Providence moving forward with streetcar plan

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Providence is moving forward with an altered – and slightly cheaper – version of its proposed streetcar line.

The city is currently seeking proposals for “planning and engineering services” that would include a preliminary design of a 1.6-mile streetcar line that would begin at the Providence Amtrak station and end near the main entrance to Rhode Island Hospital.

The projected $100.2-million price tag is less than the original $117.8-million proposal, in part because the city is no longer planning stops on College Hill in the first phase of its plan. Future extensions of the line would include the East Side and Dudley Street in South Providence.

streetcar planThe proposed changes to the line must first be approved by the federal government.

“Providence Streetcar is an essential component of our strategy to enhance public transportation and accelerate economic growth in Providence,” Mayor Jorge Elorza said in a statement. “I am committed to working with our state and federal partners to capitalize on this opportunity for all who live, work and travel to our capital city.”

The U.S. Dept. of Transportation awarded Providence $13 million in 2014 to fund construction of the streetcar line. In its application for the federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant, the city said it would pay for the rest of the project using tax increment financing (TIF) bonds and state funds.

Bonnie Nickerson, the city’s director of planning, told WPRI.com the detailed engineering study the city is seeking will help “refine the cost estimate” for the project. She said the study will also allow the city to apply for additional federal funding.

The city’s plan for the first phase of the streetcar line includes nine stops in each direction that would begin at the train station continue down Washington Street before turning onto Empire Street in downtown. The line would continue to Chestnut Street in the Jewelry District before making its way to Rhode Island Hospital

The line would not include a stop at the proposed site for the new Pawtucket Red Sox baseball stadium, but several stops would be within walking distance of the ballpark. James Skeffington, the team’s new president, said on WPRI 12’s Newsmakers earlier this year that he welcomed the idea of a streetcar.

The annual operating cost once the streetcar is in place is expected to be $3.2 million, according to the city. At $2 per ride, the city projected its daily ridership will be 2,896. Nickerson said the city hopes to begin service in 2019.

“We know how to move people into the city and we know how to move them out, but we need to find ways to move people around the city,” City Council President Luis Aponte told WPRI.com. “This makes sense.”

Aponte, one of the project’s most vocal supporters, said he believes Providence still has the opportunity to win more federal funding because the city is the only New England community currently seeking to build a streetcar line.

The city expects to begin public meetings on the streetcar in May. Bids for the engineering study will be opened May 18.

Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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