Back-Seat Driver

Back-seat Driver: Would you ride light-rail to a Kings game?

Tony Bizjak
Tony Bizjak

If Sacramento succeeds in building a new downtown sports arena –and if you head down there for a concert, game, or other event – will you drive your car, or will you consider parking at a light-rail station and riding in with other fans?

That question took on more importance this week when the city of Sacramento and Kings officials agreed they will reduce “vehicle miles traveled” 15 percent to and from the new arena compared with Sleep Train. The agreement came in negotiations with Sen. Darrell Steinberg on his bill to reduce the chances that arena construction will be delayed by an environmental lawsuit.

But the city and Kings don’t control where people are driving from. How can they achieve the 15 percent? A big part of the answer already exists – light rail.

Unlike Sleep Train, the new arena site in Downtown Plaza is a few yards from Sacramento Regional Transit’s light-rail system center point. Trains funnel in from Folsom, north and south Sacramento, and the downtown train depot. By 2016, light rail will extend nearly to Elk Grove. RT head Mike Wiley says his agency studied transit use at other arenas, and estimates 15 percent and 20 percent of event-goers will arrive via transit, mainly light rail. (Some also may walk from their downtown offices after work, rather than drive home and back.)

Wiley said his agency, with help from the city and Kings, can have trains ready to roll every few minutes. He said he also is talking with arena operators about teaming up to allow people to use their arena event ticket as their boarding pass for the train.

Light-rail line a go

They are breathing a $14 million sigh of relief at Regional Transit.

For months, RT’s current south line light-rail extension project to Cosumnes River College had the unhappy distinction of being the one known California transit project whose funding was held hostage in a fight over government pension reform between the governor and federal officials. But Assembly Bill 1222, co-authored by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, won legislative approval this week, and appears likely to steer RT back into the clear, ensuring the line to Cosumnes River College stays on track for a 2016 opening.

In total, the federal government is expected to pay $135 million, doled out in chunks over the next few years, of the estimated $270 million project price. But it looks like the next installment of that federal money, a $14 million check, will be postponed for several years because the pension fight resolution came at such a late hour. That would have put RT in a bind, were it not for a neat little addition to AB 1222. The measure includes a $26 million state loan program for transit agencies whose federal funding is delayed. Agencies must repay the state by 2019. RT General Manager Wiley said that should be plenty of time for the fed’s $14 million to come through.

“We’re feeling pretty good right now,” Wiley said. “Hopefully, we will just continue to build and complete the project on time, and very (possibly) under budget.”

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