Aldermen strike down streetcar

The Board of Aldermen rejected a Federal Transit Administration grant funding research on a streetcar system.
The Board of Aldermen rejected a Federal Transit Administration grant funding research on a streetcar system. Photo by Wikimedia Commons .

In a 22-4 vote Monday night, the Board of Aldermen once more struck down a proposal backed by Mayor John DeStefano Jr. to build a streetcar in downtown New Haven, and this time, the blow may have been fatal.

The proposal would have approved a $780,000 grant from the federal government to study the feasibility of a streetcar system in the Elm City. Aldermen said they opposed the measure because it required the city to contribute $90,000 to the study, a price tag too onerous for the city’s strained budget.

On Oct. 24, the Board of Aldermen rejected a similar proposal to fund a streetcar feasibility study that would have required the city to contribute approximately $190,000 to the project. The second time around, City Hall obtained a promise of outside funding from the Connecticut Department of Transportation, reducing the city’s overall contribution to $90,000.

“I think ultimately, the Board of Aldermen still felt that the item did not align with its agenda of youth jobs and public safety,” City Hall spokeswoman Elizabeth Benton said.

Ward 1 Alderwoman Sarah Eidelson ’12 was among the 22 aldermen to vote against the proposal. In an email newsletter on Tuesday, she explained that under normal circumstances, she would support the construction of public transportation to provide an accessible and economical option for the city’s commuters, but the cost of the project prevented her from voting in favor of it.

“We all know that these are tough budgetary times for our city,” she wrote in the email. “Which means that our Board needs to set clear priorities and simply cannot fund every appealing project.”

Other aldermen who opposed the measure echoed similar concerns. Ward 2 Alderman Frank Douglass Jr. said he opposed the measure because it would divert funds from more urgent legislative matters, such as creating more jobs for the city’s young people. Douglass and Eidelson also cited the fact that the proposed streetcar would only serve downtown New Haven as a reason for their opposition.

“I figure it would be a wonderful idea if the streetcars were going to service everyone — north, south, east and west — but apparently they are just focusing on certain areas,” Douglass said. “If 10, 15 years from now it services everyone in need of it, I’ll consider, but at this point we have other priorities.”

But Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 said the city should consider investment in in public transportation aspart of a long-term economic development strategy.

“We shouldn’t be looking two years ahead of time or to the next election but five, 10 years ahead for the health of the city,” Elicker said. “If we invest in that infrastructure, we can pay for the things we want now and in years to come.”

Despite the measure’s scant support among aldermen, the proposal has gained wide public support in the city since it was first introduced in a public hearing last September. Several residents testified during a legislative public hearing held in advance of the vote, and all but one spoke in favor of the streetcar, Elicker said.

Elicker said he believes it is unlikely that the bill will be raised again in the foreseeable future.

Comments