D.C.'s 2018 Budget Would Put Streetcar Extension On Hold, Fund Major Developments
Washington's planned eastward extension of the D.C. Streetcar could be in jeopardy after the D.C. Council cut funding from Mayor Muriel Bowser's proposed FY 2018 budget. But the budget does allow some of D.C.'s largest developments to move forward.
The mayor's proposed budget had included $160M spread out over the next six years to extend the streetcar to the Benning Road Metro station.
The budget released Tuesday morning by council chair Phil Mendelson, which the council unanimously passed on its first vote Tuesday afternoon, allocated $100M to the streetcar, a 38% cut. The council's budget also pushes the funding down the road, with no money allocated in 2018 or 2019 and the bulk of it pushed to FY 2023. The council will take its final vote on the budget on June 13.
The 1.8-mile eastward extension to the streetcar is currently undergoing its environmental review. With the mayor's proposed funding, DDOT had believed it could break ground by 2020. A DDOT spokesperson said the council's latest budget would prevent construction from beginning, but it would allow for completion of the environmental review and preliminary engineering.
Former mayor and Ward 7 council member Vincent Gray named the streetcar cut as his top concern with the spending plan and said the budget passed Tuesday, which he voted to approve, would make the Benning Road extension impossible. Gray said other council members supported the extension and put the blame for the cut solely on Mendelson.
"I don’t think he’s ever liked the streetcar in the first place," Gray said. "I don’t think one person should sit there and make decisions about the future of an important transportation mode by himself, especially given the implications of this."
Gray said he will push for the funding to be restored before the final vote. But since his opinion is already clear, Gray said he does not expect a change to be made unless a groundswell of streetcar supporters show up and protest the cut.
Gray said he supports the initial vision of a 37-mile streetcar, which he proposed funding for during his term as mayor but the council denied. He thinks the council should make a decision to either commit to the full line or abandon the project all together.
“This is not the system that was proposed,” Gray said. “This is not a system at all. This is like a novelty. It runs from Union Station on H street to Oklahoma Avenue. I guess people who get on it can ride a few blocks but that’s all you have. The issue that needs to be answered is 'what is the intention here? Why are we running a streetcar line for about 10 blocks?' That doesn’t make any sense.”
The budget also includes funding for reconstruction of the H Street bridge, which would allow for the Burnham Place megaproject and a future westward extension of the streetcar. The mayor had proposed $165M to be spent in FY 2019 and FY 2020. The council increased the funding to $196M, but pushes the spending timeline back to FY 2020-2022.
Akridge vice president David Tuchmann, who is leading the 3M SF Burnham Place development over the Union Station rail yard, said the revised spending schedule aligns with the construction timeline for the development and for the major overhaul planned for Union Station.
“The bridge is a linchpin project for both the Union Station Expansion Project and for Burnham Place," Tuchmann said. "We are really excited the mayor, council chair and council as a whole see the value within the big Union Station effort and that they’re prioritizing the bridge replacement.”
The next big step for the development will be the completion of the Union Station expansion's environmental impact study, which will allow Akridge to move forward with more certainty on the design. A spokesperson for the Department of Transportation said the agency plans to release a draft EIS for public review in summer 2018.
Tuchmann said, in an ideal scenario, he thinks Akridge will be able to break ground on Burnham Place by 2022.
The budget the council passed Tuesday also provides all of the funding the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development had requested to move forward with some of the biggest development projects in its pipeline.
It allocates $103M for St. Elizabeths East campus, a 183-acre site near the Congress Heights Metro station that is ultimately planned to include 4.2M SF of development. The District began infrastructure work in November and the funding allows DMPED to move forward shortly with Phase 1, chief of staff Andrew Trueblood said.
The first phase, developed by Redbrick LMD, will include 252 affordable multifamily units, 110 townhouses, a 171K SF office building, a 4,200 SF sports and entertainment arena and 30K SF of retail. The sports arena is scheduled to break ground this summer, with the residential portion starting in Q1 2018 and the office building breaking ground in Q1 2019.
"This is critical," Trueblood said of the St. Elizabeths funding. "We are ready to shortly begin the Phase 1 development, and this helps us continue down that path and continue to invest in infrastructure and all of the things we need to get that project moving."
The budget also included $10M for the McMillan Sand Filtration Site, which is going back through the zoning process after a judge pulled its approval in December. It provides $16M for the 3.1M SF Parks at Walter Reed development, which broke ground last month. It also allocates $85M for the New Communities Initiative, a DMPED effort to revitalize four distressed public housing projects in different parts of the city. Additionally it budgets $8.9M for the DC Water facility, $18.2M for the Hill East development and $3.4M for the Grimke School redevelopment.
"Given what we have now, we feel comfortable we can move forward on all of these projects," Trueblood said.
Most of these projects include major affordable housing components. The council also continued the mayor's $100M annual appropriation for the Housing Production Trust Fund and made additional investments to combat homelessness.