Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Standard-Examiner: Fed Cash For A Downtown "Streetcar" Loop?

Reader query: Is the submission of a federal grant application for a downtown streetcar loop a smart move at this time, in the big picture?

To kick off this morning's discussion we'll focus on today's Scott Schwebke story, which reports, straight out of the blue, that Ogden City (read the Godfrey administration) is whipping up a last-munute federal grant application, to help fund a "downtown streetcar loop." Here's Mr. Schwebke's lede:
OGDEN -- The city will submit a grant application today to the Federal Transit Administration for a proposed streetcar system, costing about $25 million, that would circulate downtown.
Mayor Matthew Godfrey briefed the city council on the application during a work session Tuesday night.
City officials only recently learned from the Utah Transit Authority that federal funding may be available for the streetcar line, and they have been rapidly preparing a grant application, he said.
That's right, folks; the Godfrey administration is planning to submit its application today; and it only informed the council about this last night.

The story goes on to report that such a grant would require the application of matching local funds, presumably derived from a one-quarter percent sales and use tax approved by Weber County voters in 2007. Notably, Boss Godfrey apparently hasn't yet informed the local governing body which administers this special tax, the Weber Area Council of Governments (WACOG), about this grant application either.

And this is interesting:
Godfrey told the city council it's important that they support the FTA grant application. "It shows that council is onboard with the project and will help WACOG understand this is not a half-baked idea," he said, [Emphasis added]
Frankly we don't know what to make of Boss Godfrey's proposed downtown streetcar loop. All we know about it is what we read in this morning's paper. Nevertheless it seems to us that there needs to be further public discussion about this proposed project, before the council or anyone else "gets onboard." Although Godfrey contends that such a system would be "complementary" to a genuine Intermodal Hub/McKay-Dee streetcar route, we don't know whether that's true at all. As a matter of fact we can well imagine a scenario whereby the awarding of this grant by the FTA could jeopardise future funding for a future east-west 25th streetcar corridor, which would traverse at least part of the downtown area already covered by this proposed downtown loop.

Don't get us wrong on this, gentle readers. We're not ready at this stage of the game to dismiss this idea off-hand. Nevertheless, given the meager information provided in this morning's story, Boss Godfrey's embryonic downtown loop proposal strikes us at present as not merely half-baked, but perhaps -- dare we say -- half-assed.

So how about it gentle readers? Seems to us it's now time for some robust discussion. Is the submission of a federal grant application for this downtown route a smart move at this time, in the big picture? There are numerous WCF readers who've demonstrated here in this forum a highly-specialized knowledge on the topic of urban streetcar systems... and of the intricacies of the financing of them too. Perhaps some of you folks with extra expertise on this subject will step up in our lower comments section, to enlighten us all on the true ramifications of this new "surprise" development.

Have at it, O Gentle Ones.

21 comments:

Curmudgeon said...

Hmmmm. I wonder if now, after Hizzonah's latest game of "Gotcha!" with the Council the SE will get off its editorial duff and go after the Mayor's duplicity on the matter of transparency and open government.

As for the proposal itself, without having gone into any of the details, looks to me like a way to cut off the downtown to WSU trolley line in favor of the downtown loop line, which Hizzonah offered long long ago, I think, as a way to preserve the downtown to WSU option for his gondola obsession.

Charlie said...

Curm is right, I'm thinking this is a way to indeed cut off the larger more significant line. I've heard many of the old "Lifties" say they would support a streetcar if it were a downtown loop - here it is. Bad idea!

Southsider said...

From the SE article:

"The system would be served by vintage streetcars "

We need to sell streetcars as modern transportation, not some "vintage" amusement ride!

Soul One said...

So, what do Weber County residents get out of this? Why did we approve the one-quarter percent sales and use tax? Let's focus on something that will improve transportation throughout the county.

Southsider said...

"Soul One said...
So, what do Weber County residents get out of this? Why did we approve the one-quarter percent sales and use tax? Let's focus on something that will improve transportation throughout the county."

We get a more "useable" downtown! If I can't get around downtown without my car, I'm not going to take mass transit to get there, I'm going to drive my car.

Soul One said...

So, how does this short loop make downtown more useable? I've spent my whole life in the Ogden area and have never had a difficult time getting anywhere downtown w/out my car.

ozboy said...

"If his lips are moving....."

This seems like the same old same old Godfrey game plan. Keep every thing secret until the last moment and then spring it on the council and the citizens as a must do right now deal - no time to study it or the opportunity will go away. How many times can he pull this same old BS before some one on the council wakes up and realizes they are being played like fools - time and time again.

There is only one reason for any politician to keep things secret, that is because there is a special (secret) agenda or something dishonest in the middle of it somewhere. With Godfrey you can absolutely be guaranteed he is scamming one way or another.

Curmudgeon said...

On the downtown loop/vs the wsu/downtown route:

Seems to me job one is to make it easier for people to get to/from downtown all along the trolley route. Downtown Ogden just isn't large enough to require a looping downtown trolley, or to benefit much from it as a first transit option.

