Watch streetcars roll along Sacramento streets in the 1940s

These downtown scenes show streetcar operations of the Sacramento City Lines in a circa 1946 educational documentary.
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These downtown scenes show streetcar operations of the Sacramento City Lines in a circa 1946 educational documentary.
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Transportation

Proposed Trump budget slices needed federal funding for Sacramento streetcars, light rail

By Tony Bizjak

tbizjak@sacbee.com

March 16, 2017 10:43 AM

Sacramento’s planned streetcar and numerous other transit projects in cities nationwide are on the chopping block in the Trump administration budget unveiled Thursday morning.

The president’s budget also eliminates funding for the program that local leaders are counting on to help fund a long-planned light rail extension from downtown to Sacramento International Airport.

Local transportation officials nonetheless say they hope to persuade Congress and the administration to maintain spending for transit and road projects when a final federal budget is approved later this year.

The Trump budget proposes massive federal spending cuts across the board. In the transportation realm, that includes proposed reductions to the programs used to finance transit projects, such as the proposed streetcar, light rail, commuter trains and express buses.

The Trump budget proposes a 13 percent cut in transportation spending overall, including funding for roads.

RELATED: Large Sacramento downtown property owners to vote on streetcar tax

Sacramento and West Sacramento officials had hoped to win $75 million to $100 million in critical federal funds to build a four-mile trolley line linking the two cities. They say it would serve as an economic development tool and a way of allowing future downtown residents to get around easier without using cars.

“Without federal funds, this project is infeasible,” said Sacramento City Councilman Steve Hansen, a streetcar proponent.

West Sacramento Mayor Chris Cabaldon, however, said local officials have heard that Trump’s expected $1 trillion infrastructure package could include potential money for projects like the streetcar that also have private funding sources. The city has expected some downtown Sacramento property owners to chip in.

“We’ll see what that proposal looks like when that package is (unveiled),” Cabaldon said.

Sacramento Regional Transit chief Henry Li said he suspects the Trump administration’s planned but not-yet-unveiled trillion-dollar infrastructure package may include some way to allow projects like the proposed airport light rail line to compete for funding, but probably only if the local agency is innovative in bringing some private funding into the mix.

“I am optimistic we will find an innovative way to make that happen,” Li said. “This (airport light rail) project is at the top of this region’s priority.”

Sacramento Rep. Doris Matsui, a transit advocate and Trump critic, said the budget overall reflects “misguided values.”

“It is clear from this proposed budget that there will be major challenges ahead,” she said.

The president’s spending proposal cuts funds to Amtrak for long distance trains, but appears to be supportive of Amtrak partnerships with states for more localized trains, such as the the Capitol Corridor inter-city passenger rail system.

It also cuts the federal TIGER grant program that provided half of the funding for the city’s recently completed downtown train depot rehabilitation project.

The California Transit Association and American Public Transit Association, whose members were in D.C. this week lobbying the Trump administration for support, issued statements expressing disappointment.

“The federal government currently covers only 43 percent of all capital spending for public transit, and any cuts will only add to the significant shortfall that already exists,” the APTA said in a press statement.

A ride on the Portland streetcars shows that streetcars are not fast, but they are faster than walking.

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Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak