DC Streetcar Update

Project manager Circe Torruellas discusses the Anacostia Extension's initial list of ten alternative routes. Thanks to community input, the DC Streetcar team pared the list to two options. Photo: Charnice A. Milton

On July 16, Anacostia residents attended the final public meeting for DC Streetcar's Anacostia Extension at Savoy Elementary School. Ending a process that began in 2010, residents had the opportunity to see and comment on the results of an Environmental Assessment (EA) that would help identify the best track alignment for the upcoming streetcar line. 

The Process

According to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), federal agencies must determine how a proposed project and its alternatives could potentially affect the human environment. One way to do this is by completing an EA, which allows federal and local agencies, as well as the public, to participate. Part of the process is the public involvement program, which allows residents and other stakeholders to discuss the project with representatives from the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). 

“Our first project meeting was back in January of 2011,” said Circe Torruellas, DDOT's project manager, during the meeting. “We came out and the community shared some their initial ideas on whether they wanted a streetcar or they didn't want one.” While the original plans had the Anacostia Extension beginning at the Anacostia Metro Station, travelling along Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, and ending at the 11th Street Bridge, the community's feedback helped create ten alternative routes. 

Goals and Needs

The DC Streetcar team identified two major needs for the Anacostia Extension: confronting the area's mobility issues and providing an investment for a strengthened and stabilized neighborhood. Those needs led to four goals. First, the project should provide mobility improvements to a transit-dependent area. Second, it should foster economic development opportunities. Third, the project should also foster environmental preservation and sustainability. Finally, it should accommodate population and employment growth. 

Possible Alternatives

Following the goals and a list of additional criteria, DC Streetcar pared the initial list of ten alternatives to four. One alternative, located on MLK and 13th Street, was eliminated because its negative impact on noise and vibration levels and buildings in the historic district. Another alternative was eliminated after a conceptual engineering and traffic analysis. This leaves DC Streetcar with two remaining alternatives. 

The first, Alternative 4, would pass through downtown Anacostia's core, benefiting from MLK's redevelopment process. However, if implemented, the area could lose up to 84 on-street spaces and create a complicated alignment with the Anacostia Metro Station. The second option, Alternative 9, would use the CSX tracks to create a shorter and faster route that would benefit from the potential Poplar Point development. However, this option is two blocks away from MLK, making it less accessible than Alternative 4. The team could also consider a “no-build alternative;” while this option does not propose any traffic disruptions or additional costs, it does not fully satisfy all the goals. 

Community Response

While many community members discussed the Anacostia Extension's future, others are already thinking about which alternative should be chosen. “I liked option 4,” said Don Wilson, an Anacostia resident. “It would connect more business and serve more people. With option 9, it's 'out of sight, out of mind.'” Les Johnson, another resident, agrees: “I'm opposed to Alternative 9; it's too out of the way and it would serve less people.” 

Wilson is one of many residents excited for the new streetcars. “I like how progressive it is,” he explained. “There will be more opportunities for amenities and business growth. It's a step in the right direction.” Some, like long-time resident Frances Battle, questioned the need for streetcars. “We had them years ago, but the city took them up and left the buses,” she explained. However, Battle was open to listening to the DC Streetcar representatives. “If they can explain it to me, then I might change my mind,” she said.  

Next Steps 

The FTA and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has been reviewing the EA since June and should be finished by the end of July. In August, the EA will be available for a 30-day public review, including a one-week display at the Anacostia Library. The community's comments will be cataloged and utilized to help make a selection among the two alternatives. By September, the final document will be submitted for review and a decision regarding the line's environmental determination should be made by September. 

Ronaldo Nicholson DDOT's chief engineer, reported that they have “substantially completed” the Operation and Commissioning Center located at South Capital Street and are planning to extend the current testing track up Firth Sterling Avenue towards Howard Road. “With effort, I would say by next spring or summer, we could tie it into the Anacostia Metro Station, which would complete the initial line segment,” he explained. Nicholson also stated that they are working with Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling to complete a traffic demand study to determine whether to open the line to customers. Otherwise, it will be used for commission and operator training. 

For more information regarding the Anacostia Extension for DC Streetcar, contact Circe Torruellas at 202-671-2847 or info@dcstreetcar.com. Visit DC Streetcar's website at dcstreetcar.com or follow them on Facebook (dcstreetcar) and Twitter (@dcstreetcar) for updates.