The Works

Streetcar Fans: $1.7 Billion Line Is Doable for NYC

A proposed NYC streetcar line would connect waterfront destinations like these refurbished warehouses at the foot of Van Brunt Street in Red Hook. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects worldwide.

New York Group Proposes Brooklyn-Queens Waterfront Streetcar
At $1.7 billion, it wouldn’t be cheap, but what in New York is these days? A group called the Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector argues that it’s money worth spending on a proposal for a modern streetcar line running along the East River waterfront from Sunset Park in Brooklyn to Astoria in Queens.

The New York Daily News last week ran a story on the proposed streetcar route along with details from a proposal the group has prepared to promote the project.

The 17-mile line, its backers say, would make it easier to reach new neighborhoods and employment centers that have popped up along the waterfront but are ill served by the Manhattan-focused subway network.

The advocates estimate the line could attract as many as 15.8 million passengers a year by 2035 and say work on the line could begin as soon as 2019. Despite its $100-million-per-mile construction cost and a projected $26 million annual operating cost, supporters say the line is financially viable because it would produce $3.7 billion in new tax revenue from activity along its route.

Advocates say a 17-mile NYC streetcar, marked in black, is now financially viable. (Credit: Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector)

L.A. Considers Closing Green Line Gap
The Los Angeles Green Line LRT runs from Redondo Beach to Norwalk, barely grazing one corner of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) as it runs east-west across the southern part of L.A. County. That’s not the only near miss on the line’s route, though: Its eastern end is a mere 2.8 miles from a busy Metrolink commuter rail station in Norwalk. Now, the Los Angeles Times reports, public officials in both L.A. and Orange counties are once again pushing to close that gap.

A Green Line extension to the Norwalk-Santa Fe Springs Metrolink station, officials in the two counties say, would make it easier for Orange County and South Bay residents to get to both LAX and the Blue Line LRT to downtown L.A.

An L.A. Green Line train at the Redondo station (Photo by Sean Lamb)

Orange County Supervisor and Metrolink Board Chairman Shawn Nelson called the extension “a project Southern California needs.” Back in the 1990s, when the extension was first proposed, residents of Norwalk neighborhoods through which the line would have run objected to its likely effect on their homes. City officials in Norwalk then and now also expressed interest in a Green Line-Metrolink connection and have voiced their support with the caveat that they wish to proceed cautiously given the city’s experience with recent highway-widening projects.

The proposal may figure into a campaign to renew Measure R, a half-cent sales tax that has raised billions for transportation projects across L.A. County, but officials said its inclusion in the tax proposal is purely hypothetical for the moment. The price tag is sure to be higher than the $241 million the extension would have cost when proposed in the 1990s, but officials say it’s possible right now to devote “a couple of million dollars” to study possible route alignments.

Providence Pulls Plug on Downtown Streetcar
Cost concerns and lack of political support at the state level have led the city of Providence to scrap its planned downtown streetcar line in favor of an “enhanced bus” route, the Providence Journal reports.

A rendering of the proposed streetcar line in Providence, Rhode Island (Credit: Providence Streetcar report)

Providence Planning Director Bonnie Nickerson told the paper that cost was the primary reason for canceling the project. The substitute bus service is projected to cost $20 million, about one-fifth the cost of the streetcar line.
The route will be identical to the one the streetcar was to follow: from Providence’s train station to Rhode Island Hospital via downtown and the Jewelry District.

Mayor Jorge Elorza had said earlier this year that the streetcar was not one of his top priorities and that state officials, who would have had to pick up some of its cost, never expressed support for the project either.

State aid will still be needed to build the bus line, which will incorporate some of the features of the streetcar, but city officials hope to use the $13 million Federal Transit Administration grant for the streetcar line to build the bus line instead. The state would cover the remaining $7 million. Providence officials plan to meet with FTA officials to make sure the change in plans won’t throw the funding in jeopardy.

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The Works is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.

Next City contributor Sandy Smith is the home and real estate editor at Philadelphia magazine. Over the years, his work has appeared in Hidden City Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Inquirer and other local and regional publications. His interest in cities stretches back to his youth in Kansas City, and his career in journalism and media relations extends back that far as well.

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Tags: light railstreetcars