News & Politics

Report: Actually, the H Street Streetcar Won’t Start Running Next Week

Surprise! Another delay to the way-overdue light rail.

Photograph by Flickr user Victoria Pickering.

Remember former DC Mayor Vince Gray’s ultimate news dump? The one in which he said, with just hours remaining in his term, that the long-anticipated streetcar running along H Street and Benning Road, Northeast, would finally open to the public the week of January 19? Yeah, that’s not happening.

According to WAMU, District Department of Transportation officials say next week has been “taken off the table” as the beginning of fully fledged streetcar service. The report does not give a new projected opening date, but that hardly comes as a surprise—DDOT has been almost completely silent about the streetcar since January 2, when Mayor Muriel Bowser was sworn in. If anything, the streetcar’s latest missed deadline is more of a knock on the Gray administration, which repeatedly promised residents that the streetcar would begin running in mid-2013, then late 2013, then sometime in 2014.

Streetcar planning dates back nearly a decade, with former mayor Anthony Williams hosting the ceremonial groundbreaking. Bowser, the fourth mayor to oversee the project, supported the H Street line during her time on the DC Council, but since being elected mayor has backed away from her predecessors’ visions of an eventual 37-mile network criss-crossing the city, saying instead she wants to “right-size” the system.

Even before the latest delay, the streetcar was off to a rough start this year. Streetcars, undergoing a seemingly never-ending testing phase, have collided with cars on H Street nine times since October, while safety inspectors continue to find faults with DDOT’s protocols and documentation.

UPDATE, 2:25 PM: In a statment, new DDOT head Leif Dormsjo says the agency is done setting “arbitrary deadlines” for the beginning of passenger service aboard the streetcar and will defer to the State Safety Office, a division of the Fire and EMS Department that determines the streetcar’s readiness.

“Passenger safety is the number one priority for public transportation in the District of Columbia,” Dormsjo says. “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.”

In other words, DDOT’s new bosses really would have preferred it if the outgoing mayoral administration hadn’t stuck them on the hook for an unrealistic goal. And the streetcar will open whenever it opens. If it ever opens.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

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Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.