Streetcars on track?

City hires consultant to explore routes, costs

Sacramento continues to roll ahead with plans for a network of streetcars, one that could extend from West Sacramento across the Tower Bridge to the future rail-yards site to Midtown and then to Sacramento State.

This month, a consultant—hired with a $300,000 federal grant—has kicked off a new assessment of possible streetcar routes, benefits and costs. Also this month, related technical advisory and business committees will meet.

In April, the public will have a chance to provide feedback at the first in a series of scheduled community forums.

“We see many benefits with a streetcar to achieve our sustainability and smart-growth goals,” said the city of Sacramento’s Linda Tucker, who argues streetcars can “boost economic development.”

In particular, Tucker pointed to Sacramento’s 2030 general plan, which calls for more urban infill, also known as smart growth, near employment hubs and businesses. As part of that goal, Tucker said, streetcars could help alleviate traffic congestion and vehicle emissions, particularly for short trips.

Sacramento city planner Azadeh Doherty also cited streetcars’ potential to be an economic development catalyst. In the city and West Sacramento, streetcars could spark growth along underdeveloped commercial corridors.

“Over the next 25 years, significant redevelopment will take place [in urban Sacramento],” Doherty explained. “The reintroduction of streetcars will encourage smart-growth development in the urban core.” Doherty listed Portland and Seattle as two cities where this process has worked well.

Before this happens, though, Sacramento must move from the study phase and meeting phase to being shovel-ready. Funds also must become available. (West Sacramento has already passed Measure K, which will provide for a portion of the operating and maintenance cost of a streetcar line.)

“[Sacramento] will continue to work with the City of West Sacramento to complete the planning work for linking West Sacramento to downtown,” Doherty told SN&R. “However, that linkage is only one component of our overall study. This [study] will evaluate … multiple strategic locations throughout downtown and midtown Sacramento to develop a priority list for funding and implementation.”

Tucker estimates that the costs could run from $15 million to $20 million per mile, and cars could cost up to $3 million each. Doherty also added streetcars cost less per mile than higher-capacity, longer-distance light-rail systems and require a simpler infrastructure.

“Basically, it’s a great idea—but can it pencil out in Sacramento?” Tucker asked. “So it’s too soon to pinpoint when/if we will have streetcars.”