Streetcar plan could put West Sac on the map

A rendering of the proposed Old Sacramento station with streetcars and the Tower Bridge in the background.
A rendering of the proposed Old Sacramento station with streetcars and the Tower Bridge in the background. HDR Inc.

Sacramento’s streetcar project is rolling again, buoyed by $30 million in cap-and-trade funds from the state and a ring of boosters who just won’t let the plan die, no matter how many political blows it takes.

Just last year, streetcars were dead in the water – or stalled on the tracks. Property owners in midtown and downtown voted against raising taxes to fund operations of even a small starter rail line.

But advocates brushed off the loss and stayed the course. They rolled out a more ambitious plan, one that would send streetcars farther into West Sacramento, and on Tuesday, managed to secure a grant from the California State Transportation Agency.

West Sacramento’s mayor, Chris Cabaldon, called it “a tremendous victory for a new vision of the downtown, the waterfront and the urban core.” And he’s right, particularly for his Yolo County city.

Long ignored as a forgotten city on the other side of the Sacramento River, West Sac has been making moves in recent months, opening a slew of stylish new apartment complexes near Raley Field and, last month, The Barn, a funky shingled building that hosts concerts and other public events.

Indeed, weekends have never been so busy in The Bridge District. And yet, getting there by car or bicycle – or even thinking of going at all – remains an afterthought for many on the grid.

“So many times,” Cabaldon told The Bee’s Tony Bizjak this week, “we have been written off.”

Streetcars, with the ease of hopping on and hopping off, would do a lot to change that. The 3.3-mile rail line would connect West Sac to downtown and midtown Sacramento over the Tower Bridge.

The streetcars would cut along the riverfront in The Bridge District. And most importantly – making up for what Regional Transit lacks – the trolleys would go places that people on both sides of the river actually want to go. Raley Field. The Capitol. Memorial Auditorium. The Sacramento Convention Center complex. Old Sacramento. West Sacramento’s Civic Center.

That makes sense. So does adding a spur and adding lines that cross 19th Street and go toward Sac State and the UC Davis Medical Center. Having access to transit is a critical component for city living – and RT doesn’t cut it.

Hurdles remain, of course. West Sacramento long ago agreed to sink $25 million into the project. But the city of Sacramento has yet to come up with a way to fund ongoing operations and likely will have to ask several hundred large-property owners to foot the bill with an assessment district. That’s assuming streetcar advocates can first secure $75 million in federal transit grants.

Sacramento City Councilman Steve Hansen, who has been leading the streetcar charge, is cautious but optimistic on both fronts. So far, his tenacity, as well as that of Cabaldon, Sen. Richard Pan, Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, Rep. Doris Matsui and many others, has paid off. Let’s keep it rolling.