On Tuesday, Councilmember Tommy Wells introduced a bill to move streetcars forward on H Street. Among other things, the bill would repeal a federal law prohibiting overheard wires in the District and replace it with a DC law that would ban the use of overheard wires other than along the H Street line. The bill accomplishes an interesting process whereby the DC Council can repeal a federal law that covers the District, which was enacted by Congress prior to DC being governed by home rule.
12 of the 13 members of the DC Council agreed to cointroduce the bill with Wells. The lone holdout was At-large Councilmember Phil Mendelson who we have previously cited as a problem Councilmember for H Street streetcars.
Mendelson apparently remains unmoved by the strong support for streetcars within the H Street corridor and is willing to risk his continued opposition to this project which represents the future of public transportation and is a key to connecting neighborhoods within the District. After Mendelson joined Vince Gray is his attempt to cut funding for streetcars, his election opponent Clark Ray chasitised him saying he was "Very disappointed in the Council's vote to redirect dedicated street car funding to other projects - this work in progess should continue!" Council has since restored funding for the H Street line and the purchase of additional streetcars to run along it, but Mendelson apparently remains unmoved in his opposition, despite the fact that the lead opponent of streetcars -- Meg Maguire of the so-called Committee of 100 -- told the Washington Post's Mike Debonis that her group may not oppose Wells' narrowly tailored legislation because she thinks "its moving in the right direction" and because it maintains the ban on overhead wires throughout the rest of the District.
In short, the bill:
- Converts the aerial wire ban to a local law by repealing the 1888 & 1889 laws, and then re-establishing the aerial wire ban as local law (we have several legal memos and analyses that outline the District’s legislative authority to repeal the federal law and create a local law)
- Creates authority for the Mayor to allow aerial wires deemed necessary to “power transportation infrastructure projects”, but limits the Mayor’s authority to use aerial wires to a strictly defined H Street / Benning Road segment (i.e., does not remove the ban in historic Capitol Hill or Georgetown), until the Mayor develops a city-wide plan, subject to Council approval, for the use of aerial wires for additional streetcar routes with special attention paid to view corridors of the federal monumental core.
- Requires the Mayor to submit a report by January 2014 on the feasibility of converting to non-aerial power where any aerial wiring has been installed.
The bill was referred to the Council's Committee on Transporation and Public Works, which is chaired by Councilmember Jim Graham. A hearing date has not yet been announced.