Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Delays from the government shutdown mean that the H Street/Benning Road streetcar will open in early 2014 and not by the end of this year, DC Streetcar officials said at a community construction update yesterday. They also announced that DC will partner with a private company to build, but not finance future streetcar lines.

Thomas Perry, the streetcar program manager at the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), said that the agency currently plans to move the first streetcars to the 2.4-mile line, coinciding with the delivery of the first US-built United Streetcar vehicle. DDOT will start testing the line in December, and open it early next year, when the next two streetcars will arrive.

DDOT has long held out hope that the streetcar line would open before the end of the year. But many believed that the date would slip into 2014 as construction proceeded slower than initially outlined.

Catenary progress and pedestrian improvements

By the end of the month, all of the catenary poles on the corridor will be in place, said Ron Garraffa, a senior construction manager at streetcar program manager HDR. Stringing of the catenary wire will begin in early November and take place overnight from 7pm to 7am. He characterized the installation as “quiet” work, but noted that the contractor understands that no construction work is completely quiet and said that they are working to minimize any disruptions at the update.

The recent federal government shutdown delayed the wires. The imported catenary wire was stuck in US customs while non-essential US government employees were furloughed for 16 days earlier in October, said Garraffa. This delay pushed wire-stringing back to November from this month, as it was previously scheduled under DDOT’s construction timeline.

Residents on the western end of H St NE were happy to hear that the crossing at 3rd St NE could reopen as early as mid-November. The crossing has been closed for those walking north or south on 3rd due to the streetcar construction near its western terminus on the Hopscotch Bridge.

With the reopening of 3rd St and the impending arrival of a streetcar vehicle in December, Steve Carroll, head of the HDR team, said that safety education will begin shortly. This includes flagging parked cars and delivery vans that block the tracks from November as well as reaching out to residents to be aware of the trains when they are walking and cycling.

Private partner will build and operate, but not finance streetcar

DDOT will procure the initial 22-mile streetcar system as a design-build-operate-maintain (DBOM) deal with a private sector partner, Perry said at the meeting. The agency will release a request for qualifications (RFQ) for interested firms before the end of the year, he added.

This is a change from the request for information (RFI) that the agency released for a possible design-build-finance-operate-maintain (DBFOM) concession in June 2012. The private partner will still build, operate and maintain the streetcar system, but will not finance the construction.

"We would be essentially paying a premium for what the District could do itself,” said Perry, on why the agency selected this project model. He added that a DBOM is a “better value” for the District.

The Hudson-Bergen Light Rail in New Jersey, which opened between 2000 and 2011, was built and continues to be operated under a DBOM deal. Meanwhile, Maryland is pursuing a DBFOM concession for the Purple Line in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

The 22-mile system includes a proposed extension of the H Street/Benning Road line, which will run between Union Station and Oklahoma Avenue, west to Georgetown and east to the Benning Road Metro station. There would also be a north-south line, currently under study, from Buzzard Point to either Takoma or Silver Spring. Eventually, DC plans to build out a 37-mile, 8-line system.

Edward Russell is an air transport reporter by day with a passion for all things transportation. He is a resident of Eckington and tweets frequently about planes, trains and bikes.