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An artist’s rendering shows streetcars stopping at an Old Sacramento station, with the Tower Bridge in the background, for a line linking downtown with West Sacramento.

Editorial: Kings payment toward streetcar line is only a small piece of cost

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014 - 8:30 am

A long-discussed streetcar line linking Sacramento and West Sacramento would be great for the region. But let’s not get too excited about the $500,000 or so that the Kings have tentatively agreed to pay toward the project as part of a deal to reduce traffic congestion at the proposed downtown arena.

As seed money, it’s a relative pittance compared to what’s needed – at least $130 million for a 3.3-mile starter line. Streetcars would stop at the arena, the Sacramento Convention Center and Old Sacramento, then cross the Tower Bridge for stops at Raley Field and other key points in West Sacramento.

The idea is that fans attending Kings games and other events could park at these other locations and take the streetcar back and forth to the arena, dispersing vehicles that would otherwise back up traffic downtown, The Sacramento Bee’s Tony Bizjak reported Monday.

If all goes as planned, the streetcars would be running by 2017, a year after the arena is scheduled to open. Officials hope that the federal government pays at least half the cost and perhaps as much as $75 million, with the rest coming from local public agencies and from private owners and developers of property near the streetcar line.

But before putting in any money, federal officials are looking for a solid local commitment. Among the partners, the leader has been West Sacramento, which is contributing $3 million toward the project’s development, including proceeds from a quarter-cent sales tax.

The Sacramento City Council will be asked this month for $1.5 million and the Regional Transit board for $1.6 million. Yolobus is also pitching in. Recently, they secured a $5 million planning grant from the Sacramento Area Council of Governments to apply for a larger federal award to really get the project moving.

The Kings contribution also helps show local support. In a deal brokered by Sacramento City Hall and agreed to by Caltrans, it is the first of several costs facing the Kings to mitigate the arena’s environmental impact.

It is an important precedent for Caltrans, which is showing some creativity and flexibility in dealing with the additional traffic projected from the arena.

Caltrans has confirmed that the big concern is Interstate 5. Besides the bottleneck at the ramps on J Street, its analysis said there would also be stop-and-go traffic on the freeway between Garden Highway and Highway 50. After looking at possible improvements to I-5, Caltrans concluded it would be extremely expensive and difficult to widen the freeway through downtown.

Streetcars could be part of a smarter solution. But there’s a long way to go yet.

Read more articles by the Editorial Board

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