Feds give Sacramento streetcar the green light

Sacramento’s plans for a downtown streetcar line got a major boost Tuesday when the Federal Transit Administration announced it is willing to work with local officials on project development – a first step toward federal funding.

“The FTA just green-lighted us to enter project development,” West Sacramento Mayor Chris Cabaldon said, speaking from Washington, D.C., where he and other local officials are conducting an annual lobbying effort for a variety of local projects. “We are now officially a federal project.”

Officials in West Sacramento and Sacramento say they hope to have a streetcar line up and running by late 2017, connecting both cities over the Tower Bridge. The line would run past Raley Field, Old Sacramento, the downtown Sacramento railyard, the Convention Center and the planned downtown arena.

Cabaldon and others said they see a streetcar as a way of allowing pedestrians to get around town more easily without having to use cars for short trips. The project, patterned after Portland’s successful streetcar system, also is expected to be an economic development generator, making downtown Sacramento and the West Sacramento riverfront more attractive to developers, businesses and residents.

Local project partners include Sacramento Regional Transit, the Yolo County Transportation District and the Sacramento Area Council of Governments.

The federal support is key, local officials say, because it could lead to federal funding for up to half of the cost of the project, which is estimated at $150 million.

Officials said they are still studying how they can finance the local portion of the cost. They said they have been talking with property owners and businesses along the proposed streetcar line about some form of benefit district financing, where entities that would gain economically from streetcars would agree to pay some money to get the line up and running.

In a letter to SACOG Tuesday, the FTA instructed the local entities to choose a preferred route for the streetcar and conduct an environmental review of the project, as well as come up with costs estimates and a financial plan.

The agency, however, noted that “this pre-award authority does not constitute a commitment that future federal funds will be approved” for the project.

Sacramento Rep. Doris Matsui, a streetcar advocate, had been pushing for federal buy-in on Sacramento’s plans.

"FTA’s approval to move forward with project development demonstrates that the Sacramento streetcar project has federal support and will be beneficial for both Sacramento and West Sacramento,” Matsui said in an email to The Bee. “I look forward to working closely with the FTA and all stakeholders to continue moving this project forward.”

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