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D.C. Streetcars on track for late 2013 debut

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The District of Columbia is one step closer to opening the new streetcar line that will connect the H Street/Benning Road corridor in Northeast Washington.

The second of three vehicles that will comprise the new streetcar fleet arrived earlier this week, and on Wednesday, Mayor Vincent Gray and other D.C. leaders got a close look at the District's new fleet in more than 50 years.

The District Department of Transportation will soon begin a safety and testing phase in Anacostia before moving to H Street this fall for more dry runs.

"We'll continue to run them throughout the summer," DDOT Director Terry Bellamy said. "They'll be run every day."

For city leaders, the upcoming rollout of the streetcars represent a hopeful new era of economic development for these Northeast D.C. neighborhoods, with a target date of late 2013 to get the streetcars open to the public.

"It's the regularity of it, the attractiveness of it...coming up and down the tracks," D.C. Councilwoman Mary Cheh said. "You can see the magic that it has. It's worked everywhere else."

Over the next few weeks, DDOT plans to roll out a public awareness campaign about about new traffic patterns along H Street.

"I'd like to tell all of the motorists that they don't turn," Bellamy said, reminding drivers that unlike D.C.'s buses, the streetcars won't be moving off of their tracks. "It's just up and down the track."

Meanwhile, a task force formed by Mayor Gray will soon report back with possible fare structures. However, at his bi-weekly press conference, Gray seemed to entertain the idea that streetcar rides could be free.

"When I was in Portland, 85 percent of their streetcar line was free," Gray said. "They were using it as an economic development stimulus."

The initial line for D.C.'s streetcars would run from Union Station east to the intersection of Oklahoma Avenue and Benning Road NE, with six stops in between. Much like the city's Circulator bus system, DDOT says the streetcars will be operated by a third party and subsidized.

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