News & Politics

Rand Paul Takes on the DC Streetcar

Senator Rand Paul: Streetcar hater. Photograph by Flickr user Gage Skidmore.

The DC Streetcar along H Street and Benning Road, Northeast, might finally be running, but among the people still questioning its necessity is Senator Rand Paul. The Kentucky Republican—and vanquished presidential candidate—called out the streetcar in his office’s “Waste Report” for $1.6 million in federal grants the District received to study an expansion beyond the 2.2 miles of track that opened last Saturday.

“Last week the District of Columbia finally opened its calamitous streetcar to the public, years behind schedule and at a cost of $200 million,” Paul’s report reads. “Thankfully, despite repeated attempts to get federal funds, the D.C. streetcar was built without federal taxpayer assistance. But not to worry, with this kind of boondoggle right in the federal government’s back yard, Uncle Sam still found a way to waste your tax dollars.”

Paul is referring to grants the District Department of Transportation received in 2010 and 2012, “when just the initial leg of the system had glaring signs of trouble” that the agency said it would use to devise plans to eventually build out a streetcar network to 37 miles. The fully built system would run as far north as Silver Spring, and branch eastward into Brookland and Anacostia.

While an additional 35 miles of streetcar conjure thoughts of epically scaled versions of what it took to get the H Street line running, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser has said the only expansion her office is focusing on right now is a 1.8-mile connection between the streetcar’s eastern end at Benning Road and Oklahoma Avenue, Northeast, to the Benning Road Metro station.

But Paul is also railing against the faddish idea of streetcars in general, especially in a city served by Metro, which he says is a more deserving recipient of federal assistance. “Some cities that lack rail transit systems have turned to streetcars, but DC’s streetcar overlays its existing subways system, the Metro, which boasts approximately 40 stops within the district’s boundaries, the Metro goes on to service [Virginia] and [Maryland],” Paul’s “Waste Report” reads.

Paul, as Roll Call notes, is an occasional Metro passenger, but the streetcar right now passes through a Metro desert previously served only by the X2 bus route, which Paul is not known to ride. While Paul doesn’t think the federal government should be funding Metro, it already put up $150 million in the current fiscal year.

But Paul was also a bit miffed by the timing of the federal government’s grants to DDOT for the streetcar. “Uncle Sam first put money toward streetcar expansion just a year after the Metro’s Fort Totten crash, which killed six and injured 70,” Paul’s report reads. “And, as was noted in a Washingtonian exposé last year, Metro suffers from systemic safety problems, which continue today.”

Say what you will about his transportation preferences; the senator appears to have good taste in reading material.

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.