Transportation Policy

Washington, D.C.'s New Streetcar is Finally—Allegedly—Set to Open

A project that "was ill-planned, ill-thought-out, ill-engineered, ill-everything."


D.C. Streetcar |||

Washington, D.C.'s new streetcar will finally—allegedly—open for service on February 27. After years of cost overruns, missed deadlines, and project mismanagement, the 2.2 mile-line is finally set to begin carrying passengers up and down H Street. But to save on operating costs, it'll have fairly limited service, running just six days a week and once every 15 minutes.

The building of the D.C. streetcar has been a long drawn out saga, and an embarrassment for the District Department of Transportation. The project missed its initial opening date by more than three years, and its total cost has soared, surpassing the $200 million mark. Recently deceased former Mayor Marion Barry put it best in 2014: The streetcar "was ill-planned, ill-thought-out, ill-engineered, ill-everything."

If D.C. officials knew more about the long history of streetcars in the city, perhaps they never would have attempted such a project. When the last streetcar stopped running in D.C. in 1962, an editorial in The Washington Post summed up the general mood: "There's not a single redeeming thing that can be said about streetcars…"

Local historian John DeFerrari has a new book out recounting that history, which is titled Capital Streetcars: Early Mass Transit in Washington, D.C. I sat down with him recently to discuss: