Tuesday, April 14, 2009

New Haven streetcar projections take shape

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New Haven, Conn., transportation officials are reviewing projections by two consultants, URS and TranSystems, for a proposed3.6-mile streetcar line linking Union Station (Metro-North and Amtrak service), City Hall, Yale University, the city’s theater district, and Yale New Hospital.

But according to city transportation chief Mike Piscitelli, “The city is not fully accepting either report at face value, as no formal plans are yet in place to move forward with either firm's proposals." One of the differences between the TranSystems recommendation and the city's current plan of action is that TranSystems advocates a single route, whereas the city plans to compare four different routes before making a final decision.

Also still in question, according toPiscitelli, are such variables as whether existing street widths can accommodatestreetcars as well as auto traffic. “This information is expected from the forthcoming URS report," he said.

Despite such concerns, “We are very optimistic on this,” Piscitelli said. “The TranSystems report did a good screen of our options, orders of magnitude, and cost, and this is all within a feasible, programmed, measured approach.”

New Haven would compete with a growing number of other U.S. municipalities, including other cities in Connecticut such as Stamford and Bridgeport,  to receive federal funding for the proposed trolley project. Programs such as the Federal Transit Administration’s “Small Starts” program provide grants for the capital costs associated with new fixed-path transportation systems, but programs eligible for the grant must cost between $25 million and $250 million.

Recent Small Starts grants, moreover, have been awarded to bus and "Bus Rapid Transit" programs, which qualified s "fixed-path" systems. Pending legislation introduced by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), an ardent streetcar supporter, could increase the amount of funding available for rail transit options, however.

The city currently records daily bus ridership averaging 25,000 to 30,000, Piscitelli said, but the trolley would not be marketed to compete with the public bus system.