Metro

Streetcar project advances with grant

Proposed streetcar system would connect downtown with upper South Providence

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 30, 2014

At $13 million, a new grant will finance about 11 percent of the city’s streetcar project, slated to cost $117.7 million. “We’ve got a long way to go,” said Arthur Salisbury, president of the Jewelry District Association.

With a new $13 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, awarded Sept. 11, the city of Providence is taking more steps to support its proposed streetcar system. The long-term plan would help connect downtown to upper South Providence and the Jewelry District and will require the acquisition of more funding before moving forward.

The TIGER grant will benefit the Jewelry District, said Arthur Salisbury, president of the Jewelry District Association. But, he added, “we’ve got a long way to go” to try and minimize the funding disparity.

Despite the present lack of funding, the streetcar project remains a popular initiative among stakeholders from Providence — particularly those in the Jewelry District, which would benefit from being better connected to the rest of the city, Salisbury said.

Streetcar projects have a good reputation for attracting investment and development, since the routes are permanent once “the tracks are in the ground,” Salisbury said, adding that the routes cannot easily be canceled or removed. The longevity of the streetcar routes lends confidence to potential investors in LINK property — 40 acres of land in the Jewelry District formerly occupied by I-195 — because it affirms the city’s commitment to developing the area, Salisbury said. Developing a street car system is also an advantage over simply expanding bus routes, which can be re-routed or canceled.

“The LINK endorses the streetcar project,” said Dyana Koelsch, president of DK Communications and media contact for the LINK, adding that the proposed installation of a permanent transportation system “is something of interest to developers.”

But the $13 million TIGER grant represents only 11 percent of the project’s estimated $117.8 million cost and only one third of what the plan expected to receive from federal funding.

According to the project proposal, which outlines the project’s objectives and implementation strategies, the streetcar project is estimated to cost $117.8 million. Funding for the project will come from a combination of Tax Increment Financing bonds — a financing mechanism that earmarks property taxes to pay for community improvement projects — Rhode Island Public Transportation Authority’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program, Rhode Island Capital Plan funds and a Rhode Island Department of Transportation land transfer, according to the plan. The majority of funding is expected to come from city TIF bonds and the federal government, with those two categories representing 47 percent of the funding and 34 percent, respectively.

“It has a long way to go,” said Dan Baudouin, executive director of the Providence Foundation, adding that the grant award is a step in the right direction, but most money will have to come from state funds. “People have understood the connection between transit and economic development,” he said, adding that the streetcar system would help the city address other issues such as traffic and pollution.

But Baudouin said the Providence Foundation, which promotes the city’s economic development, has been focused on supporting question six on November’s bond referendum, rather than the streetcar project. The referendum question addresses “fund enhancements and renovations to mass transit hubs,” according to the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce’s website. Baudouin said that if passed, the bond referendum would place a special emphasis on improving public transit at the city’s Amtrak station.

  • oceanstater

    It should be notes RIPTA’s frequent Route 1 bus (Hope-Eddy) already provides a one-seat ride between the East Side and the hospital district, and does it better since it can get around obstacles and provides many more destinations then the endpoints of the propsed streetcar line. Indeed the East Side is well conencted to downtown by many bus lines thru the tunnel, lines that would be seriously disrupted by any streetcar construction in the tunnel. And the jewlerly dstrict is well connected to downtown too, not just the Route 1,3, 6 buses but by walking! The streetcar seems a big waste of money that can be better spent to improve transit in many other ways.