County joins other local governments supporting the 3.3-mile urban circulator project
Sacramento County joins a round of local governments supporting the funding of the Downtown Streetcar Project, a 3.3-mile urban circulator connecting the city of West Sacramento and downtown Sacramento.
“The County of Sacramento has committed $3 million towards [the project’s] cost of construction,” said Fedolia Harris, principal planner for the city of Sacramento.
According to Mike Luken, deputy director of operations, planning and special projects of Yolo County transportation district, several entities support the project. These include the City of Sacramento, the City of West Sacramento, Yolo County Transportation District and the Sacramento Regional Transit District. According to Harris, The city of Sacramento has contributed $7 million toward the construction, and will impose a sales tax that would cover approximately $25 million worth of construction.
According to Luken, The Downtown Streetcar Project will circulate from downtown West Sacramento via the Tower Bridge Gateway, across the Tower Bridge toward downtown Sacramento and connect to the inner-model station, eventually connecting to midtown Sacramento and loop back to West Sacramento.
“[The system will] provide both transportation and economic development benefits for both cities,” Harris said.
According to Luken, the project is currently in the design stage. Consultants have been hired to design the tracks and placement of the stations. A separate consulting firm was hired to design the streetcars. A complete environmental review and further securing of the funding will occur in future stages of the project.
“We will put out the project for a public bid in laying the track and designing the stations, and producing the streetcars themselves. The streetcars will be produced by firms that have experience in [constructing] streetcars,” Luken said.
According to Luken, construction is expected to begin in 2017 and is projected to launch for operational use in 2018. The project has been in the works since as far back as 2009 with public outreach meetings with the local business community and property owners.
“[The public response to this project] is very positive… residents of West Sacramento overwhelmingly approve the sale tax…to fund the project, that passed a couple of years ago,” Luken said.
Several organizations have expressed concerns regarding the project’s budget, however. The cost, which is estimated to range between $135-$150 million dollars, are seen by many as too expensive and should be allocated to fund other infrastructure or development projects. Stephen Green, president of the Save the American River Association, believes the project funding could be used to solve other problems. He said the money would be better utilized to fund after-school programs or to fund organizations aiding homeless communities in Sacramento.
“The county should … spend [the taxpayers’] money on county projects and services. Regional park’s budgets have been cut. Maintenance have been neglected there….We have many other needs, such as the child protective services which are under staffed,” Green said.
According to Harris, the project also applied for a federal grant of $75 million through the program “Small Starts.” The project is expecting an additional $10 million contribution from the State of California, in addition to imposing a property tax for the area within three blocks from the streetcar system in Sacramento. The project also expects a private contribution of $30 million toward the streetcars.
“Certainly there’s a great need for money in transportation and infrastructure, throughout the communities and the region. There is never enough money to fund all the kinds of projects,” Luken said.
According to several studies, Luken said, the streetcar system has been proven to cause an increase in economic activities. According to the project’s fact sheet, the project is intended to accommodate developments for the new Downtown Sports and Entertainment Center, new commercial spaces, and over 16,000 new residential units in the Bridge District and the Railyards Specific Plan area. The project is expected to facilitate a transportation system intended to serve these new employment and residential districts.
“[The Downtown Streetcar Project] encourages compact urban development around the streetcar, it is in line to the development plans of both cities. In terms of prioritization, the two cities have made the streetcar a priority,” Luken said.
Graphic by Jennifer Wu.