Work Begins on Columbus Streetcar Proposal

One of Tampa's streetcars
One of Tampa's streetcars

Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman first announced his plans to consider a streetcar system for the downtown area in his state of the city address in February. Now a group made up of business, neighborhood and transportation leaders is studying to see if the idea is feasible.

“The key questions are: how much would it cost, how is it paid for, how is it build, how is it operated? And these are all very complicated issues that, frankly, we have to resolve before we can go forward,” Coleman said.

Mayor Coleman said these concerns will be addressed over the next several months as the group meets.

Group members were briefed on how other cities operate their streetcar systems. A member of the Community Streetcar Coalition, Jeff Boothe, advises both public and private sectors on federal transportation laws. Boothe said, while the actual operation of the streetcars may not pay for the project itself, the revenue that comes from development around the streetcars will.

“The economic development that happens adjacent to the streetcar that will return to the taxpayer more than any investment that they make in the streetcar because of the way it’ll attract and concentrate development in the project corridor. And every city that’s built a rail system has seen that development impact as a result of their investment. And that returns money to the taxpayer through increased property taxes and enhanced property values,” Boothe said.

One example Boothe used was Portland, Oregon. Portland opened its first streetcar line five years ago and extended line service in 2005. Boothe said new development along the area where the streetcars run has exceeded $1.5 billion since the city announced the line in 1997.

The exact route of a streetcar system in Columbus has not been determined, but it will be downtown. One of the major concerns is how much a project in Columbus would cost. Neither Boothe nor Coleman could answer that question. Boothe said every job varies in price. According to information Boothe provided group workers the streetcar system in Tampa, Florida cost $53.5 million to construct. The city paid for about a quarter of the project. State and federal grants paid for the rest.

Coleman said he’s not sure at this time what role the city would play in paying for a streetcar line. But he said it will be applying for its own federal grants. The group will meet five more times over the next four months.

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