Future uncertain for $100M Providence streetcar project

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A proposed streetcar line in downtown Providence hit a snag this week when Mayor Jorge Elorza said the $100-million project is not one of his top priorities.

Elorza, who was reluctant to support the proposal as a candidate for mayor last year but later endorsed the project, said he wants to see if the city can secure more “federal pots of money” before moving forward with a streetcar.

“There are a number of priorities I have here in the city and that doesn’t register on the high end of those priorities,” Elorza told WPRI.com in a wide-ranging interview Wednesday.

City officials have said the proposed 1.6-mile streetcar line – which would begin at the Providence Amtrak station and end near the main entrance to Rhode Island Hospital – will cost $100.2 million. Future extensions of the line would include College Hill on the East Side and Dudley Street in South Providence.

The city has already secured $13 million in federal funding and wants to borrow $57.7 million through tax increment financing (TIF) to pay for its share of the project, but it would still need another $30 million to cover the projected construction costs of the streetcar line.

The city recently entered into a $1.7-million contract with a Boston-based consulting firm for a “planning and engineering services” study that is expected to give a more accurate cost estimate for the project.

City officials have said the annual cost once the streetcar is in place is expected to be $3.2 million. At $2 per ride, the city projects a daily ridership of 2,896.

The project has strong support from Council President Luis Aponte, but has drawn criticism from city residents concerned about its cost. During a taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers earlier this year, Gov. Gina Raimondo said she thought a streetcar was a “nice to have, not a need to have” project.

Aponte said Thursday he is still hopeful the city can secure the necessary funding to help build the streetcar, but if the project isn’t going to move forward, “we’ll need to find a way to retool the $13 million for other transit projects.”

Congressman David Cicilline, a former Providence mayor who has been considered a supporter of the project, said Friday the “decision about whether or not the city of Providence goes forward with the streetcar will ultimately be the mayor’s decision.”

“I do think that streetcars, if you look at the impact streetcars have had on cities across this country, can really be transformative in terms of moving people from work sites to home and creating the kind of transit system that leads to tremendous economic growth,” Cicilline said during a taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers.

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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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