Will China control the upgrade of Washington, DC's transportation system?
As the fourth of July approaches, Washington, DC is filled with fanny pack-toting, visor-clad tourists. Crowds of them shuffle through the downtown streets, stopping for overpriced bottled water at vendor stands as they go.
Just several summers from now, this scene may be drastically different. Instead of an old-fashioned walk around the city, or a somewhat more modern segway ride, tourists may be able to simply hop on a streetcar.
The District Department of Transportation is busy planning a streetcar refurbishment. The plan is to restore 22 miles of DC’s original 37-mile streetcar system – a project it hopes to complete in five to seven years.
About two years ago, the Alliance for American Manufacturing’s (AAM) ManufactureThis blog told its readers about the fine work going on at United Streetcar in Clackamas, Oregon. According to United Streetcar’s website, the company will be building two streetcars for the Washington DC Streetcar Project.
According to Martin Austermuhle, writing for DCist, however, the project will have 50 streetcars in operation.
So where are those other cars, and the financing, coming from?
Writing for City Paper, Lydia DePillis answers those questions:
Who could possibly be D.C.'s partner on such a large undertaking? Mayor Vince Gray is currently in China, and has been talking with a group of investors about underwriting the streetcar.
Of course, this isn’t set in stone. The City Paper article mentions that the District’s Department of Transportation is soliciting ideas for private financing of the streetcar system.
So, as DePillis notes,
Perhaps there's someone else out there the request for information specifically invites input from 'equity investors with a substantial development and investment track record in newbuild transportation projects exceeding US$250 million individually, particularly urban rail infrastructure.'
This move by Mayor Gray raises a lot of questions. If China bankrolls the project, is it a given that the streetcars will be manufactured in China? If private money finances the project, does it matter where the streetcars are built? Should a major part of a capital city’s infrastructure be financed/created by a foreign country?
Photo from United Streetcar's Facebook Page.
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