The city council's Transportation and Environment Committee meeting just wrapped, with Assistant City Manager A.C. Gonzalez updating the council on the status of streetcars. Read all about it. But in the middle of Gonzalez's presentation, before questions, Linda Koop dropped this little infobomb: The city of Fort Worth, she said, is going to return the $25 million Urban Circulator Grant it received in July for its Fort Worth Streetcar Loop. The city of Dallas, you may recall, got $5 mil in federal dough at the same time to "link the current McKinney Trolley to the existing DART light rail St. Paul Station and to the McKinney Trolley Olive Street Extension in the heart of Downtown Dallas," per the feds' release.
Koop said Fort Worth was returning the money because its streetcar loop isn't anywhere near being done and won't make the feds' to-spend-by deadline. Ron Natinsky said he'd heard the same thing, and that the North Central Texas Council of Governments was making a push to keep the Department of Transportation's money in North Texas -- perhaps to help pay for downtown Dallas's streetcars, if Fort Worth isn't going to use it. Natinsky, of course, is chair of the NCTCOG's Regional Transportation Council.
Gonzalez, though, said that as of late last week, Fort Worth hadn't given any indication that it was relinquishing its dollars. At which point Peer Chacko, assistant director of development services, said that even if Dallas did get the money, it'd have to cough up the matching funds. Nobody had an answer. So, then.
First thing's first: Is Fort Worth giving back its Urban Circulator Grant? I asked Bill Begley, a spokesman for Fort Worth, who said, "First I've heard of it." Because, see, a week from tomorrow there's a public Modern Streetcar Study meeting scheduled at Fort Worth City Hall. At which point I called Amanda Morris at the COG. Within five minutes, she had Tom Shelton, the COG's senior program manager for transportation, on the phone. And he had the answer.
Long story short: At this very moment, Fort Worth has absolutely no intentions of relinquishing that money. None at all.
But, see, that could all change -- perhaps as early as next week. The morning of the public meeting, the Fort Worth city council's Infrastructure and Transportation Committee will be briefed on the status of downtown streetcars. Specifically, Shelton says, consultants will present to council a recommended route, as well as a business plan that would identify the source of operations and maintenance funding and lay out some economic development guesstimations.
At which point, Fort Worth's council will decide if and how it wants to go forward.
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"Ever since the award was announced, the Fort Worth city staff and its consultants have expedited their study and analysis in response to the Urban Circulator Grant," Shelton says. "When it was announced, Fort Worth city staff and council said, 'Wow, thanks, what now?' They've done a lot of expediting in trying to determine what that means. That includes how much of a local funding match has to be applied, what's the total, and how it would be financed. Fort Worth has not decided what to do with the Urban Circulator Grant, and the Fort Worth city council has made it clear they will not make a decision till they see the briefing and understand what their long-rage commitments are."
Now, if Fort Worth passes on the grant, then the money would be returned to the Department of Transportation. Which is where the COG comes in: It's has some "very preliminary discussions" with the feds, Shelton says, to see if that money can stay in North Texas. Probably not, Shelton says, but it doesn't hurt to ask.
"COG staff and Michael Morris [COG's director of transportation] are staying very positive" that Fort Worth will decide to use the money on its own streetcar system, Shelton says. "We're appreciative of the grant, but if the Fort Worth city council elects not to make that funding commitment, we'll then have to have further discussions. All I can tell you is the U.S.D.O.T. awarded the Urban Circulator money specifically to the project that was submitted. And it was under a very intensely competitive process where there were over 1,000 projects that submitted applications.
"Our focus is to convince Fort Worth to keep the money and implement a good project. And that's where our focus is. If the city council elects not to accept it, we'll have further conversations with the D.O.T. Our preference is for money to stay in the region."