- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 12, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The much-anticipated streetcar project in the nation’s capital has been derailed.

Figuratively speaking, that is.

It is necessary to make that distinction because streetcars do roll along their rails. Departing from their junction hard by the western side of the Anacostia River, the streetcars slowly run along Benning Road, curl onto H Street and the far edge of Capitol Hill and then head east to the Benning Road junction.

Back and forth, and back and forth — just as the streetcars are supposed to do.

Except no passengers get on, and no passengers get off.

The cars go back and forth, sometimes feigning to stop for passengers. But nobody gets on, and nobody gets off.

It is political insanity.

It reminds of the scenes of people who used to sally forth from the city’s mental hospital, St. Elizabeths Hospital. Most patients used to stand, sit and squat just outside the hospital gates, or go goodness knows where. But many would pace back and forth, back and forth. If you were a child or a teen witnessing such a sight, you knew to be aware and walk as swiftly as possible, whether you were walking to or from church or the Boys and Girls Club, which was across the street from the hospital.

We kids hadn’t a clue of the depths or types of illnesses those people had. The streetcar project is an entirely different matter.

In the beginning, then-Mayor Anthony Williams proposed the Anacostia streetcar line, which in the short term would link the U.S. Naval Annex-Bolling Air Force area to the Anacostia Metro Station, and later roll toward the 11th Street Bridge. In other words, boost mass transit for federal and city workers, as well as residents who want to access the shopping, cultural and dining opportunities.

But the proposal got muddied by the Adrian Fenty administration and became painstakingly exhaustive during the Gray administration, which proposed laying tracks around the city and across town. By the time Muriel Bowser became mayor in January, the city switched gears and started touting an 11th Street Bridge Park (foot traffic only), and she put the brakes on the 2.4-mile H Street line for a study.

The study began Monday and is being conducted by the American Public Transportation Association, whose community activism arm can be viewed at PublicTransportation.org. Andrea Noble of The Washington Times reported: “This [streetcar] project over 10 years was developed in an unprofessional and haphazard, contradictory and inconsistent manner,” D.C. transportation chief Leif Dormsjo said March 6 during a D.C. Council hearing.

She also quoted Mr. Dormsjo as saying the outside analysis should help determine whether and how the project can move forward and whether the system has “fatal flaws” that could hinder its rollout altogether — but that killing the project is not his goal.

“It is my intent to responsibly advance the segment that we have. I wasn’t brought in to kill a transit project. I was brought in to fix a transit project,” said Mr. Dormsjo, a former transportation official in Maryland.

So, we wait for the study. We wait for government discourse on the study. We wait for media coverage of the release of the study. We wait for general-public discourse on the study. We wait for more government discourse, sprinkled with more general-public discourse. We wait for a great show-and-tell and voila!

After already spending more than $160 million (and millions more for the study and yakkety-yak) to design and construct a street line that runs a mere 2.4 miles, city leaders could scrap the project.

And that might not be a bad idea. Buses are cheaper, Metro is in need of vision and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is seemingly the only regional CEO willing to tell tax-and-spenders to take 10 breaths before obligating public dollars to transportation projects.

More than likely, the neighborhoods first in line to get streetcars will get bumped to the back of the bus, and what’s truly worrisome is that the city tore up (is in the process of tearing up) wonderful neighborhoods for a streetcar line on the fast track to nowhere.

Except the streetcars go back and forth, back and forth, with nary a passenger.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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