The $50-million extension of the Dallas streetcar from Methodist hospital to the Bishop Arts District is over budget by $1.2 million.
The city paid $113,000 to move, rather than cut down, two old Oak trees to make way for the streetcar stop on Zang at Seventh. They’re also paying about $750,000 to move an electrical substation and $400,000 for other unforeseen project costs such as moving utility lines.
The problem is that some of those projects were completed before City Council authorized paying for them out of the general fund. The trees, for example, were moved in March.
Councilwoman Jennifer Staubach Gates, Mayor Mike Rawlings and several other council members noted the spending should’ve been approved before the contracts were awarded.
“That is not the way we do business,” Councilwoman Carolyn King Arnold said. “I am not here to rubber stamp those types of behaviors.”
Councilman Scott Griggs, who has championed transparency in city government, said he doesn’t know why the costs were brought to City Council after the work was done.
“We’ve known since 2014 that we would have overruns with the streetcar,” he said.
The streetcar extension receives federal funding, and it must be constructed on time — it is scheduled to open in the fall — or face penalties.
Staubach and Councilwoman Sandy Greyson also questioned whether the city should be spending so much money out of the general fund — the city’s portion is now more than $32 million — on a project that serves a small portion of the city. The streetcar’s current ridership is typically between 150-300 people per day.
“It’s costing our taxpayers a lot of money,” Gates said.
It’s expected to cost about $2 million a year to operate, and there’s no fee to ride it, Greyson noted.
“Why are we giving free rides to some people in the city and not elsewhere?” she asked. “Everybody else is paying fares.”
But Councilman Phillip Kingston argued that the streetcar is “a nascent baby” that the city has to nurture in this phase so that it can be successful and possibly change transportation in Dallas.
The streetcar was born of “crazy cliffters” who were tired of having freeways built everywhere, and it’s important to look at the big picture, Kingston says.
“This council is so schizophrenic in its support of public transportation,” he said. “We starve it and then we complain that it’s not serving enough people.”
Council voted unanimously to approve the $1.2 million expenditure.