Scott Gordon, NBCDFW.com
City leaders will vote on a streetcar proposal in less than three weeks, but it's a tough sell in a tough budget year.
Promoters of a modern streetcar system in Fort Worth are finding the idea is a tough sell with city leaders less than three weeks before they are set to vote on the issue.
The plan would initially install a three-mile starter line from the hospital district to just north of downtown.
"I'd like to see it,” said Nick Valadez, who lives in a downtown apartment. “I'd use it probably every day."
Valadez was among dozens of people touring a 66-foot-long streetcar from Portland currently on display downtown at the corner of Seventh Street and Throckmorton.
"It's been incredibly popular in Portland,” said Chandra Brown, president of United Streetcar, which she described as the only American company that manufactures streetcars. “In fact, ridership has exceeded all of the capacity and what they had predicted in terms of usage."
But critics in Fort Worth, such as Councilman Jungus Jordan, argue there are too many unanswered questions.
"How are we going to finance this? How are we going to pay for it?" he asked.
The federal government has already awarded Fort Worth a grant of $25 million to start a streetcar system. The city has to return the money if it doesn’t approve the project.
But Jordan said it would cost $86 million to install a three-mile starter route. The overall system, once completed, could cost $700 million, he said.
"That's a major commitment, and when you put that in context, we could rebuild I-35W with that kind of money,” Jordan said.
Fort Worth also could double or triple its public bus system for a fraction of what streetcars would cost, he added.
"I think it's important we be critical of the cost and make sure that we can afford it and that we're not spending money we don't have,” Jordan said. “And right now, we have to be very frugal with the money we do have to provide city services."
Fort Worth begins its next budget year with a $30 million shortfall.
Brown said Portland had similar debates before approving its system. It’s expanded four times since it began 10 years ago, she said.
A town hall meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Dec. 2 at the Fort Worth Convention Center to discuss the issue. The City Council is set to vote on the project Dec. 7.
Several city leaders, including Mayor Mike Moncrief, say they are still undecided.