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Downtown LA streetcar could open in 2021 — if it gets needed funding

Wednesday brought good news and bad news about the project to build a streetcar through downtown Los Angeles as city officials presented updates on its projected cost and a timeframe to the City Council Transportation Committee. 

Officials have dreamed of a streetcar connecting downtown L.A. for more than a decade, and now the project is closer than ever to becoming a reality, but the project's financing is still up in the air.

The 3.8-mile route would make a 35-minute loop between the Bunker Hill area south to the Staples Center and back – passing museums, restaurants and nightlife.

A map from the third party construction authority shows the proposed route for the streetcar.
A map from the third party construction authority shows the proposed route for the streetcar.

The project has completed an environmental review and preliminary design so officials have a better handle on the construction timeline — with an opening date of 2021 — and the cost, now pegged at $290 million.

The good news is that's less than the worst case estimate of about $330 million, but still more than double the original estimate.

L.A. City Councilman Jose Huizar has been a major backer of the streetcar, which would run in his district. But he acknowledged the uncertainty about the project's funding.

"What financing methodology do we use to get the money that we need?" he asked.

The project has secured about $85 million from a local voter-approved tax. Another $200 million is set to come from the Measure M sales tax approved by county voters last November, but not until 2053.

The city is applying for a $100 million federal Small Starts grant, but the budget proposed by the Trump administration would cut that funding source.

The council's transportation committee is weighing whether to request that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority accelerate funding for the project as backers pursue additional private funding sources.

The current plan would not draw any funds from the general fund of the city of Los Angeles.