A source familiar with the Urban Circulator grant process says that Urban Circulator grant awards had been decided before NCPC Chairman Preston Bryant sent his letter to the FTA.
According to the source, FTA had chosen the recipients for the grant over a month ago. Bryant only sent his letter two weeks ago. Therefore, disappointing as it is, DC wouldn’t have gotten the $25 million to extend the H Street streetcar line across the Anacostia River in any event.
On the other hand, it’s certainly possible that politics played a role in several ways. Several people inside USDOT have said that part of the discretionary TIGER grant process involved political calculations. (Though nobody ever accused the previous administration of not being extremely political either). Several commenters noted that the Urban Circulator grants seemed focused on swing states.
In addition, Congressional representatives can play a role in influencing these decisions. With no voting representatives, DC is at a disadvantage to getting federal money. Furthermore, Eleanor Holmes Norton has expressed trepidation in the past about streetcars, and seems to be approaching this home rule debate with NCPC less fiercely than on many other issues.
Perhaps that’s tactically a smart move to avoid a lawsuit that could set a bad precedent harming DC home rule more broadly, but her lukewarm feelings about the project could play a role in deciding which battles to fight and when to stay on the sidelines.