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SacRT approves new plan for West Sacramento streetcar line

WEST SACRAMENTO -- SacRT unanimously agreed to delegate General Manager & CEO Henry Li the authority to work with the City of West Sacramento to release funding to consultants to finish the environmental and design work released to a new streetcar for the area.

"I will always be honest that I had reservations about this project from the beginning," said Sacramento councilmember Katie Valenzuela at Monday night's meeting. "But we were already -- no pun intended-- too far down the track to turn this around. And there's been money committed, there's been work done and frankly, I think this alignment makes a lot more sense for connecting people to the rest of the region."

This new plan, which effectively sets the clock back to zero on the construction timeline for the streetcar line, was met with significantly more approval among SacRT Board Members than the previous line plan brought forward in the spring. That alignment, a 1.5-mile line that cut through 3rd street with one stop between Sutter Health Park and the Sacramento Valley Station, was approved on a slim majority vote.

Under the new plan, the streetcar line would connect Sutter Health Park with a stop at Capitol Mall and another at N Street before joining existing SacRT light rail lines on 8th Street. The approval to delegate the new plan was voted 10-0-1 in favor by the Board.

"It's about the same amount of money but it would actually connect people from West Sacramento into our lines so they would have more options," Sacramento City Councilmember and SacRT Board Member Jeff Harris said. "The alignment shown going into the Sacramento Valley Station would've been very disruptive to the master plan for the Central Valley Station."

Already committed is $50 million via grants from the Federal Transit Administration. The total budget of the new project is an estimated $160 million. The FTA can provide up to a 50 percent match with their initial grants which would mean the federal government foots the bill for nearly half of the project. West Sacramento will be paying for the rest while the line would come at no cost to Sacramento.

"The type of project we're doing now is much simpler and has less risk factors than the two other versions that we worked on," City Manager Aaron Laurel told CBS13.

But there are still hurdles. West Sacramento's size makes public funding rounds much more difficult and the city has already committed $25 million to the project, spending $7 million already. Laurel is hopeful for alternative sources of funding, be it more grants or a combination of public and private sector money, to be able to complete the project. 

"We're optimistic that we'll be able to tap into additional federal funds for it but when it comes down to it, we're taking most of the risk," Laurel explained.

The City Council can decide on how to allocate funds for the project if they see fit. Laurel made sure to mention that both the city of West Sacramento and SacRT are weary of costs overruns that could be associated with the project and the risk it could pose to the plan making it to completion. 

Despite the challenges ahead, Laurel, city leaders and SacRT board members are optimistic about what the success of this project could mean for development along the riverfront in both areas. 

A completed streetcar in West Sacramento would open up future opportunities for the city to extend lines as far down as Southport, while other projects - including the I Street Bridge replacement and the proposed Broadway Bridge - could open more chances for making the river a more complete urban center. 

"We all seem to be going in the same direction and we're talking less about the divides between we're one city they're another city and what's becoming more important is seizing the moment," concluded Laurel. 

If approved by the Sacramento and West Sacramento city councils - which officials expressed much optimism about happening - the project would re-enter the design and review stages. The current timeline calls for construction to begin in 2027 with an estimated completion date of 2029. 

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