Streetcar Projects Continue Breaking Ground Despite Uncertain Federal Future

Posted on March 14, 2012 by Cliff Henke

Page 2 of 2

Breaking ground
Cincinnati's streetcar is not the only such system breaking ground this year. The St. Louis Loop Trolley is another Urban Circulator grant recipient, and it will also do so this year. Project officials there also expect to open in 2014.

Seattle's second line, the 2.2-mile First Hill Streetcar, is another streetcar breaking ground in 2012, though it is scheduled to open a year earlier, in 2013. However, this line is funded entirely with local funds, part of the ST2 referendum that voters approved in 2008. The Emerald City's first modern streetcar line, the South Lake Union project, was also funded virtually entirely with nonfederal funds, save for a small federal earmark it got in the days when those were still politically possible in Congress.

In addition, Atlanta's 2.3-mile Downtown Streetcar, from Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site to Centennial Olympic Park also began construction. It is also scheduled for revenue openings next year.
Three other streetcar projects that benefitted from TIGER grants are Tucson's 3.9-mile Modern Streetcar from the University of Arizona's campus to Downtown Tucson; Salt Lake City Sugar House Streetcar (2-mile system); and the 2.5-mile French Quarter Expansion Project in New Orleans, from Canal Street to Esplanade Avenue. The Tucson and New Orleans projects are also expected to open next year, while the Sugar House Streetcar is slated for a 2014 debut.

Many other streetcar projects are in varying stages of development. They include a downtown streetcar in Los Angeles; a circulator service Tyson's Corner in Northern Virginia, another circulator in Providence, RI; two streetcar projects in Dallas; and streetcar projects in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and Santa Ana, Calif. In addition, four other projects in the greater Washington, D.C., area are in development, two in the District itself (part of a larger network that is envisioned) as well as two other projects just outside D.C. in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Arlington. While all of these will require some federal funding assistance, another, the project for downtown Oklahoma City, may be able to be funded entirely with local funds thanks to a referendum voters passed in the city in 2010.

Cloudy picture
Like most major capital investment projects in public transportation, the full expansion of streetcar investments throughout the country will require policies to fund them. Unfortunately, the highly divisive political climate in Washington, D.C., may actually eliminate all discretionary transit funding, let alone an expansion, if conservatives in the House of Representatives have their way. Many of them question the rationale for a federal role in urban transportation funding. Even the Urban Circulator Program, started by the FTA using the exempt projects section of existing law in the Major Capital Investment Program, is under threat in this climate. 

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