DC streetcar project 'mismanaged' by DDOT

WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- A long-term city project - like the DC streetcars - needs a long-term funding strategy, according to D.C. Councilman Tommy Wells.

"It's a public transit system that would carry the city into the future for the next 20 to 30 years. So, you'd really have to make and guarantee the investment now and going forward so we know it's going to be there," he said.

In D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray's proposed budget to council, he pitched more than $800 million to be spent over six years for the streetcar project. That's up from the roughly $400 million council approved last year.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson gained enough support to keep it at the $400 million figure, plus an additional $150 million for a new H Street NE bridge that will allow the streetcars to move west.

Some streetcar supporters say Mendelson's proposal will delay and disrupt the project.

"It really will be something that will have ramifications for years to come," said Wells.

Mendelson countered that cutting the spending allows the city to be flexible and efficient.

"The dollars that were reduced were dollars that were in the budget for 2019 and 2020. That's five or six years away. What we left in place was more than $400 million," said Mendelson.

Mendelson stressed that the amount designated to the streetcar project can be increased down the line if DDOT gets its act together. The agency has struggled with H Street line - the first of several phases that is ultimately expected to connect the entire city.

"They have not shown yet that they will be able to build all these other lines that they keep talking about. They built the H Street line without a terminus at either end, now they're trying to figure that out. They built it without a car barn, they built it without a maintenance shed, they built it without a power supply," listed Mendelson.

Wells did agree with some of Mendelson's argument. "Frankly, DDOT has mismanaged it," said Wells. "But by not fully funding it, it keeps it at DDOT. What the council did was say we'll give enough money to finish off this line then maybe we can do another line and that really is not a smart plan. You really have to have a long-term funding strategy. It's like you wouldn't buy a house saying I have enough money to pay for this year but who knows about the next year and the next year and the next year. That's no way to plan, that's no way to budget."

Wells argued that funding only portions of the project won't allow the city to plan a long-term vision for growth.

"If you're going to do a major investment and build for the future of Washington, then you can attract international partners to help build it out. Doing it on a piecemeal, mile-by-mile basis is expensive, it's a waste of money," he said.

Instead of supporting the Mayor's streetcar budget proposal, council voted on tax-cuts for D.C. residents. But Mendelson insisted that the move is not a sign that the city is somehow bailing on the streetcar project.

The chairman said he fully supports it and that residents and visitors will ultimately be delighted once it's completed. But, he stressed, it needs to be done right.


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