City's Going to Need Private-Sector Partners to Design, Build, Operate and Maintain Streetcars

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As we saw this morning, the city's having enough problems funding that 1.6-mile streetcar starter line from Union Station to Methodist Hospital (or close to). So how does it expect to stretch track over more than 40 miles in and three miles around downtown Dallas, which is the ultimate goal? Easy, says Assistant City Manager A.C. Gonzalez: Let's turn it over to the private sector.

After all, he just told the Transportation and Environment Committee, Dallas has a long history of private streetcar operators, dating back to the Dallas City Railroad Company in 1872 through the Dallas Transit Company in the 1950s. So, he told the council, don't think "this might be some totally weird idea that'll never work in Dallas."

Gonzalez said that if the city and Dallas Area Rapid Transit and the North Central Texas Council of Governments are serious about growing the streetcar line in downtown, they'll have to get the private sector on board as "the primary financier, manager and owner of streetcar lines." He insisted they'll want to pay for them, just as they did way back when: "The reason they were paid for by the private sector was [because of] what it did to increase the value of their property, so they made deals with the adjacent landowners. We're looking to do a similar deal here."

At which point he mentioned that, hey, it worked for the new LBJ, where those managed toll lanes managed to attract foreign investors ... not to mention the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System.

Gonzalez said there are "two studies going on as we speak," the first of which is a technical look-see being done by HDR Engineering (which is already doing the streetcar planning study) that would help potential private partners see what's involved in undertaking such a project -- the fiscal pros and physical cons, sounds like.

The city's also about to release the draft of a doc, within that week, that would solicit private partners -- the "would-be concessionaires," as the assistant city manager says. As part of the request for qualifications, interested parties would have to "justify whether or not they would want to put in the kind of investment we'd want to build this system," he said, noting that when this was mentioned to the Federal Transit Administration a while ago, they were "intrigued" by the prospect.

After the RFQ process would come a request for proposals, where in city would ask for "preliminary business plans from qualified teams for successful financing, development and operation of a streetcar system," per the briefing doc. After that comes the so-called Phase III of the private-sector financing marathon, which involves a "request for robust proposal from the most qualified candidate to further develop concepts and strategies and prepare a final business proposal as a basis for negotiations."

Once more, I'd ask: Perhaps a time machine set to 1956 would be cheaper?

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