from making any public predictions about the start of passenger service in her few remarks since taking office about the streetcar.

By now such promises carry little weight with a public that has been waiting four mayoral administrations to hop aboard a streetcar. The source said there is growing concern among project supporters that by the time the streetcar launches the public will have lost interest.

Mayor Anthony Williams broke ground, the tracks along H Street and Benning Road were laid under Mayor Adrian Fenty, and the bulk of the construction work was completed under Mayor Gray.

Mayor Bowser has at least four years to cut the ribbon.

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