Building a proposed streetcar line in downtown Los Angeles may cost more than twice the original estimate, an adjustment that raises serious questions about the project’s funding and future.
The original estimate to build the Broadway streetcar line, about $125 million, did not include the cost of utility work, such as moving power lines. That could add up to $166 million, according to a recent city report, and other costs could rise by $28 million to $37 million.
The funding gap of almost $200 million must be resolved before officials apply for federal transportation grants, which could total up to $75 million. The applications and the debut of the Broadway streetcar, scheduled for late 2015, will probably both be delayed.
“I don’t want to go down the trail where we have to keep hitting a moving target,” City Councilman Paul Krekorian told city staff members Monday at a budget committee meeting.
Advocates say the streetcar is the missing link for downtown’s growing car-free culture, and will encourage growth along Broadway, where development has lagged. The line would run 10 blocks down Broadway before veering west to LA Live and north through the Financial District, ending near the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
In December, downtown voters — who had been told the project would cost $125 million — approved a special taxing district that will bring in an estimated $62.5 million.
The updated cost of the project could still be high or low, staff members said, because the true cost of utility relocation won’t be known until construction starts. Crews often come across pipes or wires in unexpected places.
Krekorian urged city staff to find alternate sources of funding, including enough for a contingency fund. If the city receives funds from the Federal Transit Administration, any additional costs will fall to the city.
A representative of Councilman Jose Huizar, who has championed the project, said his office would “aggressively pursue” additional federal grants. Staff members also suggested that the Department of Water and Power cover the cost of replacing some utilities, such as aging water pipes, under downtown streets.
“We’re not losing any sleep over these numbers,” Jessica Wethington McLean, the executive director for Bringing Back Broadway, told officials. “They represent a 100% perfect solution, which is very unlikely.”
She referred to the expectation that engineers will modify the plans to make them more efficient. That could involve reducing the number of streetcar stops or slightly shifting the tracks to dodge utility lines.
If the streetcar line is built, operations will be covered by $254 million in local returns from Measure R, a half-cent sales tax for transportation projects that county voters approved in 2008.