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D.C. Streetcars In Question After Contracting Error

DDOT may not have enough cars for line's opening next year

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D.C.'s transportation director couldn't say this week exactly how many streetcars will be ready to go when the first leg of the D.C. streetcar line opens next year.
DDOT DC (http://www.flickr.com/photos/ddotphotos/4786258851/in/photostream/)
D.C.'s transportation director couldn't say this week exactly how many streetcars will be ready to go when the first leg of the D.C. streetcar line opens next year.

To say there’s a lot riding on D.C.'s new streetcar line would be an understatement. The city is expected to spend more than $1 billion over the next decade building the 37 miles of track. But as the District gets ready to roll out the first leg of the system, D.C. Council members are becoming concerned with the city transportation department's ability to manage the program.

It seemed like a simple question. How many street cars will the city have ready to go when the line opens next year on H Street and Benning Road NE? Will it be fully functional or, as some fear, will it stumble out of the gate with too few street cars?

But transportation department director Terry Bellamy kept stumbling as he tried to answer, first telling Council member Tommy Wells everything was fine.

"So it will definitely open with five street cars?" Wells asked. Bellamy replied that it would. 

But Bellamy later admitted to Wells that because of a contracting mistake, the city may actually only have three cars ready. Wells seemed stunned, warning Bellamy that he could no longer support him if that happened.

"I believe what I have heard is kind of one of my worst fears coming true," said Wells. 

Council members also seemed frustrated by Bellamy's reluctance to provide details about the H Street plan and other aspects of the streetcar program. Council member Mary Cheh told Bellamy she was getting anxious over the transportation department's slow pace.

"We need something sooner than later" said Cheh.  "I don't think we can wait as long it sounds like you're talking about."

And as council members pressed Bellamy over the upcoming H Street line, two key long-term questions also loomed: how will the streetcar system be funded? And who will oversee it?

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The Politics Hour - July 31, 2015

Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.

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