There’s at least one thing on which opponents and supporters of a key D.C. public transportation project agree: Missteps are cooling desire for a streetcar system on H Street in Northeast.
Calling the streetcar “an inefficient and obsolete form of urban transportation,” Marc Scribner, a researcher at the libertarian-leaning Competitive Enterprise Institute, says the proposed $3 billion trolley line should be scrapped, citing a host of problems — from ballooning costs and labor union disputes to construction delays and a flash fire on a test run.
Dan Tangherlini, a former interim general manager for Metro, agrees that a variety of woes have beset the city’s H Street trolley project, but he appeals for perspective and patience, recalling that the region’s subway system also was plagued with problems.
“It’s easy to criticize the streetcar system right now for not going anywhere,” said Mr. Tangherlini, now the chief operating officer of Artemis Real Estate Partners, a firm based in Chevy Chase, Maryland. “But these are the same criticisms once leveled at the embryonic Metro rail system.
“We have to think about where this is heading. What will the city look like 10, 15 even 100 years from now?” he said.
Last month, Mr. Scribner and Mr. Tangherlini squared off on the merits and demerits of the District’s streetcar project during a public debate hosted by the National Press Club.
Widely hailed when it was approved nearly a decade ago, the streetcar program has yet to transport a single passenger.
Construction on the line originally was planned to begin in 2007 and end in 2009, the year the District Department of Transportation actually began installing tracks. The system’s completion date then was pushed back to 2011, the year that DDOT announced that the H Street project would begin operations in 2013.
In January, DDOT’s director announced that the agency would no longer issue estimates for the start date of the H Street line.
In February, one of the streetcars on the H Street line caught fire while on a simulated service run.
Meanwhile, D.C. taxpayers already have spent $200 million on the project, which is envisioned to one day provide service to all eight wards of the city via 37 miles of trolley lines.
City leaders have said the streetcars will provide transportation options for D.C. residents and improve their access to jobs and retail areas around Washington, as well as encourage economic development.
In the Press Club debate, Mr. Scribner said the money and effort already poured into the streetcar plans are simply a sunk cost, and called for the project to be ended quickly and finally.
But Mr. Tangherlini said the streetcar must be seen as a long-term investment that may not pay off immediately, but will help forge a better future by “creating a robust transportation system with as many alternatives as possible.”
• Andrew Nachemson can be reached at email@example.com.
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