TxDOT approves $97 million for El Paso street car

Link to article here.

When TxDOT wastes our road money on silliness like street cars that don't solve (and actually cause) traffic problems, they're never going to win back the public trust or get their cooperation to give them more money. Street cars were removed for safety concerns and the fixed track became obsolete and replaced by more nimble and flexible buses. It's lunacy to install them again and waste taxpayer money on such nonsense when this same agency is whining for more money & claiming we can't get our roads widened without paying expensive tolls.

Funding approved for Downtown streetcar line
Work could begin on $97M project this summer
By Robert Gray
El Paso Inc.
June 29, 2014

A $97-million project to restore streetcar service to Downtown El Paso has received state funding and construction could start as soon as August.

Sometimes called trolleys, the streetcars were a part of life and work in El Paso until the early 1970s.

Returning streetcar service to Downtown has been a dream of many for a long time, but the project had been stymied for years because there had been no funding.

The Texas Transportation Commission, headed by El Paso businessman Ted Houghton, approved the funding last week. It was part of a $2.2-billion package of transportation funding for projects statewide.

But another El Pasoan who also has a lot of influence over Texas transportation issues, state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, had tough words for the commission, which oversees the Texas Department of Transportation.

The commission’s action on Thursday to spend $97 million on the streetcar line has delayed other important transportation projects in El Paso that are waiting for funding, Pickett said.

“Now it means not fixing the Zaragosa and Montwood intersection (in Far East El Paso), which is one of the worst in West Texas,” he said. “These kinds of things keep getting pushed back, because we don’t have enough money and there was just no public discussion.”

Houghton could not be immediately reached for comment on Friday.

Pickett, who chairs the House Select Committee on Transportation Funding, Expenditures and Finance, criticized the commission for lacking transparency and not having transportation priorities.

He said the commission’s actions have also put at risk an important measure to shore up the state’s transportation budget. As Texas has grown, so has the demand for roads, but state transportation funding has not kept up.

“It’s already started causing problems for the success of Proposition 1 in November,” he told El Paso Inc. “We had no organized opposition, but after this decision by the transportation commission, the blogs have already started.”

Next November, Texas voters will consider an amendment to the state Constitution based on a bill that Pickett wrote and shepherded through debates and opposition. If passed, it will send billions of dollars from booming oil and gas revenues to Texas transportation projects.

But, Pickett said, it makes it harder to argue the state is in need of more transportation funding when the commission votes to spend millions on projects like a streetcar line without clear priorities.

Pickett said he likes the streetcar project. But as it was originally presented, he said, the project was to be paid for by federal funds or a public private partnership with Downtown developers.

Pickett’s committee is set to meet on Wednesday in Austin and on the agenda is a discussion about TxDOT’s lack of priorities statewide.

“It will be a lively discussion,” he said.

Two years ago, City Council agreed to spend $4.7 million to complete the final design of the Downtown streetcar line. If the city would do that, Houghton promised he would find funding for the project.

In its heyday, El Paso’s streetcar system had 63 miles of track, 17 routes and 100 electric cars, according to local streetcar historians.

What the city proposes to reconstruct is only a very small portion of that system in Downtown. The streetcars would travel north up Stanton Street and back south down Oregon Street, according to plans.

The five-mile route would start near the Paso Del Norte port of entry in Downtown, run through the historic, arts, entertainment and shopping districts, pass by El Paso Community College’s Rio Grande Campus and loop around the University of Texas at El Paso.