Last Wednesday, the Dallas City Council unanimously endorsed Commerce Street as the preferred location for a new subway project and a new streetcar line. Even though the decision is not yet final, this event is a significant milestone for a public transportation project that has been under debate for several years. The massive undertaking of embedding a subway line in downtown Dallas has a projected cost of $1.3 billion and is slated for completion in 2024. The line would begin above ground near the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) Victory Station and make its way to a new station adjacent to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science before going underground. It is designed to relieve pressure on the existing four light rail lines, which all run on the same downtown track. Estimated at $92 million dollars, the new streetcar line would link already existing streetcars in Uptown Dallas with existing lines running in the north Oak Cliff area. While there are technically three locations still in consideration for the streetcar, the Elm-Commerce alignment seemed most attractive for its potential economic benefits. While two major public transportation projects in the same area may seem redundant, the subway and the streetcar lines will serve different rider populations. The streetcar is expected to serve local downtown residents, while the subway is aimed at transporting commuters who live further outside the city center. As these projects are nearing consensus, detailed planning will begin for their exact locations, budgets, and urban effects.
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In what the Cincinnati Enquirer called “a meeting filled with fire and suspense,” City Council voted 5-4 to halt construction on its $133 million streetcar project. The Enquirer has a breakdown of how and why, in their own words, each council member voted:
“We don’t want to waste money,” said Councilwoman Amy Murray, who voted with the majority. “This is really hard. (But) I don’t feel confident of the numbers I have.”Councilwoman Yvette Simpson nearly salvaged the plan with a proposal to keep going with $35,000 per day of streetcar construction while an independent analysis was done. Vice Mayor David Mann was ultimately unmoved by that bid. The project was a focal point in Mayor Mark Mallory's State of the City address last year, which came shortly after the 18-stop line broke ground. The route was to run from the river front through downtown and past Findley Market in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. Before work began, however, Ohio Governor John Kasich moved to strip the project’s funding. Cincinnati voters ultimately voted down a ballot measure that would have banned rail funding in 2011, and the light rail line was back on track. Streetcar supporters will “regroup” on potential legal action to keep the streetcar project alive.
Plans for a fixed-track trolley system in St. Louis got a $22 million infusion last week, when the Federal Transit Administration followed through with plans to fund construction of the city’s long-awaited Loop Trolley system. The Loop Trolley Transportation Development District would administer a 2.2-mile track from the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park to the University City Library—part of a regional plan for more sustainable transit. Three hybrid electric trolleys will make nine stops along the way, offering connection with the existing light rail MetroLink system. Fares would cover almost half of the system’s operating costs, with the rest coming from advertising, institutional subsidies, and the District. A ground-breaking ceremony is expected this fall, but no construction date has been set. St. Louis’ first Loop Trolleys may run as soon as 2014. Kansas City, Cincinnati, and Los Angeles have all mulled over streetcar, light rail or trolley plans in recent years.
Kansas City, recently outfitted with superfast internet courtesy of Google, is on the move. And KC taxpayers voted to keep up the momentum this week, authorizing a special taxing district to help fund a downtown streetcar. A transportation development district would cultivate the 2-mile, $101 million route from Union Station to the River Market. The line was shortened by 300 feet after a scramble to make up for $25 million in TIGER grants that the city applied for and was not awarded. Funding for the modified plan came from the Mid-America Regional Council. Now efforts turn to finding an operator. Kansas City will work with the Port Authority to create a Streetcar Authority—a step which has become a hang-up for similar efforts in Detroit. But Wednesday’s vote is a clear signal of public and political support for expanded public transit in the city. KC is also lining up funding for a second phase of streetcar lines, totaling 22 miles of track crisscrossing the city.