City moves ahead with $100K streetcar study
Published: Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 8:05 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 8:05 p.m.
Call it a downtown streetcar or an urban circulator, but the City Commission wants to begin studying its possible development down the road.
On Thursday, the City Commission voted for staff to enter into contract negotiations with Tindale-Oliver & Associates Inc., the highest-ranked bidder to conduct a conceptual study on a streetcar system, at a cost of up to $100,000.
The money for the study is already allocated in this year’s budget.
The move passed 6-1 with Commissioner Todd Chase in dissent.
Chase noted that the streetcar was a low priority in a 2011 Regional Transit System Vision, Funding and Governance Study. At this time, he said there are more pressing transit issues than studying a system that might potentially be built in 10 or 20 years.
Other commissioners said the planning process could stretch on for several years and the city needs to begin gathering information now.
“We’re paralyzed if we don’t have information, because we have nothing on which to base a decision,” Commissioner Lauren Poe said.
Commissioner Thomas Hawkins, an advocate of the streetcar or circulator system, said it could take “decades of consistent and persistent planning to know if these projects are the types of things we want to pursue.”
Early talks have focused on a streetcar or circulator linking the University of Florida, Shands at UF, the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center, the several million square feet of development planned in Innovation Square, downtown and the Power District.
If eventually developed, the system could include electric vehicles operating on steel rails that run down existing streets or it could involve a more conventional shuttle bus.
Regional Transit System Director Jesus Gomez said the study will look at capital and operating costs, the economic development impacts of the system and projected revenues.
At Thursday’s meeting, members of the public spoke against moving ahead with the study, saying money should instead go to improving current bus service in east Gainesville.
Kamal I. Latham, the vice president of public policy at the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, also requested that commissioners postpone a decision at least to get public input at a town hall-style meeting Tuesday on future budget issues.
“Is $100,000 right now, today, really the best decision to make?” Latham asked.
In an email to commissioners, Innovation Square developer John Fleming supported moving ahead with the study to see if the system is feasible.
“We must have a clear and concise picture as to costs and benefits before moving forward with any action, which is what I hope this study will provide,” Fleming wrote.
At this point before the study, the early cost projection for the system is $128 million for infrastructure and annual operating costs of $2 million, according to the city’s federal legislative priorities. Besides the $100,000 for the conceptual study for the system, the city also is seeking $1 million in federal money for future phases of the study.