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City Council Vote On Streetcar Could Signal New Era In D.C. Transportation

Friday, December 03, 2010 - 01:35 PM

A prototype of D.C.'s new streetcar

(Washington, D.C. -- David Schultz, WAMU) The D.C. City Council, convening in a lame duck session next week, will cast a crucial vote on funding for an urban street car project.

The project was the darling of outgoing Mayor Adrian Fenty and his Director of Transportation Gabe Klein. Building a streetcar as a supplement to the city's already-existing bus and subway service was a huge part of their overall goal to make D.C. more walkable and to spur economic development in blighted neighborhoods.

D.C.'s Mayor-elect, Vincent Gray

But the project's costs have been climbing steadily upward, and there are still questions about how the streetcars will be powered (i.e. whether there will be overhead wires blocking D.C.'s monumental views).

Then, after a campaign that focused heavily on D.C.'s longstanding race and class inequalities, Fenty lost his reelection campaign. Badly.

His soon-to-be successor, current Council Chairman Vincent Gray, has been much more cool to the streetcar. In a late night budget session earlier this year, Gray eliminated funding for the streetcar project — only to reinstate it later that day after an outcry from the local transit backers.

Gray later blamed the elimination of streetcar funding on a "staff error," and said he is a full supporter of the project. But the upcoming vote, which could be one of his last on the City Council, will be a true test of that support.

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