The District’s new streetcar line will not open by the new year as promised, Mayor Vincent C. Gray said Wednesday, a bitter disappointment for the Democratic mayor as he prepares to leave office.
The 2.4-mile streetcar line along H Street in Northeast will be the first working trolley in the nation’s capital in more than 50 years. But the project has been beset by delays and cost overruns, and some critics have questioned whether the benefits will outweigh the costs.
“Launching the D.C. streetcar system has been a top priority of my administration,” Mr. Gray said in a statement. “Unfortunately, we will not be able to see that goal through to completion as we wind down, but I can tell you that we are exceedingly close to carrying passengers.”
Mr. Gray and other city leaders had envisioned a 37-mile streetcar system, but earlier this year, the D.C. Council slashed funding for the project, and now only 8 miles of streetcar lines are in the works.
Questions remain about how much the initial streetcar line will be used, given its lack of links to existing transit. In July, the late former Mayor Marion Barry said D.C. taxpayers would be spending $2,000 to subsidize each ride, calling it “a streetcar to nowhere.”
Plans call for streetcars to eventually run from Union Station to Georgetown, but passengers will have to get off the H Street line and walk across a bridge to use both streetcar lines.
Delays in delivery of the new streetcars pushed back the opening date, and more recently, the project has been pushed back because safety certifications haven’t been completed. Mr. Gray said all parties agree that final approval from the federal State Safety Oversight program, the last remaining hurdle, is not far off. He said the streetcars will open “early in the new year,” but no opening date has been announced.
Mr. Gray leaves office Jan. 2, when mayor-elect Muriel Bowser will be sworn in. She defeated him in the April Democratic primary.
H Street, where the streetcar runs, has been transformed in recent years with an influx of bars, restaurants and other businesses, and Mr. Gray said the trolley would be “a welcomed economic engine.”
“I am confident the benefits of D.C. streetcars will be realized in the very near future,” Mr. Gray said.
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