Sacramento streetcar project in serious jeopardy as price tag soars

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 suffered a major setback this week, leaving proponents uncertain over whether the long-planned project can be built.

Project proponents in the cities of Sacramento and West Sacramento had hoped to start construction this year, after years of struggling to piece together funding. But when project managers opened bids on Friday for the main construction contract, they found all three bids were far higher than expected, and far beyond the project budget.

The lowest bid came in at $184 million, a whopping $76 million more than had been budgeted.

Sacramento City Councilman Steve Hansen, a leading proponent of the project, called the bid numbers “a dramatic setback for the project.”

“The team has to step back and rethink this. As it’s currently conceived, the project cannot go forward,” he said.

As planned, the line would operate on rails in streets for 4.4 miles between West Sacramento and downtown Sacramento, crossing the Tower Bridge.

On the West Sacramento side, it would stop at City Hall, Raley Field and along the West Sacramento waterfront. On the Sacramento side, the trolleys would run past key areas of downtown and midtown, including Old Sacramento and the downtown railyard. It would roll along J, K and L streets in midtown, and take riders near the Capitol and Golden 1 Center.

Hansen said he and other proponents suspected the bids would come in high, but were surprised by how high.

The project engineers had expected this construction bid to come in at about $108 million. The contractor would have built the rail lines as well as the overhead electrical wires, the train control devices and power stations.

A joint powers group running the project received three bids. The lowest, at $184 million, came from a partnership of Teichert Construction and Stacy Witbeck. Two other bids came in at $190 million and $206 million.

The streetcar joint powers board, made up of two members of each city’s city council, will meet later this month to discuss whether there is a path forward.

“There is still a need to connect West Sacramento and our urban core. I’d like to see us look at options to proceed,” Hansen said.

West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon said he does not know where the project’s future lies.

“It is premature to characterize this as the death of the project,” he said, “but this is the most significant challenge we have faced from day one.”

Local leaders had hoped that signing a construction contract would put them in position to finally obtain federal matching funds for the project.

Congress several years ago committed to fund up to half of the project, but the Federal Transit Administration has not yet agreed to sign a grant agreement, noting last year that Sacramento had not taken necessary steps, such as finalizing construction contracts.

Sacramento Congresswoman Doris Matsui, in a statement to The Bee, said she hoped Sacramento leaders will find a way forward.

“It is disappointing that the Sacramento Streetcar bids came back significantly higher than expected,” she said. “But that does not change the need for a project of this kind. The Streetcar would meet the demand for regional transit between Sacramento and West Sacramento and help reduce traffic and congestion in our area.”

“While this outcome was well outside our anticipated budget constraints, it is my understanding the project team will be looking at additional options in the coming weeks.”

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