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D.C. Council Passes $13.8B Budget That Cuts Funding For Streetcar Extension

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DC Streetcar
The D.C. Streetcar heading west on H Street toward Union Station.

The D.C. Council passed a final budget Tuesday for FY 2018, beginning Oct. 1, that cuts a major piece of the funding to extend the D.C. Streetcar. 

Mayor Muriel Bowser had proposed spending $160M over the next six years to extend the streetcar east to the Benning Road Metro station and continue planning of the westward extension to Georgetown. The final budget ultimately cut roughly $54M of that spending, after Council Chair Phil Mendelson restored $6.6M of his initial $60M cut. 

What this means for the Benning Road extension remains uncertain. Ward 7 Council Member Vincent Gray said the budget does not provide adequate funding to build the eastern extension and maintain current operations. Gray has argued that the council should either commit to the full 37-mile line as initially proposed or give up on the project altogether. 

"It was supposed to connect Ward 7 to Georgetown, not to Union Station," Gray said ahead of Tuesday's vote. "It was supposed to bring us together east to west. Ward 7 is ready to reap the economic benefits that the streetcar has already brought to H Street." 

But Mendelson has insisted that the current funding level would allow the Benning Road extension to be built by 2023. He argues that the council should not pay for the westward extension after the challenges that arose building the H Street line. 

"The execution of the streetcar project over the past decade has been horribly botched, and the project is wildly unpopular throughout the city," Mendelson said in a statement. "Billed as an alternative transportation system for commuters, it is currently a novelty and is likely to remain so. And yet many hundreds of millions of dollars has been spent – already – on a single line that remains incomplete. It makes sense that the H Street/Benning line should connect to the Metro system at Union Station and Benning Road. Period."

Ward 6 Council Member Charles Allen pushed back on the idea that the streetcar has been a failure, pointing to the development boom that it helped spark on H Street. 

"Since the streetcar began, over 100 new businesses have opened on H Street, thousands of new jobs have been created and there has been hundreds of millions in private investments," Allen said at the meeting before Tuesday's vote.

Both Allen and Gray expressed concern over the streetcar cuts but voted for the budget anyway, noting that it funded other priorities they have for the city. The budget passed unanimously.

The budget includes $250K for further exploration of a proposed gondola connecting Georgetown and Rosslyn.