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City Council Approves Funding, Clearing Tracks For Streetcars

By Darren Hunt
Published On: May 15 2012 07:59:16 AM CDT
Updated On: May 15 2012 08:01:45 AM CDT
EL PASO, Texas -

All aboard El Paso!

City Council approved a $1.25 million dollar study Tuesday that will clear the tracks for $90 million in state funding and the return of an El Paso streetcar system, nearly four decades after the last one disappeared.

The vote was 6-2 and many members of council had glowing things to say about the return of a streetcar or trolley system to El Paso.

"I'm super, super, super excited about this," said City Rep. Cortney Niland.

"I'm in full support of this," City Rep. Emma Acosta added. "We need to get started, like yesterday. "

"We have a very rare opportunity to put about five percent down and get a 95 percent return from the state," City Rep. Steve Ortega said. "Austin would love to have that money."

That's 90 million dollars that is now available to El Paso, all for about a five million total investment from previously approved certificates of obligation.

While most of City Council was eager to get started on a two-mile streetcar system that will run from the Downtown bridge, along Oregon or Stanton Street, to the Glory Road Transit Terminal near UTEP.

"Every time I ask for funding to fix the roads in my district, it's always, 'There isn't any,'" said City Rep. Eddie Holguin.

Added City Rep. Carl Robinson, "It was stated earlier that mass transit does not pay for itself," Robinson said. "And I have not seen anything that would indicate to me what the economic impact will be."

According to a recent study, however, streetcar systems can lead to anywhere from four-to-one to 11-to-one return on investment.

"It would be very, very foolish to jeopardize this potential funding of something that could make a large economic impact on our community," City Rep. Cortney Niland said. "This is a very small investment that we are making towards the potential of a billion dollars in economic development and revitalization along this corridor."

El Pasoan Peter Svarzbein studied the idea of another streetcar system here, to replace the one that ran from 1902 to 1974. He said El Pasoans young and old are excited about it.

There's an emotional connection El Pasoans have with our streetcars, " Svarzbein said. "When you look at large scale mass transit projects across the country, it's that first mile of track that is the hardest to put down."

There are many questions about a streetcar system, like who will pay for maintenance and operation?

City leaders say that will likely fall on the taxpayers, but maintaining streetcars is much cheaper than maintaining buses because they last for decades not just years.

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