4/26/2008DC Spends Millions on Trolley Route to Nowhere
Washington, DC spends millions to buy streetcars before constructing any tracks upon which they might run.
Three years ago, the city of Washington, DC spent $10 million in taxpayer funds to purchase streetcars from the Czech manufacturer Skoda-Inkeon even though the District has no tracks upon which to run this trolley. Yesterday, the District Department of Transportation announced it would begin taking bids to construct trolley rails for a demonstration project in Anacostia. While the project's future is not assured, the city hopes to spend $65 million to push it forward, causing significant headaches for motorists.
Since it was first proposed, groups have lined up to oppose the trolley. Last month, the National Capital Planning Commission served up the most recent hurdle to the mayor's plan by citing a federal law in effect since 1889 that prohibits the use of overhead power lines in the part of the city carefully designed by French architect Pierre L'Enfant.
"If streetcar lines were constructed in denser, more urban areas, the infrastructure of the system, especially the poles with cantilevered arms extending across traffic lanes, would affect the historically open appearance and vistas of the streets within the L'Enfant City," a planning commission report said last year. "The commission has a federal interest in retaining and protecting the nationally recognized and significant open vistas of the rights-of-way of the L'Enfant Plan."
District transportation planners had been hoping to use trolley routes to take away space from automobiles in the downtown area to complement "bus only" lanes which increase congestion for drivers. For now, the effort has been scaled back to the Anacostia demonstration project, far from the historic city center. This trolley, if built, will run on city streets -- even though it could have run on existing CSX rail lines without interfering with motorists under an alternate proposal from the planning commission.
Around the time of the Civil War, the District introduced horse-drawn streetcars. By the turn of the century these were replaced with streetcars powered by underground electricity. The city finally dropped streetcars decades ago in favor of an underground metrorail system that does not interfere with pedestrian or motorist traffic.
The planning commission's report on the District's proposal is available in a 1.6mb PDF file at the source link below.