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Will streetcars return to Fort Worth? With growth comes a renewed interest in project

April 18,2023

See full Fort Worth Report article by Sandra Sadek here.

Almost 150 years since streetcars were first introduced to Fort Worth – and over a decade since plans to revive the transit option were squashed – the idea is again being circulated.

Trinity Metro is considering conducting a streetcar study during the next few months to determine whether there is renewed interest in bringing this transit option to the city, confirmed Chad Edwards, executive vice president of strategy, planning and development at Trinity Metro.

Downtown Fort Worth Inc. has committed $10,000 to study the possibility of a streetcar line in the downtown area.

“No proposals were brought to the table, except we need to take a look at this again, in light of the Stockyards, the Panther Island developments, (the TCU) medical school, Texas A&M, the convention center expansion, and all of the things that are happening (in downtown),” Downtown Fort Worth Inc. President Andy Taft said.

In early April, Trinity Metro officials attended the Community Streetcar Coalition summit in Oklahoma City, where they were able to learn more from cities that have streetcars.

Updating the board of directors during the April 17 meeting, Edwards said Oklahoma City’s former mayor, Mick Cornett, shared the role streetcars played in the city’s economic boom.

“He was kind of instrumental in the streetcar development there in the city,” Edwards said. “He came from the city side saying, ‘That this is something that we need.’ They were losing a lot of talent… so the city leaders really had to figure out a way to kind of generate interest in the city again, on trying to keep the talent, keep people, keep businesses there.”

Previous plans for Fort Worth’s streetcar system included a 2.5-mile loop downtown that connected to the city’s hotspots — up North Main Street toward the Stockyards, east along West 7th Street, and south to the Medical District. Those plans died in 2010 less than a year after the city received a $25 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration.

‘I think the time is right’
Fort Worth council member Carlos Flores expressed interest in a renewed streetcar proposal, especially in light of the development happening in the city’s north side— including the Panther Island project and the Stockyards.

Flores described transit as “an economic driver” with an important role in development.

“It can help the development of the island and connect downtown to Panther and Panther to the near Northside and the Stockyards, and who knows, all the way to the airport,” Flores said. “There’s opportunity in transit, I think, and I’ve talked to Trinity Metro about it, and obviously they’re very interested in it. I think the time is right.”

Dan Buhman, general manager of Tarrant Regional Water District, echoed support for a study exploring possible transit solutions for Panther Island during an April 18 board of directors meeting.

“We’ve seen a lot of community support for understanding what the transportation needs will be in this area as the flood control system is developed,” Buhman said. “Certainly, there will be transportation challenges and so we think it’s good that someone is trying to solve those challenges.”

City has been here before
In January 2010, the city approved submitting an application for a Federal Transit Administration Urban Circulator Program Grant to help fund the streetcars, according to past Fort Worth City Council memos. This application was submitted based on recommendations from the city’s Modern Streetcar Study Committee.

At the same time as the streetcar proposal was explored, the city was also working with Trinity Metro to construct the TEXRail, which would connect Fort Worth to Dallas-Fort Worth Airport.

Notes from a council memo then emphasized that the streetcar project should “complement, not compete with the regional rail system and will not divert any local, state, or federal funds from current commuter rail projects.”

“My sense … is that there may have been some worry that the streetcar project would either compete with or maybe just compete for time and attention for transit dollars or at least resources of some kind with the regional rail to get from downtown Fort Worth to DFW Airport,” said Dana Burghdoff, assistant city manager. “To (council), first and foremost, the most important rail project was TEXRail, before the streetcar.”

In December 2010, city staff presented the council with a resolution reaffirming support for the streetcar. The resolution was denied and the project died, said Burghdoff, who was on staff at the time.

According to minutes from the 2010 meeting, Mayor Mike Moncrief and council members Danny Scarth, Carter Burdette, Zim Zimmerman, and Jungus Jordan said the streetcar would serve only 4% of the city’s population and that the money made from the transit option would not pay back the costs of the project.

Council members who supported the project – Joel Burns, Frank Moss and Sal Espino — said that, by not moving forward, the city was taking away job opportunities from the community.

Burghdoff said the allocated $25 million grant was returned to the federal government. Many believe the funds were given to Dallas for its transit system.

“It’s tricky because if you don’t have the local leadership support for the project, then is it going to be successful?” she said. “There’s some debate right about, ‘Does the transit drive the development or does the development drive the transit?’”

Is Fort Worth ready this time?
While the possibility for a new streetcar proposal is still far from the table, Taft said downtown Fort Worth is “committed to thoughtful, professional conversation about transit alternatives.”

“Transportation and transit are organizing elements that help guide investment decisions,” Taft said. “And to the extent that we commit significant costs and investments in mass transit, I think that Fort Worth will benefit from capturing a larger share of redevelopment energy near the transit investment.”