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November 16, 2010

Fort Worth streetcar supporters make final push

Streetcarfromoregon Updated 4:08 p.m.

Supporters of bringing streetcars back to Fort Worth are ready to take their case to the public.

Beginning Wednesday, a streetcar on loan from a system in Oregon will be displayed through Thanksgiving at the corner of Seventh and Throckmorton streets in downtown Fort Worth. The display will be perhaps the most visually symbolic piece of a three-week campaign leading up to a vote scheduled for Dec. 7 at the Fort Worth City Council.

"We want people to touch it and feel it and ask questions," Mayor Mike Moncrief said Tuesday during a break at a council meeting.

The mayor and several council members also directed city staff to organize a town hall-style meeting some time in the next week or two, and invite residents from all parts of the city to learn about the potential costs and benefits of a streetcar system. Supporters need city-wide support, even though the system would serve only central Fort Worth.

The exact time and place of the meeting wasn’t set, but several council members said they’d like it to be held at a large venue with ample parking, such as the downtown Fort Worth Convention Center.

"I think it’s time for us to listen to people on this issue, whether they live on the outskirts or the inner core of the city," Moncrief told council members.

At issue is whether the city should accept a $25 million federal grant, and add another $58 million to $63 million in local property tax funds, to build an electrified streetcar rail system from downtown to the Trinity River Vision project on the North Side, and to the medical district on the Near South Side.

Several council members say the city can’t afford to spend public dollars on a project that is aimed more at sparking urban development than relieving traffic, especially when the city is slashing services and laying off workers to make ends meet.

"To be brutally frank about it, nobody in my area is going to benefit from it," said Councilman Carter Burdette, whose district includes west and northwest Fort Worth.

But a slim majority of the council appears to support the project.

Councilman Joel Burns, whose district includes the city’s south and downtown areas, noted that the local funds for the project can be paid for with special property tax districts. There’s a misperception, he said, that streetcars are competing for funding against a proposed commuter rail line from southwest Fort Worth to Grapevine and Dallas/Fort Worth that is being planned by 2015.

"I hope we make a strong effort to inform folks about what differentiates streetcars and commuter rail," Burns said. "They are interconnected, but they are funded separately."

A consultant, HDR Engineering, has recommended that the city form a local government corporation to run the streetcar program. The corporation would include representatives from the city, the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, the tax increment financing districts and area property owners.

A few members of the transportation authority, also known as the T, have spoken out against the project. The T board is scheduled to get a briefing from the consultant Wednesday during a meeting in southeast Fort Worth.

T board member Reby Cary has criticized the plan for diverting federal transportation funds away from the city’s southeast side, where there are many predominately African-American neighborhoods. Bus ridership is high in those areas, Cary said, and transit improvements are sorely needed.

Other T board members have also expressed doubt about the necessity of streetcars, which they say are an expensive duplication of existing bus service.

The debate during the next three weeks likely will pit residents of Fort Worth’s central neighborhoods, where support for streetcars is perceived to be higher, against residents of outlying areas where residents presumably desire more room for cars.

Councilman Sal Espino, who represents the North Side, said the public needs to understand that Fort Worth has a long-term plan to create urban, walkable villages within the city’s older neighborhoods. The streetcar plan would tap into property taxes only in these areas.

"You have the Baby Boomers. Their nest egg is empty. They’re looking for places to live," Espino said. "Then you have Generation Y, they were born between 1977 and 1994, and they’re looking to get close to the city."

On the North Side, a tax district created for the Trinity River Vision – a proposal to reroute the Trinity River and create an island of mixed-use development just north of downtown – has already pledged support for the streetcar plan. A tax district for the South Side also has expressed support for dedicating its future property taxes to the project.

The $25 million federal grant, meanwhile, could be used to connect those two neighborhoods to downtown.

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Comments

Darryl Taylor

It's about time we get into a decent mass transit system...

Mike Schur

there are some streetcars here availible

Louis M.

I think we need another Montgomery, Alabamna mass transit boycott today!

Chris Danger

I currently live in Dallas, but making a move to cowtown in the near future, this type of transport should've been already constructed AND running at last from the downtown core up west 7th to the museum district, but it sounds like Ft. Worth has a similar issue to its neighbor to the east, which is an issue with council members from "The South Side" trying to run the entire cities affairs from their own fifedom. I look at it this way: Run the line throughout the whole area, from the south all the way to the north side, not to mention have this new agency absorb The T into its auspices, as they've never been able to get it together

Tere P.

Use the money to reopen the public pools and FORGET the bloody streetcars! Service the people who NEED services, not the rich little yuppies living over near the museum district. Use some common sense!

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