Sacramento gets on track for streetcars
City Council members voted unanimously Tuesday to move forward with a plan to bring a modern, electric version of the single car “trolleys” to connect neighborhoods in the central city and make getting around town easier for residents, workers and visitors.
Streetcars were a large part of the Sacramento cityscape between 1870 and 1947.
“This plan is not only a transportation enhancement, it is a vital economic development tool that we want to introduce into the city of Sacramento,” Fedolia "Sparky" Harris, senior planner with the Department of Transportation, said Tuesday.
Harris said that the purpose of the streetcar plan is to increase travel choices and mobility for short-range trips, and to provide connections between major transit stations, employment centers, commercial corridors and tourist destinations.
In 2006, the cities of Sacramento and West Sacramento, Sacramento Regional Transit and Yolo County Transportation District began working on a plan to create a streetcar line for the area and conducted a feasibility study.
Concerns from that study about route connections and alignment between the two cities stalled that streetcar plan, however.
The study presented on Tuesday was the result of a year of work by those four entities and months of community and business group input.
“The team did a great job of listening to everyone through the process,” said Patty Kleinknecht, executive director for The River District, a development area adjacent to downtown Sacramento.
“This project will help connect our neighborhoods and create a real economic benefit,” she said.
The study suggested four route plans for the central city and three more to allow connection to eastern Midtown, Sacramento State, Oak Park and the UC Davis Medical Center.
Routes are also suggested for major development areas, including the railyards, The River District and the Arden Fair Mall/Cal Expo areas, according to the study summary.
According to a feasibility study completed in January, the streetcars would complement the current light rail system.
Light rail trains are multiple cars connected together on a track network reaching into neighboring cities and suburbs that surround Sacramento. The primary focus of light rail is commute trips.
Streetcars are single cars that provide transit on short distances – longer than a comfortable walk, but within a short ride. They are meant to help get people around town without relying on automobiles.
Light rail stops are generally spaced every mile, while streetcar stops are every few blocks, according to the staff report.
Harris said the study indicates a large economic benefit to the area, including a potential $1.6 billion increase in property values and more than $3.5 million in increased local sales tax revenue annually for properties within three blocks of the starter line.
The starter line would be the first streetcar route completed, beginning in West Sacramento at the Civic Center complex, crossing Tower Bridge and ending near 19th and K streets in Sacramento.
The estimated cost to build the starter line is $125 million to $135 million, according to the report. Funding would come from a combination of sources, including federal and state transportation grants, local streetcar assessment districts and – potentially – transportation sales taxes.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Sacramento City Councilman Rob Fong said Tuesday.
“It seems daunting when you look at how much it costs per track mile, but if we don’t get started, we won’t get it done,” Fong said.
The next step in developing the plan is securing funding and completing environmental reviews.
With its vote of approval, the City Council recommended city staff work in partnership with the city of West Sacramento, Regional Transit and the Yolo County Transportation District to pursue a federal grant for the starter line.
Once the funding is in place and environmental studies and design plans are completed, construction of the starter line is anticipated to take 18 months.
“(The streetcar project) will make a tremendous difference as an urban circulator here in Sacramento, especially with all the things we are trying to do downtown,” City Councilwoman Angelique Ashby said.
Read the full streetcar study here.
Melissa Corker is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Twitter @MelissaCorker.