Sacramento streetcar project effort scores key local funding

Sacramento leaders want a downtown streetcar like this one in Portland.
Sacramento leaders want a downtown streetcar like this one in Portland. KRT

The Sacramento streetcar effort got a major boost Monday night when the Sacramento Regional Transit bus and rail agency board agreed to put $25 million into the trolley project’s construction fund.

That money would be part of an eventual pot of $100 million in local and state funds to match a hoped-for $100 million federal grant for the $200 million project.

The money SacRT pledged comes from that agency’s share of a state high speed rail bond fund. Several bus and rail riders asked the SacRT board to keep that money for other transit needs, such as buying low-floor light rail vehicles or light rail improvements in the downtown railyard.

Local leaders, including city Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Sacramento Congresswoman Doris Matsui, asked for SacRT’s financial support for the project, which will be jointly controlled by the cities of Sacramento and West Sacramento. The streetcar line, if built, will run through the core areas of both cities.

Proponents called the transit agency’s financial assistance critical to keeping the project hopes alive. But it does not assure the project will happen.

Major downtown businesses, including the Sacramento Kings, Macy’s and downtown hoteliers, also are being asked this month to vote to tax themselves at least $50 million over the next 25 years to pay for some of the streetcar’s operating costs.

The mail-out ballots, sent this week to 300 select commercial property owners near the proposed line, are due back to City Hall next week.

If property owners vote their OK, streetcar advocates say they hope then to sign a full-funding grant agreement with the Federal Transit Administration this summer or fall. That would be the final step in making the project real.

The project, which has been in the works for more than a decade, faces a potential deadline: The Trump administration has proposed phasing out federal funding for streetcar lines, starting next year. It is uncertain, though, whether Congress, which has supported rail projects in the past, would go along with Trump’s budget cuts.

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak