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Hill Talk: H Street Streetcars Ride Funding Roller Coaster

The H Street corridor nearly took a hit Wednesday, as the D.C. Council voted to strip most of the funding for the H Street streetcars from the city’s yearly budget in order to make up for a $550 million budget shortfall. But after his office was deluged with calls and e-mails, Chairman Vincent Gray restored most of the funding.

Gray had proposed using $49 million designated for the streetcar system for other projects, saying the move would allow the city more time to plan the project, slated to be completed by 2030.

“I think this will give us the opportunity to reorganize ourselves in a way that will give us the most efficient use of our dollars,” Gray said. “We don’t have a clearly fleshed-out plan.”

But proponents of moving forward on the venture said at the time that cuts would push back the timeline for completion and effectively kill the idea of returning streetcars to Washington.

“Because we cash out the dollars that were cobbled together for the streetcar … we have lost the opportunity of a generation to have streetcars,” Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells said. “That’s what we will do today; we will kill it.”

A council aide complained that the budget was handed down from the chairman’s office at 2 a.m. Wednesday, giving opposition little time to look over the plan before a vote.

Gray spokeswoman Doxie McCoy said the chairman, a mayoral candidate, identified room in the budget to borrow $4 million per year to fund the project. The move will infuse $10 million in fiscal 2010 to purchase three cars and set aside $37 million the next year, which won’t be released unless the city formulates a stable plan.

The system is supposed to span 37 miles over eight lines and is estimated to cost $1.5 billion. The District has already put down the first miles of track along H Street.

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