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Rising Cost Of Downtown LA Streetcar Line Could Derail Project

LOS ANGELES ( — LA City Councilman Jose Huizar on Monday defended a project to build a streetcar line in Downtown Los Angeles even though the cost of the project could double.

When property owners in downtown's Broadway corridor voted overwhelmingly last year to tax themselves more than $62 million to build a streetcar line, it was estimated that the levy would cover half the entire cost of the project, estimated at about $125 million.

But the price is going up, partly because of the cost of relocating utility lines. How much the project ultimately will cost is unknown, but Huizar called some of the estimates alarmist.

"Some people have said that this is going to skyrocket up to $300 million. That's a worst-case scenario," Huizar said Monday night at a meeting called to discuss the project. Huizar noted that any transit project, such as the MTA's regional connector, has worst-cases scenarios.

The downtown core, which once included a thriving and energetic theater zone, has seen better days. Businesses such as the new Figaro Bistro and Restaurant say a streetcar will help bring the customers and tourists back to Broadway.

"Broadway is coming back,"  said Estaban Rios of Figaro Bistro. The streetcar "will help tremendously [with people]  going to LA Live, coming back."

Some critics, though, are charging that the original estimate was based on wishful thinking and flimsy evidence instead of realistic numbers, and that voters were lowballed on what the project would really cost.

Huizar strongly disagreed with those views. "For any critics who say it was a bait-and-switch, that's absolutely not true," he told KCAL9 Political Reporter Dave Bryan

The streetcar would be sleek and modern, not a re-creation of LA's old Red Car trolley. It would travel from the Civic Center to South Park and LA Live and then through the Financial District back to the Civic Center.
Some Angelenos who remember the Red Car say they support the streetcar no matter what the price.

"Oh, they've gotta bring back the streetcars,"Tom Liguori said. "They helped build Los Angeles. It's a shame they took them out."

Still, even supporters of the project are concerned about the price.

"It's unreal, how much they wind up costing," said Al Olivas. "Even though the estimates are low, all of a sudden, you know, they're way up there."

Huizar acknowledges the streetcar will be delayed. Construction, originally scheduled to start next year, will have to be pushed back to 2015 or 2016 because of the funding problems. But he insists the project will go forward

"The issue for the streetcar is not if it's going to be built, it's when it's going to be built," he said.

Huizar also said the amount that downtown business will pay for the project will not change; the $62 million assessment allotted from the special assessment district will not go up, he said.  Huizar said he expected federal funding to fill the gap, but KCAL's Bryan noted that with Republicans in charge of the House of Representatives, the prospect of additional money from Washington is questionable.

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