D.C. Moves Ahead With Light Rail

Posted February 27, 2004 at 1:26pm

Despite a conservative plan by newly appointed Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Chairman Robert Smith to trim back new project expansions and shore up the the existing Metro system, efforts to create the new Anacostia Corridor light-rail starter line are moving forward.

On Feb. 19, the same day that Smith took over the gavel, the WMATA board unanimously approved a light-rail funding package, which would provide $16.1 million to buy the 2.7 miles of old CSX rail line, along which the new light-rail corridor will be built; purchase new light-rail vehicles; and obtain a contract to prepare the route. The money is being completely funded through the District of Columbia budget rather than through WMATA. The board held a vote on the project because District officials hope to eventually incorporate the light-rail demonstration project into the overall Metro system.

Smith, a partner at Smith Colen Architects in Gaithersburg, Md., who joined the board of directors in August 2003, has been candid that his main goal during his term as chairman will be maintenance of the existing system (chairmanship of the board rotates each year among Maryland, Virginia and District board members).

“If all the money were mine, I’d choose to spend it on maintaining what we have and increasing efficiency with what we have before going out and creating a new system that we can’t maintain,” Smith said in a recent interview.

He said he may have encouraged the Maryland delegation to veto the new project if Maryland funds were going to be used. “But [the District] has a local prerogative that we respect.”

The light-rail demonstration project — which would run 2.7 miles between Bolling Air Force Base and Pennsylvania Avenue on the Anacostia River’s eastern shore — will be the first of what the District of Columbia Department of Transportation hopes will be a 33-mile light-rail system running throughout the city.

The projected cost for the entire demonstration project is somewhere from $30 million to $40 million. According to Tomika Hughey, assistant project manager for the D.C. Alternatives Analysis, which is overseeing the project, groundbreaking on the corridor is scheduled to begin in April and the District could see light-rail lines as early as the summer of 2006.