NC: Council Committee Recommends Streetcar Route

Feb. 13--A streetcar serving downtown Winston-Salem may be years from construction at best, and no one knows where the money would come from.

But the Winston-Salem City Council will likely act in March to approve the concept at least and select a preferred route that would run from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center to the research park downtown and beyond to the corner of Fifth Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard.

The Public Works Committee of the Winston-Salem City Council voted 3-1 on Tuesday to move the proposal forward to a council meeting in March.

Members voting in favor were: Dan Besse, Derwin Montgomery and James Taylor. Council Member Robert Clark was the only one opposed, saying he wanted time to get answers to specific questions about the project.

Although approving the streetcar concept and a route doesn't guarantee that the project will be built, it is a requirement if the city is to get federal funding for the streetcar in the future. Federal rules require that the city study all the alternatives and show how it came to select a particular project.

"What we are looking at her is the possibility of getting in place a concept that could be used to take advantage of opportunities," Besse said.

Looking at an estimated price tag of about $180 Million, Clark said he wanted more information on how consultants hired by the city came up with their estimates on how much development the streetcar would bring. Clark said he also wanted to know long-term costs, such as the money it would take to replace streetcars when they age out.

The committee majority did decide to wait until March to act on the proposal so that Clark and other council members could get answers to any questions they have.

Paul Norby, city-county planning director, presented the project to the committee on Tuesday. Norby said that the goal behind putting in a streetcar line would be to help people move around and to improve the economic competitiveness of the city.

A study put together by the city and its consultants, HDR Inc., said that the streetcar could stimulate the construction of 5,000 to 11,000 residential units downtown along with up to 11 million square feet of commercial development within 600 to 700 feet of the line.

The value of the additional development could total $2.8 billion, a result that supporters are emphasizing as they stress the project's potential benefits.

Meanwhile, the number of riders for the streetcar during its opening year of operation would range from 2,000 to 2,250, the city's latest study shows.

The city's report on streetcar possibilities said that one possibility for paying for construction would be to obtain federal transportation money designated for smaller projects -- a source that could possibly provide up to $88 million, almost half the startup costs. The city could also pursue other federal and state funding sources to reduce the cost to the city.

Clark said the costs are a lot compared to the number of riders.

"This is a huge amount of money, and 99 percent of our citizens are not going to ride this," Clark said.

Clark added that with rolling stock costing $41 million, the city needs to know how long a streetcar will last in order to figure replacement costs into the tally.

The proposal being considered by the city comes with several "starter line" options that the city could try if it can't piece together the money for a full-throttled project.

One such option would be to have the line run from the vicinity of the BB&T Ballpark to the northern part of the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter.

Another option would be to have the line start by running from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center to the northern part of the research park.

Yet a third starter line would run from Broad Street east through the research park, dipping south through the park and emerging near Winston-Salem State University to go north on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

Council Member D.D. Adams said on Tuesday that she had not initially been in favor of the project, but sees it as something that would help the city economically.

"The name of the new game is that you have to come up with a way to make your city stand out as a destination place," Adams said.

wyoung@wsjournal.com

(336)727-7369

Copyright 2014 - Winston-Salem Journal, N.C.

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