Los Angeles

The LA Streetcar Project May Not Be Ready Until 2021

In 2013, it was estimated that the streetcar would be open for business in 2016.

The debut of the downtown Los Angeles Streetcar has been pushed back by seven months to July 2021, and the project also lacks all the available funding needed to meet the new deadline, according to a report approved Wednesday by the City Council's Transportation Committee.

The project has been long in the works, and this is not the first delay, as it was estimated in 2013 that the streetcar would be ready to open for business in 2016.

The planned streetcar would run in a loop from the Civic Center area where City Hall and other major government centers are located to the Convention Center, traveling through the Financial District and other downtown neighborhoods.

Funding is still an issue for the project, as the report from the Office of the City Administrative Officer, the Bureau of Engineering and the Department of Transportation outlines. The report also included a new project cost estimate of $274.2 million, which is up from $250 million, with finance charges bringing the total to $290.7 million.

Despite the delay and additional funding hoops that need to be jumped through, Councilman Jose Huizar said he was optimistic the project was back on track.

"This report sets us on a path that I think we can get to finalizing this much-anticipated project," said Huizar, whose 14th Council District includes much of the streetcar's proposed route.

At least $200 million could come from Measure M funds, a county sales tax hike approved by voters last November, but the Measure M money isn't available until 2053. The report recommends that LADOT ask Metro to move up the schedule to release the funds early.

Measure M includes a provision that allows funding to be accelerated with an amendment and approval by a two-thirds vote of the Metro Board of Directors.

The project also has $10 million in funding from the former CRA/LA, $1 million in city Measure R local return funds and $3.3 million in transfers of floor-area rights funds. A total of $85 million is also available from a 2012 property tax approved by downtown voters for the project.

The city is also going to apply for a $100 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration, according to the report. But even if that money is secured, the project would still be over $91 million short, making the early availability of the Measure M money crucial to the project.

Councilwoman Nury Martinez, who represents the northeast San Fernando Valley, said she was concerned moving up the streetcar could mean projects in the Valley would get pushed back.

"I'm just worried that we start having this conversation about accelerating projects that are this far down the list, that something's got to give. And nothing as far as I'm concerned should give in the Valley, because we just simply do not have the rail and the transportation projects that we were promised decades ago and have never come to fruition, and I cannot support anything that looks at accelerating anything else that impacts Valley projects," Martinez said.

Huizar said what LADOT could do is ask Metro to explain the source of funding in Measure M and if the project would be competing with the Valley or other areas.

"We would not move on anything before we have the full analysis before us," Huizar said.

Councilman Mike Bonin, who chairs the Transportation Committee, said he thought he could "wordsmith us to a kumbaya" and recommended that LADOT begin the process of making a request to Metro on moving up the funds. But he said the city should not officially submit the request until the council receives the report from Metro on how the move could impact other projects.

The committee approved the wording in the recommendation, which will go with the staff report to the full City Council for a vote.

Bonin, who is on the Metro board, also said he believed Measure M had different pots of money and accelerating the streetcar would not likely impact the Valley or other geographic areas.

"I always love to do kumbaya with the Valley, so thank you for working that out with us, Mr. Bonin," Huizar said.

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