At the August 19 County Commissioners Meeting, the Commissioners approved the 2009 Lancaster County Urban Enhancement Funds, a $2 million package that includes a $20,000 grant contributing to a feasibility study regarding the installation of a streetcar system in downtown Lancaster. The Commissioners passed the funding, but appended deliberate requirements that the study be an independent and comprehensive analysis of such a system’s technical and financial feasibility.
The study was discussed at length by the Commissioners at their August 18 Work Session, as previously reported by NewsLanc.
Prior to the vote, Mayor Rick Gray addressed the Commissioners to stress that this study is being requested by the City of Lancaster and not any private group committed to the installation of downtown streetcars. Gray asserted that the proposed streetcar project is, in no way, a foregone conclusion on the City’s part. Gray also noted that the study will be considering a broad range of options, which could include the use of cars smaller than the one displayed on North Prince Street.
A NewsLanc reporter noted that, with the scarcity of working streetcar systems in the United States, there may be few—if any—firms qualified to undertake such a study with appropriate scrutiny and objectivity. The Commissioners were asked whether they might consider retaining “veto power” in the eventual selection of this firm. The Commissioners stated in response that they do not typically play such a role, however they did note that the Planning Commission will remain involved with the funding allocation process, which would include the selection of a firm.
Gray also responded by claiming that, with other US cities now introducing streetcar systems, there are a number of firms throughout the country that are qualified and experienced for such a study.
Before taking the final vote, Commissioner Stuckey asserted that the Commissioners’ approval of funding for the streetcar feasibility study does not mean that the Commissioners presently support the project. Stuckey described himself as “skeptical.” Scott Martin stated that the approval of this funding should not be viewed as an act of project “ramroding.”
The Commissioners approved the funding, but attached the following set of conditions:
Measurable Outcomes That Relate To This Project:
• Downtown Revitalization
Determination of Project Success:
The economic impact analysis and the engineering study will show if a streetcar system would be sustainable without reliance on taxpayer dollars.
That this be an independent, comprehensive study that will assess the impact of a streetcar system in the downtown, and that the preliminary engineering study will assess the impact of a streetcar system on the City’s infrastructure and streetscape. The identification of strategies for ensuring the long-term financial sustainability of a streetcar system with and without public subsidies should also be determined in this study.
Mayor Gray said that he agreed with the added conditions.
Citizens Bill Bonano and Bonnie Miller each strongly voiced their disapproval of the $20,000 expenditure, citing that it would simply encourage the spending of $150,000 on what they considered to be an absurd project. Bonano took a particularly firm tone with the Commissioners, asserting that he was “very disappointed” in their decision.
For more NewLanc coverage of the proposed downtown streetcar project, please click here.