A Missing Element of the DC Streetcar Plan: Jobs

The District’s ambitious streetcar plan will take 30 years and roughly $1.5 billion to build. Thirty-seven miles of tracks need to be installed, large streets need to be re-engineered and repaved, raised stops with pedestrian shelters need to be constructed, and many, many other projects need to be done to make the system work.

So how many jobs will that mean for DC residents?

It’s unclear.

Usually when the city undertakes a large economic development project using public dollars, hiring targets for DC residents are negotiated upfront. This was true in both the construction of the Washington Convention Center as well as Nationals Park. The streetcar project is different, of course, in that it is not one discreet building or complex but a system that will be constructed over a long period of time with the lead agency being the city, through the District Department of Transportation.

In public documents, the only mention of how many jobs this $1.5 billion project will create is when the system is operational. Even then, there’s conflicting numbers and little detail. In the executive summary, the DC Streetcar System Plan estimates that the system will create “200 First-Source eligible jobs at the onset of service” and that number will boost to 700 at the completion of the system. Yet elsewhere in the document it is stated that the first two lines’H Street and Anacostia’will generate “approximately 30 full”time, permanent jobs.” The total number of operational jobs is lowered to “450 to 500 full”time, permanent jobs.” These will likely be system operators and perhaps mechanics.

Yet what about using the construction of the streetcar system as a jobs program as well? In its “City Build” program, San Francisco created a public works job placement and training program that serves as a pipeline to city contractors. Administration of the program was placed within the Mayor’s Office for Workforce and Economic Development, creating a stronger link between employers and job seekers. Right now, the District is embarking on a pilot “workforce intermediary” that would act as a matchmaker between job seekers and employers. One likely focus of the intermediary is construction-based jobs, and it might be beneficial to see if the streetcar could be a training pipeline. The skills could be used regionally, as Arlington and Fairfax Counties in Virginia are also embarking on a plan to build a streetcar line along Columbia Pike.

Maximizing our resources is critically important, especially in these difficult economic times. The streetcar is an important project that will expand our city’s transportation options and offer great opportunities for economic development. We need to make sure that jobs are part of the planning.

Stay tuned to the District Dime tomorrow as we discuss the streetcar impacts affordable housing.