How the Love Field People Mover Project Fits Into Downtown-to-Oak Cliff Streetcar Project

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Here's a council committee briefing worth keeping an eye on today: Streetcar Planning Update, always a topic of interest but even more so as the Federal Transit Administration revenue-service deadline barrels down the tracks. Recall: In order to not to lose that $23-million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant the city won in February 2010, service between Union Station and near-Methodist Hospital (Colorado and Beckley, to be exact) -- viewed now as a "starter line" and the "critical spine" to a larger streetcar system -- has to begin by no later than December 2013.

But several major issues remain, chief among them raising the necessary operating and maintenance costs, finding additional funding for the expected expansion and "establishing reliable revenue sources." As it stands now, the project's expected to cost close to $37 million, with regional toll revenue from the 121 and 161 projects covering the $13.6-million gap. (That money inches up little by little with each update to the council; October's $6.2 million from 121 is now $7.8 million.) But if you'll notice: The guesstimated $9 million price tag for the streetcars themselves "is not covered in current capital budget."

So where oh where will this money come from?

The Love Field People Mover, just maybe -- the Green Line-to-Love Field line to which Dallas Area Rapid Transit has committed $20 million and to which the North Central Texas Council of Governments has promised $50 million. Of course, it's stalled out at present because of the cost: somewhere between $300 and $400 million, depending upon which alignment is picked -- the one that tunnels under the runway and connects the airport terminal to Southwest's HQ (known as "the Burbank alignment") or the one that stays above ground (otherwise known as "the Inwood alignment").

City staff's asking for Inwood -- it's $100-mil cheaper, after all. That way it can "reprogram" some of that People Mover money to the streetcar project. But everyone -- DART, the NCTCOG and the Regional Transportation Council -- has to sign off on this. And city staff really needs council to vote on this by no later than month's end to satisfy the FTA's deadlines.

Next up: The city figures a real streetcar line needs to run at least 40 miles in length and cost at least $800 million, with $40 mil in annual O&M expenses. Is public-private possible?

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