- The Washington Times - Friday, January 5, 2007

The clang of the streetcar returns to D.C. streets next spring with a light-rail route in Southeast that officials hope will help revitalize a community slowly getting reconnected to the city and its prosperity.

“Transportation plus the river have done more to cut off [Wards] 7 and 8 from the rest of the city than anything else,” said D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, raised in the District when trolley tracks still crisscrossed city streets. “The trolley could not come at a better time.”

D.C. transportation officials hope to complete a 1.1-mile track — which will cost the city more than $10 million — by spring of 2008.

The new line will link the Anacostia Metro Station to Bolling Air Force Base, and officials are still determining whether a ride will be free or cost a nominal fare.

Light rail — which includes the type of trolley-car system the District plans to implement — had the biggest increase in ridership among transit systems nationwide from January through September of 2005 compared to a comparable period last year, according to the American Public Transportation Association.

Major trolley systems are now in Memphis, Tenn.; New Orleans; Philadelphia; San Francisco; Portland, Ore.; and Tampa, Fla. Fifteen other U.S. cities have smaller systems, according to the association.

Portland officials plan to expand their street-trolley system, which they say has helped generate an estimated $2.8 billion in development.

D.C. officials are hoping for a similar economic boom in Southeast, following their success in other parts of the city.

“I suspect you’ll see a lot of benefit to making things happen sooner, faster and better,” said Jim Graebner, chairman of the association’s Streetcar and Heritage Trolley subcommittee. “Development along the streets that the streetcar uses will tend to happen quite fast, and can be an impetus for the development of a lot of retail.”

The Anacostia line is scheduled for completion at about the same time the Washington Nationals open a new stadium on the Anacostia waterfront.

The $611 million stadium is expected to bring about $1 billion in investments to the Southeast neighborhoods on the Anacostia River. Officials hope the transit system will help attract such cornerstones of development as shopping, restaurants, housing and offices.

The trolley lines will likely have their own lights and rights-of-way on city streets. They will consist of articulated cars and run on overhead electric lines.

The District’s first street trolleys began running in the late 1800s. They reached the height of their popularity during World War II, a result of gasoline and rubber rationing as well as an influx of government and military personnel to the nation’s capital.

However, the automobile became standard after the war, and trolleys were phased out by 1962.

“A lot of people wouldn’t want what we had,” said Mrs. Norton, the District’s nonvoting House member. “There were tracks on every street. The old trolleys, once one stopped, everyone got stuck behind them. You can’t do that again.”

D.C. officials said in 2004 that the Anacostia line would open in the fall of 2006.

But they ran into contracting and land-title issues.

“Contractors were not ready for that type of streetcar-related highway work because no one’s really ever done it in this area in the last 100 years,” said John Deatrick, chief engineer of the District Department of Transportation, which is funding the District’s lines. “Building here, as much as we’d like to look at how things work in Portland and Seattle, it’s different.”

D.C. officials are also planning to build a trolley line in the H Street Corridor, extending east from Union Station to 14th Street in Northeast.

A long-term goal is to connect H Street Northeast with a Benning Road trolley line, which would extend from Oklahoma Avenue to 14th Street in Northeast. The lines could be extended to the Skyland Shopping Center in Southeast and the Minnesota Avenue Metro station in Northeast, then across the city.

Northern Virginia officials also backed a proposal last spring to build a 4.7-mile trolley line along Columbia Pike in Arlington and Fairfax that would cost $120 million.

“What we hope is more and more people will just rely on transit so they don’t need to have a privately owned vehicle, and this is part of that strategy,” Mr. Deatrick said. “We’re committed to streetcars.”

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