Earlier this year, we wrote about why Dallas got a federal TIGER grant for its streetcar plan, but Fort Worth did not, even though both were included in a joint grant proposal. It was very easy to figure out what caused the rejection. Two Trinity River bridge redesigns — for Henderson Street and the Paddock Viaduct (N. Main Street) — were included in the streetcar proposal even though neither bridge had anything to do with the streetcar plan. They were included because Congress has started a moratorium on earmark funding, and that’s the way Trinity River Vision had been funded. So the powers that be (take your pick: Kay Granger, Mike Moncrief, downtown business interests, all of the above) decided to try to siphon off some of the federal funds (a total of $17 million for the bridges) for streetcar line. I’ve been told by very good sources that is why the feds rejected FW’s grant.
Now comes word that any future streetcar lines in Fort Worth may be in trouble. At the last council meeting, members were supposed to approve a contract with HDR Engineering to study the financial feasability, best route locations and environmental studies about how to get a line started. The $1.8 million study was to be funded mostly through the North Central Texas Council of Governments ($1.6 million), and the HDR study would not set anything in stone. HDR would merely present the best options and council could sign on or vote it down. The study would take about a year.
Council decided to delay a vote on the HDR contract until April 6. Proponents of the plan (like council member Joel Burns) didn’t think they had the votes to approve the contract at that meeting. The sticking point? With the earmarks drying up, some city leaders think the $1.6 million in federal NCTCOG money should be shifted from streetcars to clearing up the Tower 55 freight rail line congestion just east of downtown. Do you think BNSF and Union Pacific had anything to do with this behind the scenes maneuvering?
People can debate the merits of modern streetcar systems all they want, but most studies indicate they increase the use of mass transit and contribute a lot to economic development on property near the lines. But for the city to shelve the idea even before they get a study done — paid for with very little city money — is sort of irresponsible. If you think the study should be done with HDR, conatct you council member and show up at the council meeting April 6.