Marion Barry tries to halt D.C. streetcar work

Tim Craig at the Washington Post Reports:

D.C. Council member Marion Barry has launched a last ditch effort to slow or derail the city’s planned street car line on H Street, arguing it’s not been well-thought out and is too expensive for the number of riders it will serve.

Last week, in an effort to push the H Street line toward its planned opening next year, Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) announced a $50 million contract to design and construct the turnarounds, overhead power system and car barn for the $200 million project. The council was expected to quickly move ahead with the contract with Dean-Facchina LLC, but Barry has filed a disapproval resolution.

Streetcars owned by the District of Columbia (Courtesy of District Department of Transportation)Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), chairwoman of the Committee on the Environment, Public Works and Transportation, said Barry’s resolution could delay council approval by at least 45 days. Cheh warns that could increase the price of the contract.

“I want to find out what his objections are because it’s important and a delay might have a cost effect,” Cheh said. “He can put a hold on it for a certain period of time.”

In an interview, Barry said he wants to slow up the project because he’s not convinced the streetcar line is needed because the District has an “excellent METRO system” and reliable bus service along the H Street corridor.

“It’s about priorities in spending and how much capital money we are spending on streetcars that benefit a small number of people,” Barry said. “We are already subsidizing Metro and also subsidizing the Circulator…People already have good bus service.”

Crowds cheer Marion Barry as he arrives for the viewing of Chuck Brown at the Howard Theater on May 29 in Washington, DC . (Bonnie Jo Mount – WASHINGTON POST)Barry said he’s been told the initial phase of the street car line will serve about 2,000 riders a day, which he said is not enough to justify the pricetag.

“I need five recreation centers in Ward 8,” said Barry, who is scheduling a meeting with Transportation Director Terry Bellamy. “I have not seen a cost-benefit analysis.”

But Cheh notes the H Street line, which officials hope is the start of a37-mile network, has been debated for years.

“This is the first time I have heard anything about him focusing on things not being well thought in terms of this contract,” Cheh said. “I’m really at a loss. He never spoke to Bellamy. He never spoke to me.”
D.C. Council member Mary Cheh (Linda Davidson – THE WASHINGTON POST)Administration officials note it’s not unusual for Barry to try to slow contracts. Often, they say, he uses disapproval resolutions as a bargaining chip. But Barry said he’s just doing his job to safeguard District tax dollars.

“It doesn’t seem like a well-though-out plan,” Barry said of the city’s overall $1.5 billion streetcar plan. ”They haven’t even figured out how to get over the H Street bridge.”

The District has already laid down tracks and erected platforms for the street car along H Street NE and Benning Road and owns three street cars. Another two cars are on order, officials said.

The final phase of the H Street line is the construction of the turnarounds near the H Street Bridge and Benning Road and 26th Streets in NE. Eventually, officials hope the 37-mile network will touch nearly every quadrant of the city

Transportation officials said they selected Dean-Facchina for the H Street work because it has experience in the District and can both design and build the project. Dean Facchina is a joint venture between M.C. Dean, Inc. and the Facchina Construction Company, Inc.

D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-At large), one of Barry’s chief rivals on the council, is a vice president at M.C. Dean.