Monday, April 09, 2012

Funds spur Providence, R.I., streetcar plan

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The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority has formally approved plans for a $126.7 million Providence streetcar system, including a financing mechanism for the project, and authorized a preliminary 2.5-mile route still subject to adjustment.

The authority's board of directors last Thursday voted to pursue funding through bonds, as opposed to previous plans envisioning special tax districting along the streetcar route. RIPTA foresees paying off the bonds as tax revenue along the line increases, presuming the streetcar is successful. RIPTA voted March 19 to support a $126 million plan to reintroduce streetcars to the state capital, but that vote involved no financing approach for the proposal.

The streetcar would reduce car traffic downtown for people making short commutes during the day and is intended to be part of "multi modal" system in conjunction with walking and bikes, according to Amy Pettine, RIPTA's special project manager. "Streetcars will help concentrate and accelerate economic development," Pettine said.

RIPTA says it still faces a an operating deficit of up to $10 million in the next fiscal year to fund its existing bus system, which relies on money from the state gas tax. Operating costs for the streetcar system would be comparable to those of the buses — approximately $3.6 million annually — but funding issues related to the current bus system will have to be met. RIPTA says bus servies will not be cut to accommodate any new streetcar addition. But Pettine noted that streetcars offer a higher passenger capacity than enhanced buses.

RIPTA still is evaluating propulsion issues, and may consider hybrid streetcar technology allowing for wireless operation over short stretches.