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On a recent sweltering afternoon, the construction crew working along the 1300 block of H Street Northeast seems oblivious to the heat.
The men in white construction hats are pouring concrete for what will someday be the platform of the much-anticipated streetcar line, smoothing the surface that the owners of businesses lining the street hope will teem with people, thirsty for a beer at a pub or looking to take in a play.
The construction has been creeping along H Street since the summer of 2008, a block or two at a time, and finally, it has reached the corridor’s final frontier, home to some of its biggest businesses, including the Atlas Performing Arts Center, Rock N Roll Hotel, H Street Country Club and Biergarten Haus.
And while the merchants put up with orange cones, pothole-pocked streets and a surfeit of foot traffic, they reassure themselves with a simple mantra: June 30.
That’s the date by which D.C. Mayor Vince Gray has promised that the bulk of construction on the streetcar tracks — and the jack-hammering, redirected traffic and general blight that has come with it — will end.
“I’m feeling confident,” says Jason Feldman, co-owner of the Star and Shamrock, a bar and eatery that improbably fuses Irish and Jewish influences. “I figure that they’ve had 14 blocks of practice, so this part should go smoothly. Everybody’s seeing some light at the end of the tunnel.”
Frank Hankins wants to believe in June 30. But Hankins, who owns SOVA coffee shop, has come to take everything city officials say with a large grain of salt.
“I hate to say this, but if they tell you one thing, you can maybe believe 30 percent of it,” he says.
The city is vowing the project is, well, on track. “We expect to have it done,” D.C. Department of Transportation spokesman John Lisle says.
That’s not to say the streetcars will be rolling down H Street just yet.
Terminals, power stations and the cars themselves will all have to be installed before service begins sometime next year. But June 30 marks the end of the big upheaval that lays the groundwork for the cars — or so the mayor says.
And collectively, the block’s band of merchants is holding its breath.
“It’s a major marker in this pregnancy,” says Anwar Saleem, executive director for H Street Main Street, a nonprofit devoted to developing businesses in the area.
At King Nails, a tiny salon where customers can get their fingers and toes decorated with intricate flowers or even their names, owner Liza Ma has had enough.