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Washington - November 2004

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Streetcars to roll in Southeast

By Denise Barnes
Published November 14, 2004

D.C. officials broke ground yesterday for Anacostia Light Rail, a $55-million streetcar system that will make it easier for Southeast residents to travel and may stimulate the community's economy.

Wielding shovels across the street from the Anacostia Metro station at the site of what will be the Anacostia light rail station -- one of six stops on the line -- Mayor Anthony A. Williams, Metro General Manager Richard White and other officials hailed the new beginning.  "It's a great day for the neighborhood," said Dan Tangherlini, director of the D.C. Department of Transportation. "After a 42-year hiatus, we return streetcars to the city, and we will begin the process of reconnecting our neighborhoods."

The initial Anacostia Light Rail line, budgeted at $50 milllion to $60 million, will run for 2.7 miles along the right of way of the existing CSX Shepard Branch industrial spur -- from Pennsylvania Avenue, south of the John Phillip Sousa Bridge, to Bolling Air Force Base. Officials hope its six stops will open by fall 2006. Mr. Tangherlini said the expectation is that Bolling employees will use the system to commute and to leave the base to shop in the community.

"We feel the way to revitalize a community is to give [people] access to opportunity -- opportunity for jobs, opportunity for recreation, opportunity [to attend] cultural and religious events," Mr. Tangherlini said. "I consider this a renaissance. People have been very patient, and they are getting their due."

The streetcars will run above ground in groups of three cars, each holding about 30 passengers. Officials said seats will be arranged around the inside of the cars, providing ample standing room.  The color of the cars has yet to be determined, but Mr. Tangherlini said officials were "leaning toward red or green."

The cars will be like those now used in Portland, Ore., and Tacoma, Wash. The Metro system's Board of Directors has approved spending $16.1 million for land, site preparation and cars. However, the District will pay for the project with money left over from Metro projects, money created by Metro economic development projects and other capital funds, Mr. Tangherlini said. He said the city is interested in Metro running the line, but no agreement has been reached.

Streetcars were a fixture in the District from 1871 until 1962, but the city officially retired the last familiar green-and-ivory cars after Congress voted to replace them with a fleet of diesel buses. Navy Capt. Carol Schmidt, stationed at the Washington Navy Yard/Anacostia, said she is thrilled by the idea of a new transit line. "I think this will help ease some of the parking issues," she said. "It's more obvious at the Navy Yard. I applaud any effort that helps to ease the traffic problems."

Presiding over the groundbreaking ceremony, Gladys W. Mack, a Metro board member, said the economic growth sweeping across downtown also must come to Anacostia. She said the proposed baseball stadium along the Anacostia waterfront and the new pedestrian bridge would stimulate economic revitalization. "Suddenly everyone [will] rediscover the Anacostia River," Mrs. Mack said. Mr. Williams said light rail meets several needs, from helping residents move around the city to economic development to connecting residents of Barry Farms to jobs.

"Our vision is to expand the light rail to the new baseball stadium, and I've always said the stadium was about more than baseball," the mayor said. "I think the light rail will help a lot in our community," said Dorothea Ferrell, a member of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 8C01. "It's definitely a connector and something in which all ages can get involved, from youth to seniors, because we all need transportation."

Ms. Ferrell said she and other residents attended many meetings to get a Barry Farms stop on the line. "We were isolated until Metro [opened], and now we have the opportunity to carry our children around [the city] to let them know about other areas of the District," she said. She was less enthusiastic about building a baseball stadium on the Anacostia Waterfront. "I care about residents located in that area and how they will make it, where they will be shifted," she said. "They are humans, and they have a right to be a part of D.C. and not Maryland or Virginia."


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