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Downtown streetcar to get $63 million from feds
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Light rail

Downtown streetcar to get $63 million from feds

Light rail line will extend from UMC to downtown

Tucson's modern streetcar project will be awarded $63 million in federal stimulus money, say Reps. Gabrielle Giffords and Raúl Grijalva.

The congresswoman posted a note to her Facebook profile this morning, saying that Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood called her with the news.

The District 8 representative said in her status update that the grant is an "excellent example of stimulus funds at work."

But why Tucson, as opposed to Boise, Salt Lake City or Atlanta, cities that didn't receive transportation grants they applied for?

C.J. Karamargin, Giffords' communications director, credited community support.

"This was a lot of people working very hard for a long time to make this happen," Karamargin told TucsonSentinel.com on Wednesday. "This was also strongly supported by Pima County voters as part of the 2006 Regional Transportation Plan. Sixty percent of voters supported it."

LaHood is scheduled to announce the grant Thursday at an appearance with Giffords, Grijalva and Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup at the Historic Train Depot downtown.

The announcement is scheduled for 10 a.m. at the depot, 414 North Toole Avenue.

The light rail system will run four miles from University Medical Center through downtown, to the west side of the Santa Cruz River.

The $150 million streetcar project was approved as part of the Regional Transportation Plan in a 2006 election. Besides the stimulus grant, other funding for the light rail line includes $87.7 million from the Regional Transportation Authority and $4 million in previously awarded federal funds.

Grijalva said in a news release this morning that the project will "help Tucson turn a major corner in its efforts to rejuvenate the economy, build a cleaner infrastructure, attract more tourism and provide public transportation along some of the busiest corridors in the city."

“This is an excellent way to leverage federal dollars,” Grijalva said. “The city will be repaid several times over through increased transportation efficiency, expanded commercial access, pollution reduction and progress on Rio Nuevo. This is exactly the kind of project that shows why the Recovery Act was a vital step in rebuilding the economy.”

The federal grant is a slice of a $1.5 billion federal transportation program. Its announcement coincides with the one-year anniversary of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the "stimulus act").

"This investment in our community represents a wise use of federal dollars," said Giffords in a news release. "The streetcar will be a key aspect of downtown revitalization and provides a crucial link between the University of Arizona and the historic heart of our community."

The Center for Public Integrity reports that the federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program received 1,380 applications, totaling $56.5 billion in requests. The program had $1.5 billion to award throughout the country. Congress has appropriated a further $600 million for the TIGER program.

The federal government has also announced another round of public transportation grants. $280 million will be awarded for streetcar and bus projects nationwide as part of the Livability Initiative.

A Phoenix project was potentially sidetracked when it received no TIGER funding. The $1 billion PHX Sky Train, which is planned to link the Metro light rail system with Sky Harbor International Airport, had requested $122 million from the stimulus program.

Streetcar simulation video

Fernanda Echávarri contributed to this story.


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