D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray’s insistence on siting a streetcar maintenance and training facility in the middle of the Spingarn High School campus is meeting stiff resistance from residents in the Langston community who say this aspect of the return of streetcars to D.C. needs to be derailed.
Bill Simpkins, 51, an attorney who runs a hostel in the 2400 block of Benning Road, N.E. says that the facility would do nothing to help revitalize the neighborhood.
“The concern is that the car barn is going to be moving the neighborhood backward rather than forward,” Simpkins said. “It’s just another example of Washington politicians thinking they can pull a fast one over residents who are thought to be easily victimized.”
Newly-minted Ward 5 Councilman Kenyan McDuffie is upset with the process. He says the D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT) chose the location after insufficient exploration of possible sites” and that he can’t reconcile a brand new building project in the midst of a long-neglected school.
“I have some real concerns with having a brand new facility juxtaposed with an outdated and dilapidated building that hasn’t been renovated in decades,” McDuffie said.
The original plan was to put the streetcar barn near the Hopscotch Bridge on H Street, behind Union Station, but according to Dara Ward, a consultant with the D.C. Streetcar communications team, that was nixed by Amtrak. Ward claims that the denial led to a more complications as DDOT had to find a new location.
“This added further delay as DDOT vetted alternate sites for the facility and conducted extensive public outreach to identify the best solution,” she said.
Ward says that DDOT conducted a lengthy and comprehensive exploration process and selected the best location available.
“DDOT vetted nine different sites along the [H Street/Benning Road] corridor and the Spingarn site came out on top for a number of reasons,” Dara Ward, a consultant with the D.C. Streetcar communications team, said. “There were no ownership issues, space was adequate for the need and the location right along the line is ideal.”
Community leaders wanted planners to consider using space on the nearby Pepco generating station facility and the RFK Stadium parking lot. Ward says DDOT considered those two, but the Pepco facility is not owned by the city and is not for sale and the RFK lot is federally-owned and, while it is run by the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, access would need congressional action.
Ward’s words fall on deaf ears when speaking to members of the community.
McDuffie agrees with Simpkins that it seems like the city is more focused on development along H Street, but hasn’t done much to improve economic development on Benning Road. McDuffie held an emergency community meeting on the matter on June 25 and has written two letters, dated June 29 and July 18 to the mayor, calling for alternate locations to be considered.
Gray, on Aug. 15, responded to McDuffie saying that Spingarn was the best option for the city right now.
“The site adjacent to Spingarn High School remains the best option because it is owned by the District government, is conducive to providing a training program for D.C. Public Schools, and the site’s proximity to the streetcar line is cost-effective,” Gray wrote. “The site also meets the District’s long-term vision for the D.C. Streetcar infrastructure investment and will help to serve the overall East-West Line.”
The car barn would be a 24-hour facility to service the streetcar line, which would run from 4:30 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. every day. It will be a three-bay garage with space to house 12 streetcars.
There’s also a plan to allow up to five high school students to work in the garage as apprentices. However, that isn’t enough for Simpkins who believes that is nothing but a bargaining ploy to get the community on board with a plan he doesn’t believe in.
“It is not anything other than a Trojan horse coming here and misrepresenting what it really is,” Simpkins said.
McDuffie went further saying that the training program is underdeveloped and that the city needed “to begin to connect the dots.”