Streetcar Projects Flourish as Cities Seek to Attract Businesses, Millennials.
Jeffrey Boothe, Managing Principal at InfraStrategies discusses Streetcar projects with Progressive Railroading’s Julie Sneider. "There’s a growing understanding among cities about the decisions companies make about where they want to locate their headquarters: They want to attract a certain segment of the workforce, which is the millennials,”
Oklahoma City is among the latest U.S. municipalities that have built or are about to build streetcar systems in recent years. Currently, there are four communities that are building or about to start construction of starter systems: Oklahoma City; Milwaukee; Tempe, Arizona; and Orange County, California.
Two of those — Oklahoma City and Milwaukee — are slated to open their lines this year.
The genesis for many of the streetcar systems built in more recent years was a change in how the U.S. government defines transit-rail projects that qualify for federal funding, according to Jeffrey Boothe, a consultant who has advised many of the nation’s streetcar projects.
Boothe, who began working with cities interested in building systems in the early 2000s, has represented the Community Streetcar Coalition, which was formed “to try to advance the ability for streetcar projects to be funded.”
Criteria for evaluating transit-rail projects for federal funding was “not very friendly” toward streetcar projects during President George W. Bush’s administration, Boothe notes.
However, Congress later changed the criteria so that more streetcar projects would be eligible for federal financial support. Subsequently, the Obama administration bolstered funding levels through various grant programs, including the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) and Capital Investment Grant programs.
By 2014, there were 12 operating streetcar systems, seven new systems under construction and another 21 systems in the planning stages, according to a Congressional Research Service report.
Many projects under construction now are extensions to starter streetcar lines totaling less than a few miles. Communities have expanded their systems in recent years as more federal grants became available.
Besides funding, demographic changes and the demands of employers are driving streetcar construction trends, Boothe says.
“There’s a growing understanding among cities about the decisions companies make about where they want to locate their headquarters: They want to attract a certain segment of the workforce, which is the millennials,” he says, and adds that many millennials tend to pick where they want to live before they choose an employer.
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