Editorials

It’s time for Plan B on streetcar project, if there is one

A streetcar makes its inaugural trip through downtown Atlanta on Dec. 30. Sacramento’s bid to join other cities with trolley lines has gone off track.
A streetcar makes its inaugural trip through downtown Atlanta on Dec. 30. Sacramento’s bid to join other cities with trolley lines has gone off track. The Associated Press

It’s a tad early to administer last rites to Sacramento’s streetcar line, but there’s no obvious backup plan – at least not yet – after voters rejected a tax to help finance it.

As the defeat became clear Tuesday night, supporters were already regrouping. They say they are vetting several funding alternatives, but weren’t ready Wednesday to make them public.

“We’re not going to give up,” Sacramento City Councilman Steve Hansen told a Sacramento Bee editorial board member.

Whatever Plan B is unveiled in the next few days, however, the rejection threatens to throw off the project’s timing. Supporters were counting on the tax assessment to finance $30 million of the $75 million local share to build the 3.3-mile starter line from downtown West Sacramento across Tower Bridge to midtown Sacramento.

There are already commitments of $25 million from West Sacramento, $7 million from the city of Sacramento and $3 million from Sacramento County. Supporters are seeking $10 million in the state budget now being debated. Local funding must be lined up to win a $75 million federal grant, which streetcar backers want early next year, to cover the other half of the construction cost.

The bar was high for approval of the tax – at least two-thirds of mail ballots sent in since May 4 from a pool of about 3,700 eligible voters who live within three blocks of the proposed route in downtown and midtown Sacramento. Ballots postmarked by Tuesday and received by Friday will still be counted, but the margin so far – 52 percent no – is almost certainly insurmountable.

Trying to put the best face on the defeat, Hansen argues that it has less to do with opposing the trolley idea and more to do with the particular tax, as well as misgivings about the new arena, downtown revitalization, even Regional Transit service.

Maybe so, yet you can’t blame voters for being skeptical about the project itself, especially about how many riders it would really draw and who would pay for operating deficits.

We believed it was worth the risk to proceed. We’ll have to study the new plan – which is unlikely to call for another vote – to judge whether it’s realistic and financially sound, but those unanswered questions still need to be resolved.

If the streetcar project can’t be revived, it would be a blow to downtown Sacramento’s development, but by no means a fatal one. Sparked by the arena, residential and commercial projects are already in the works, with or without trolleys.

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