DC Council Chairman Gray has restored most funding for the streetcars after being swamped with calls from constituents upset at his 2 am excision of the project.
The budget amendment, introduced by Gray after lunchtime discussions with streetcar supporters including Public Works and Transportation Chairman Jim Graham, restores $10 million in FY2010 so that DC can move ahead with streetcar purchases and $37 million in the FY2011 capital budget for the H Street-Benning Road line.
The funding still leaves the District without funding for about 3 of the needed cars. That would either force longer headways on the H-Benning line or mean that no service will run on the Anacostia line, which is already under construction. DDOT officials say they still plan to operate the Anacostia line.
This would not have happened without the immediate and powerful groundswell from residents including readers from Greater Greater Washington, We Love DC, DCist, and other blogs that covered the news. The Fenty campaign saw a huge spike in requests for lawn signs and new volunteers today.
Some Councilmembers seemed surprised at the speed and intensity of the reaction, which is a testament to the power of social media. An enormous number of people tweeted about this morning’s streetcar news, spreading it very quickly. Councilmember Thomas expressed some frustration at the way calls and emails came in to Councilmembers in real time from the Council session broadcast on Channel 13, which seems like the best kind of democracy to me.
There are still questions about Great Streets money, which DDOT had originally planned to redirect to streetcars and then fill in later with other federal funds. Some Great Streets projects are not ready to go, and some of their funding came from federal stimulus money which must be spent quickly. The streetcar project would have spent it, but the new money comes from other sources including general obligation bonds. It may be that DC will still have to rearrange some capital dollars to meet the requirement to spend the stimulus money fast enough.
Also, the money involves borrowing, which will cost $4 million per year. It’s great the streetcar is back, but the budget is in worse shape now than it was before Gray made this cut this morning.