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All this, for $3.6 billion LESS than the suburban Silver line Metro extension.

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DDOT’s model streetcar vehicle, on display at the Columbia Heights meeting.

Despite feeling a little under the weather, I attended Monday night’s streetcar meeting in Columbia Heights. Here’s the skinny:

What we already know:

  • DDOT is planning 37 miles of service, in 8 lines.
  • 7-10 years to construct the system.
  • Three phases of planning/construction.
  • Estimated cost: $1.5 billion (compared to $5.1 billion for the Silver line).
  • They’re looking at something like the hybrid solution for the wire issue.

New info:

  • I asked for a clarification about what that 7-10 year timeline really means. I had assumed it meant 7-10 years of construction after planning is finished and funding is in hand. That was an incorrect assumption. DDOT says the 7-10 year number includes planning, and starts today. When they say they want to have the full system in place in 7-10 years, they mean by 2016-2019. That’s an incredible commitment, and would be an amazing achievement if they can do it.
  • So far the Anacostia and H Street lines have been paid for using DDOT money. To build such a large system in such a short timeframe, the city will likely have to consider additional funding mechanisms. They are considering several possibilities, from tax-increment financing to parking fees to a Federal New Starts application.
  • In order to open the door to Federal funding, DDOT is going to conduct a NEPA review. Unfortunately the existing K Street review (which is being fast-tracked to increase its likelihood of receiving a TIGER grant) doesn’t cover streetcars.
  • DDOT intends to plan and build the three phases as “projects”, rather than each corridor individually. This means that they’ll do a NEPA review and award a construction contract for each phase as a whole, rather than line-by-line.
  • When it comes time to award contracts, the city intends to award a single contract to design, build, operate and maintain each phase. This allows for more rapid planning/construction. I neglected to ask about bidding or potential contract awardees, but presumably WMATA would be a prime candidate.
  • They plan to have streetcar stops every 4-5 blocks, rather than every 2 blocks. This means that operationally the streetcars will be like an express bus rather than a local bus.
  • Streetcar stops themselves will be raised slightly to make ingress/egress easier, but won’t have full length platforms. They may or may not have platform strips.
  • The LRVs themselves can be coupled into trains, but DDOT doesn’t plan on doing so very often, and isn’t designing stations with multi-car trains in mind.
  • Potential coordination issues with Arlington over the Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcars, and with Maryland over the Purple Line, have not yet been seriously considered, but will be so in an upcoming WMATA interoperability study.
  • For the most part DDOT is planning to operate streetcars in mixed traffic with automobiles. However they are considering potential dedicated running ways on Rhode Island Avenue and M Street, SE, in addition to the K Street transitway. These issues will be worked out in the NEPA phase.
  • Despite some problems with traffic signal priority on the existing Georgia Avenue bus pilot project, DDOT says they are working the kinks out and expect that signal priority will play a significant role in many of these lines. That would be great.

Overall the meeting was very informative, and very optimistic. I really hope DDOT can meet its objectives here.

There are still six meetings remaining, so there are plenty of opportunities to attend and comment.

October 26th, 2009 | Permalink
Tags: events, transportation



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