I understand the goal, and at some point it may be worth the investment. Unfortunately, Ogden's "downtown river" isn't really downtown [25th St/Washington Wall area], it's a fair hike away to the north. And I understand that, with visions of the San Antonio Riverwalk dancing like sugarplums in his head, Hizzonah is looking for ways to link 25th St. and the Riverwalk part of the River Project.

But seems to me we have more than enough eggs already in that River Project basket, and they've been there a very long time with nearly damn-all to show for it. Be more prudent now to invest in a WSU/Downtown line as (a) a fast convenient way to move people to/from the downtown business and recreational district and (b) to provide a non-auto option for travel to/from the end points and to/from TOD projects along the route.

Look at the distances involved in getting around downtown recreational/business district now. Washington to Wall via 25th: 3 blocks. 25th downtown to Junction: three blocks max [depending on where you start from]. Frontrunner Station to Historic 25th Street, 2 to 3 blocks. The area just isn't big enough to benefit much from a downtown loop, or even in the foreseeable future. But the downtown/WSU McKay Dee route has an established ridership [one of the highest UTA tells me for its entire system] along the route of the 603. Be foolish to ignore that for a much more limited service downtown loop.

I can't see WC funding two lines at this point or for the foreseeable future. Be hard enough to get the money for one. And so seems to me Hizzonah's latest "Gotcha!" announcement to the Council is largely aimed at derailing [pun intended] the downtown/WSU trolley and in particular the Trolley District advocates.

Dan S. said...

Does anyone know where Godfrey is proposing to obtain the operating funds?

He never thought that one out Dan said...

BDO?
Employee's Pay for Performance?
Aluminum can recycling?
Putty knife scraping up pennies on Washington Blvd.?

Southsider said...

" Soul One said...
So, how does this short loop make downtown more useable? "

It might not, but my point was that it would be just as useable by county residents as city residents. Of course, maybe Matty wants a streetcar that nobody uses so he can say "See, nobody rides streetcars, we need a gondola!"

OgdenLover said...

Anyone who has ever submitted a grant application knows that to do a good job you spend weeks gathering substantiating data, projecting outcomes, etc. To do this overnight is asking for failure unless, of course, Matt has an inside track.

Of course there is also no thought given as to where we will find the matching funds. Raise everyone's water fees until no one can afford to live here? Find a way to ticket every driver coming into Ogden?

Ogden Resident said...

Off topic for a second.

I've been wondered what it would take to get the city to remove the snow from around the city so people could get around without busting their butts and now I know.

It only happens if the mayor needs the snow for one of his recreational events. There have been more dump trucks and large pickup trucks hauling snow all day to the downtown than I've seen on the roads all winter long doing snow removal.

I'm glad the administration has the residents best interests in mind.

disgusted said...

I would like to hear the Conductor's thoghts on this circular loop around the downtown.

I'd also like to have one of our new city council member explain this comment;

"City Councilwoman Susan Van Hooser said a downtown streetcar system is vital to helping with traffic congestion. "There is no place to put any more roads," she said. "We need to look at transportation for our citizens."

Does she really feel this is a good project (as opposed to the line to Weber State) or were her comments taken out of context?

Biker Babe said...

what happened to the trolley district discussions? is the mayor just completely oblivious? I thought Shalae & the group were making progress with discussion on where the streetcars would go ... mayor musta got poison baby formula slipped to him in a lead-paint coated sippy cup

js,
BB

Conductor said...

I just happen to have a copy - at least of the draft application - that was submitted to FTA. I'll see if I can post it to the Trolley District website somehow for everyone to access.

First off, let me start by saying that we in the Trolley District support both a crosstown streetcar and a downtown loop. At least at the federal level, these projects would each be funded from separately. Where the local match would come from, and who would pay for the operational costs of a downtown loop remains to be determined. So we're withholding judgement for now - because like many of you, we don't want to pit one streetcar project against another.

Downtown circulator routes are typically free to ride, so operational costs are an issue. In many instances, a transit improvement district of some sort (funded by the businesses that benefit from the service) pays for the construction and operation of a circulator. I'm pretty sure that was how the portland streetcar was funded.

We're working on getting more details on the subject...

oldtimer said...

This is just more Godfrey Bull.

Makes a person wonder what everybody on the Council is smoking, too.

Ogden needs a street car or trolley like we need another Megaplex-----

Jim Hutchins said...

"rapidly preparing a grant application" = "half-baked idea"

Goonga Galoonga said...

On the news it showed a building with the name "Ogden Athletic Center". What is that?

Biker Babe said...

Jim:

excellent equation & model of the problem

BB

JEFF said...

A downtown loop works in larger cities like Portland, 8 mile trolley with a population over 500K. Serves the downtown through the PSU campus. Their downtown has malls, restaurants, and things to do almost every weekend. Farmers Market runs March thru Dec with festivals along the river almost every weekend.

City has worked with federal grants to expand since it was built.

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