Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Today's streetcar hearing went well. Here's a quick summary of some highlights:

Congratulations to Councilmember Tommy Wells and Councilmember & Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Graham on a successful hearing on their bill to make clear that an overhead wire would be allowed to power the streetcars along H Street. Kudos to a variety of neighborhood residents and business owners who attended and testified. Others will provide a more comprehensive summary of the hearing, but a few things stuck out to me:

1. Lots of neighborhood residents and business owners testified in support of streetcars and of the pending bill to move them forward. ANC6A was represented by David Holmes, ANC6C sent Tony Richardson, H Street Main Street's Anwar Saleem was there. David Bernhardt who owns the buildings that house Sidamo, Capitol Hill Bikram Yoga, and Toyland and who lives just off H Street participated as well. H Street Connection's property manager, Mark Bradshaw, testified in support on behalf of Rappaport Companies who has grand plans to redevelop the south side of H Street between 8th and 10th St in coming years. Jen DeMayo spoke passionately on behalf of the Atlas Performing Arts Center where she is the communications director and also as a long-time nearby resident. Mark Thorp who is the proprietor of Little Miss Whiskey's Golden Dollar and owns a home in Trinidad was also on the final panel.

2. The proposal is not to allow wires (plural), but rather to allow a single wire to power each line. The wire will be thinner than a pen's diameter. All indications are that the wire will be miniminally intrusive.

3. 12 of 13 Councilmembers backed the bill when it was introduced and the support for the bill seems to remain strong among the Council. The lone Councilmember to not endorse the bill, CM Phil Mendelson, attended and made a number of statements that suggest that he may be less opposed to the bill than his earlier actions suggested. Among a series of defensive statements from Mendelson were his assertions that he now supporting bringing streetcars back to DC and that given how far along things are with the H Street line, he thought that the Council should go forward with allowing overhead wires on H Street. He did continue to make critical statements regarding the amount of planning that has gone into the process thus far and remained clearly the most skeptical and unsupportive Councilmember to date.

4. Amtrak is not opposed to allowing DDOT access to Union Station. DDOT says Amtrak raised reasonable concerns, but that they are all fairly simple issues that are "quite easy to resolve." DDOT said the issues raised by Amtrak about using their Union Station space to access Union Station at the initial western end of the line were "all solvable."

5. CM Tommy Wells suggested that there was a good bit of misinformation circulating regarding plans for the system, particularly involving the funding of it. Wells said that while the budget process was disappointing and confusing, at the end of the budget process "the funding is there for the H Street-Benning line." Wells, Graham, and DDOT all were clear in their continued commitment to seeing streetcars running down H Street in 2012.


  1. Wells continues to claim that there is "misinformation" about the funding for the streetcars, yet he knows damned well about the Benefit Assessment District taxation schemes that DDOT is proposing to pay for the infrastructure and ongoing losses of the streetcars. DDOT openly advocated for it in their responses to Council Chairman Gray's questions to them about the funding for streetcars.
    If you live within 1/4 mile of a streetcar line in DC, your property taxes will be higher than others in your neighborhood. Businesses will suffer special assessments and on-going additional taxation which will drive them away,
    H Street will be the host of Applebees and Starbucks who can afford this, and you can say goodbye to locally-owned small businesses.

  2. I'm so scared!!!!

  3. I could care less if the assessment is higher on properties within a reasonable walking distance of the lines. I'd be ecstatic if every neighborhood had to pay their fair share of infrastructure. Bring it on.

  4. This is typical of the whispering campaign that the Committee of 100 and CHRS does. They pay for a report, take other items out of context and then put it out there as fact.

  5. The information on "value capture" financing which DDOT is proposing to fund the streetcar system did not result from any studies performed on behalf of CHRS or C100.
    DC Surface Transportation commissioned them from the Brookings Institution http://www.reconnectingamerica.org/public/reports/1044 and this funding mechanism is referred to throughout DDOT materials on the Streetcar project as the means of paying for it..
    CHRS and C100 are simply referring to and quoting from DDOT's own documents.

    That does not mean that I oppose the streetcar, only that people should be aware of the new tax burden that will come with it.

  6. The H Street line was funded in the budget already.

  7. The funding for the H Street line includes an assumption that 25% of the capital costs and half the operating subsidy will be captured through the additional taxes on residents and businesses near the streetcar route. Since the capital costs are estimated to be $140 million, and the estimate of the annual operating subsidy is $2 million a year, the approximately 3,000 property owners near H Street will be paying extra taxes totalling $35 million toward the capital costs and $1 million a year toward the operating costs. This clearly will have a negative impact on revitalization.

  8. DDOT does not impose taxes. The City Council decides tax rates. There's tons of studies about just about everything in this city. Will the residents near Eastern Market, the new Hines development, and the new community center in SE be paying extra taxes?

  9. The Benefit Assessment District, requiring a special tax assessment on owners of property near the proposed streetcar routes is the funding mechanism for streetcars that DDOT presented to the Council. In estimating that the 3,000 property owners near the H Street route would be paying extra taxes totaling $35 million toward capital costs and $1 million a year toward net operating costs, DDOT assumed that they would be getting a federal grant to cover 25% of the capital costs.

    In presenting this proposal to the Council, DDOT compared it to the payments made by nearby property owners for the New York Avenue (in-fill) Metro Station. That analogy, however, falls apart on several levels. The New York Avenue Metro Station was an in-fill station, thus having a relatively low incremental capital cost with a large impact on local property values, since it is providing full Metrorail service, i.e., a big bang for the buck. The special assessment was limited to commercial properties of at least 10,000 square feet, and was based on their agreement to pay $25 million over 30 years. Given the amount of money that they would need to raise and the taxpayer profile along the proposed streetcar route, for H Street, a broader tax would be necessary.