NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Streetcar Projects Suffer a Bumpy Ride

September 3, 2015

In December 2014, Atlanta launched the first phase of a master plan to add street car service lines to its public transportation system. The 2.7-mile track serves a small loop in the bustling downtown at a cost of $98 million, far above budget and more than a year behind schedule. Critics of the project wonder if it is wise to continue plans for expanding the project.

In 2009, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded nearly $500 million in grants for street car projects in 15 cities across the United States. Most cities awarded federal grants for street car projects have used the money to construct tracts less than three miles long.

  • Washington, D.C.'s street car project ($48.5 million) was supposed to be completed in 2013 but has yet to open.
  • In August 2014, voters in Kansas City, Missouri rejected plans to expand their street car system, calling the plans a wasteful use of taxpayer money.

Cities that have had the most success with their federal grant expanded on existing systems rather than building a system from scratch. Portland, Oregon is one example. The city's original tract was 4.8 miles and has been expanded several times. The most recent expansion, set to go into service this month, will bring the total length of track to 16 miles serving 4.6 million riders annually.

Source: Lindsay Ellis, "Streetcar Projects Suffer a Bumpy Ride," Wall Street Journal, August 31, 2015.

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