There are a multitude of reasons to vote “no” on the Sacramento streetcar boondoggle.
Streetcar taxes will boost rents on residents, and most live too far from streetcar stops to use it. The $150 million construction budget is largely a guess, and ridership estimates are unreliable. Traffic congestion will worsen, and streetcars will hinder bus and light-rail operations. There’s no evidence that a trolley line will hasten development. And its operating deficits will threaten the city’s general fund, or will drain funding from existing bus service.
If approved by voters, Measure B will impose more than $80 million in additional taxes on property owners, according to our calculations of repayment costs. You can count on property owners to pass this new burden on to renters, further increasing already escalating central city rents.
Another problem is the streetcar’s proposed route. After crossing Tower Bridge from West Sacramento, it would turn left on Third Street and stop on K Street before heading to Sacramento Valley Station. What about the folks living at 500 N Street, Bridgeway Towers, Pioneer House, Governor’s Square and 420 I St.?
Although all will likely be impacted by the streetcar tax, most are far from streetcar stops. Why pay for a project when hiking boots will be needed to get to a streetcar?
The 3.3-mile starter line will have an astonishing cost of $45 million a mile. When you subtract the portion of the streetcar route that will overlap existing light-rail tracks, new tracks will cover only 2.8 miles, raising costs to more than $53 million per mile, the typical cost of building a mile of freeway.
Also, the streetcar is redundant to existing bus routes. Do we need to spend Brinks trucks full of money for a duplicate system just to “keep up with Portland”?
Instead, let’s make wiser improvements and extensions to our existing bus and light-rail systems.
Ridership estimates are wildly optimistic. Will Sacramento suddenly experience hordes of tourists seeking streetcars for “must-see” attractions? Not likely. Ridership projections are so unrealistic even the Federal Transit Administration, which controls the decision to fund half the project’s construction cost ($75 million), recently reported it couldn’t rate Sacramento’s project “due to unreliable travel forecasts.”
Construction costs are estimated at $150 million, but just weeks ago SMUD told project leaders it’ll cost $28 million to $40 million to relocate its equipment off the streetcar route. What about other relocation costs for PG&E’s gas lines, city water mains and other downtown utilities? Is $150 million believable with these new costs? Has any municipal mega-project come in on budget?
The trolley will hinder downtown traffic flow and increase dangers to bicyclists. Buses can maneuver around stalled vehicles, while streetcars cannot. Also, what about the dilemma of shared tracks with light rail? The morning and afternoon rush hour, trains are four cars long. Adding streetcars onto the same tracks at commute times compounds track congestion. Then add an event at the planned downtown arena. You’ll now have what can only be called paralyzing gridlock.
One justification touted by streetcar proponents is its potential to stimulate development, a la Portland, Ore. But no two cities have identical economic dynamics. Portland’s growth was already in full bloom before its trolley, boosted by hundreds of millions of taxpayer subsidies, something Sacramento cannot afford.
The streetcar project is an illusion of imagined progress, another expensive grasp by Sacramento’s developers and politicians to attain an indefinable “world-class status” for a city that needs no such embellishment to its reputation.
Dennis Neufeld is research director of Eye on Sacramento.