Sacramento streetcar line gets $50 million in congressional budget

Watch streetcars roll along Sacramento streets in the 1940s

These downtown scenes show streetcar operations of the Sacramento City Lines in a circa 1946 educational documentary.
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These downtown scenes show streetcar operations of the Sacramento City Lines in a circa 1946 educational documentary.

Sacramento’s effort to build a downtown streetcar got a critical financial boost this week from Congress, opening the possibility that construction could begin in a year or two on the long-stalled project.

As part of its bipartisan 2017 budget agreement, announced Monday, Congress has included $50 million to help construct the four-mile rail line planned for downtown Sacramento streets and for the riverfront area in West Sacramento.

Local officials say they hope ultimately to persuade the federal government to provide $100 million toward what they say is a $200 million project. The federal funding is contingent on a vote this June of owners of property near the proposed line in downtown Sacramento, as well as a formal contract agreement between local officials and the Federal Transit Administration later this year.

Sacramento Congresswoman Doris Matsui, a major advocate for the project, called the potential federal funding a key step in an ongoing and still uncertain process.

The Trump administration earlier this year indicated in its proposed next year budget that it wants to begin phasing out the Federal Transit Administration in the coming years. That likely would eliminate funding, over time, for streetcar, light rail and other transit projects.

“It is now more important than ever that we continue working with our partners at the state, local and federal level to sustain today’s momentum and make the … streetcar project a reality,” Matsui said in an email to The Bee on Monday.

West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon said news of the potential federal funding shows that Congress continues to support transit funding nationally.

“This is a good step,” he said. “Cautious optimism is the name of the game. We have to keep moving forward, but this is in our control.”

The June vote in Sacramento will involve more than 300 of the largest property owners near the downtown line, but it won’t include residential property owners or small commercial properties. Neither of those groups, nor residents, will be asked to pay into the streetcar fund, city officials said. A previous measure that failed in 2015 would have required payment by all property owners near the line, including small commercial sites and homes.

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak

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