It was two years ago that D.C. officials decided to route a planned streetcar line over the H Street Bridge, allowing for a connection to Union Station. But now they say that the bridge will have to be fully replaced within five years, likely forcing the city to reroute the H Street streetcar line it hopes to start running this year.
The 2.4-mile streetcar route runs up and down H Street and Benning Road NE, and in 2011 city officials decided to run streetcars up and over the bridge — colloquially known as the Hopscotch Bridge — in order to connect to Union Station. But officials with the D.C. Department of Transportation say those tracks will be temporary, and will come down when the city starts replacing the bridge within the next three to five years.
"We always knew that this would be a temporary entrance into Union Station," said Nic Nicholson, DDOT's chief engineer, at a D.C. Council hearing on Friday. "At such time as we could coordinate and replace the bridge, we would have a temporary measure for streetcar as we replace the Hopscotch Bridge."
"We're doing the minimal in that track placement to get service going with the full intention of coming back within the next three to five years and replacing the bridge," he added.
During the hearing, Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) worried that the eventual replacement would only lead to more frustration among H Street residents, who have dealt with streetcar-related construction since 2008.
"My feeling and my fear with this project is that if we don't do it in a systemic, laid-out and planned way, I'm afraid that we're going to lose the faith of the people in getting this done right. This is not a great start," he said.
Nicholson said Amtrak's changing plans for an expanded Union Station and a new high-speed rail line complicated DDOT's original expectation that it could punch a hole through the base of the bridge and avoid running the streetcar over it.
"Once Amtrak started planning and revising its master plan to accommodate that, what came into conflict was our initial plans for our connection of streetcars to Union Station," he said.
The DDOT officials said that the Benning Road Bridge over Kingman Lake and the Anacostia River will also have to replaced, but no streetcar tracks have been placed on that portion of the road for a planned connection to neighborhoods east of the river.