Chairman Responds to Transportation Budget-Slashing Accusations

Chairman Mendelson responded today to accusations that the FY 2018 Budget would slash transportation funding for the District.

At my recommendation, the Council voted Tuesday May 30th for a budget (six-year Capital Improvement Plan, or “CIP”) that included a reduction of $60.7 million in the streetcar project.  Some have said this means that the extension of the streetcar along Benning Road east of the Anacostia River “will have to wait six years or forever.”  This is not correct.

The three CIP components that comprise the streetcar project total $224.2 million in the budget adopted by the Council.  DDOT’s spending plan for the Benning Road extension, including work on the Whitlock Bridge just west of Minnesota Avenue, totals $199 million.

DDOT’s spending plan calls for $76 million through FY 2020, and the Council’s budget authorizes $82.7 million through FY 2020.  Funding in the last three years of the CIP (2021-2023), as adopted by the Council, is one year slower than DDOT’s spending plan.

The claim that the Council has delayed the Benning extension “six years or forever” is false.

What the Council did cut is funding for other streetcar efforts, including design of the Union Station to Georgetown line, a propulsion study, vehicle design, and replacement of existing vehicles.

The execution of the streetcar project over the past decade has been horribly botched, and the project is wildly unpopular throughout the city.  Billed as an alternative transportation system for commuters, it is currently a novelty and is likely to remain so.  And yet many hundreds of millions of dollars has been spent – already – on a single line that remains incomplete.

It makes sense that the H Street/Benning line should connect to the Metro system at Union Station and Benning Road.  Period.

Although the Council did decrease the Mayor’s proposed budget for DDOT projects, the decrease was significantly less than $97 million and the net result is $27.7 million more than DDOT’s current six-year budget (FY 2017-2022).

There are accusations that the Council cut $5 million from streetlight management.  Incorrect.  The six-year CIP adopted by the Council is $8.7 million more than what the Mayor requested.

There are accusations that the Council cut $9 million from the H Street Bridge Project.  Although the Council shifted the funding in the six-year CIP to correspond to DDOT’s spending plan, the overall budget for this project remains unchanged – i.e., no cut.  Rebuilding this bridge is critical to unlocking plans for substantially upgrading Union Station as an East Coast transportation hub.

There are accusations that the Council cut $2 million from streetscapes.  Incorrect.  The Mayor proposed $51.25 million in the CIP and the Council approved $54 million – $2.75 million more.

There are accusations that the Council cut $53,000 from “safety & mobility.”  Incorrect.  The Mayor proposed $42.05 million and the Council approved $49.947 million – $7.9 million more.

There are accusations that the Council cut $4.4 million from power line undergrounding.  Incorrect.  The approved 2018-2023 CIP for this project is $27.4 million, the same as proposed by the mayor.  Given that the project has been substantially delayed, resulting in significant unspent balances ($21.6 million), the Council reduced the existing (FY 2017) allotment by $1 million (to $20.6 million).

It is unfortunate that some publications have created the impression that the Council is, at worst, hurting our transportation system, or at best, “just not funding better transportation.”  Besides inaccurately alleging cuts, publications overlook Tuesday’s Council action included carving out a dedicated sales tax to fund Metro.  D.C., Maryland, and Virginia need to come forward with increased, dedicated revenue for WMATA – I think a regional sales tax – and the Council has taken the first step.