This article was posted as an April Fool’s joke.
This morning at a press conference in Foggy Bottom, Mayor Bowser announced a proposal for a new method of getting commuters across the Potomac. Under her plan, the District Department of Transportation will construct a pair of inclines across the river to link the Kennedy Center with Rosslyn.
Citing the over-capacity Metro tunnel under the river between Rosslyn and the District, Mayor Bowser called the inclines “an ideal solution to giving commuters a refreshing alternative to Metro.” Additionally, the new line will get transit riders closer to major destinations like the State Department and the Kennedy Center.
The line would be built on a large A-frame type structure over the river. The tall structure is necessary because inclines only work on steep slopes. Riders using the service would be required to change vehicles at a station at the apex, but the transfer will be a seamless walk across the platform.
The Bowser Administration hopes to eventually build other inclines around the city, and they’ve decided to name this type of service “Funiculator.” The vehicles will be painted red and yellow, to match the popular paint scheme adorning Circulator buses, streetcars, taxicabs, bikeshare, and pogoshare vehicles.
Internal documents from DDOT refer to the first line as the Funicular Aerial Initial Line. However, based on a suggestion from the Operatic Director at the Kennedy Center, Claire-Annette Joueur, the city has decided to call this first line “Funiculi Funicula.”
Opponents voice skepticism
While some residents are skeptical of this new mode, officials in the administration downplayed the criticism, citing incline operations in Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, where the services have proven to be a vital part of the transportation network and have generated unquantifiable amounts of development.
On the other hand, some opponents have already emerged. Many cities, like Cincinnati, ripped out their inclines in the post-war era, replacing them with more modern buses. One organization known for opposing government spending, the Federal Area Association for Restrained Taxpaying, has come out strongly against the project. Their president Hilda Klyme derided the proposal as “incline decline.”
Other organizations are more positive. The Committee of 100 appears to have granted tacit support to the concept. When asked about the tall structure and its impact on viewsheds, the Committee’s chair, Seymour Skeiz, said, “The beauty of these inclines is that while they’re cable-drawn, the wire is built into the trackway instead of being suspended above the vehicle.”
In fact, the Committee is somewhat enthusiastic that the District may expand the Funiculator initiative beyond the Funiculi Funicula Line, because they would like to see the proposed aerial gondola line between Rosslyn and Georgetown replaced with a mode that does not require overhead wires.
Federal approval and other questions aren’t answered yet
Sources close to the administration are worried, however, about opposition from the Commission for Fine Arts. They’re likely to insist on expensive design treatments like marble columns on the structure to help Funiculi Funicula better fit into the federal landscape.
Some questions remain unanswered. At the moment, the District has yet to determine whether the line will use modern vehicles or whether the funicular will be a so-called “heritage” operation like the lines in Pittsburgh and Los Angeles.
The city will need to procure four vehicles to operate the service. Because of “Buy America” requirements, the number of vendors is extremely limited. To save money, rumor has it that DC may go in on a car order with the city of Magic Mountain, California, which is planning to replace the vehicles on their line to the top of Samurai Summit.
Mayor Bowser has not yet made details public about the financing of the project. However, some sources suspect that funding for the line may come from the District’s streetcar program, which has been recently facing cutbacks.
The Federal Aviation Administration may also be a hurdle, since they will have to authorize an over-river structure. Funiculi Funicula will sit under the flight path for airplanes approaching National Airport from the north. However, the FAA has approved other tall structures in the area, including in nearby Rosslyn, so this may not be an insurmountable obstacle.
Next steps will come in 2016
The fact that Funiculi Funicula has made it to this point is largely a testament to the hard work of Ivan Haas of the Funicular Operators Association of the Mid-Atlantic Region. Haas has been tirelessly promoting inclines as a cheap method of mass transit for over three decades. It appears the District is the first government jurisdiction to take Haas at his word.
Over the next few months, the District Department of Transportation will start installing the guideway over the Potomac. Construction is expected to start sometime this summer. In early 2016, the agency will begin to work on designing the project and undertaking the necessary environmental review procedures.
So far, District officials have been tight-lipped about a projected opening date for the project, however Mayor Bowser indicated that it could open by December 2015. Or 2016. Or if not by then, then certainly by the end of 2017. But definitely by the end of 2018. Probably.