From West to Downtown: Despite city of Sacramento pulling back, other officials keep pushing for RT connection over the river

Photograph by Jacob Peterson

West Sacramento, SacRT and Matsui move ahead without Sac city government as sponsors

By Jacob Peterson

Officials are still working to connect Sacramento and West Sacramento through the Downtown Riverfront Streetcar Project. Construction was approved back in August 2022 through a vote by the Sacramento Regional Transit Board of Directors. West Sacramento’s Supervising Transportation Planner, Jason McCoy, has been a part of the project for nine years and says that it’s grown more ambitious over time. West Sacramento and SacRT are now working together to complete the mission after the Sacramento city government backtracked on its commitment.

“I’ve been working with Sacramento Regional Transit District, who is the rail provider in this area, to design the project in a way that meets the needs of both SacRT and the city,” McCoy explained, adding that the light rail extension into West Sacramento will also bring new stops to Sutter Health Park, 2nd and Capitol and N Street. 

The concept was originally planned as a smaller streetcar rail project, but changed over the years into a light rail extension. McCoy acknowledged that the biggest reason for the reimagining was cost.

“This was a project of the two cities, with SacRT as a partner agency on this and as a subrecipient of grants,” McCoy noted. “They are the light rail provider, so they’re the only ones who can administer something like TIRCP grants, which are Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program grants, which are allocated from the state.” 

Jessica Gonzalez, a spokesperson for SacRT, confirmed that the project was funded in part by TIRCP grants, which she expects will be unaffected by the recent funding reductions in the state budget. 

McCoy said that the original project had ended up exceeding the projected price by nearly 30%, proving far more complicated than initially expected. According to him, Congresswoman Doris Matsui, who represents both Sacramento and West Sacramento, was a big part of the project being able to continue.

“We talked about, ‘What is our goal here? what do we want to do?’,” McCoy remembered. “We decided to, as a group, to re-scope this project to connect directly into Sacramento Valley Station, directly to Sutter Health Park.”

Matsui also reportedly played a critical role in the project being able to keep $50 million in federal funding originally set to expire in 2020.

“We worked with the Congresswoman to put an allocation into the congressional budget for the last cycle,” McCoy said. “She was instrumental in making sure that line item that reallocated that $50 million dollars into future fiscal years was approved.”

Matsui toured the new alignment in February.

In total, McCoy says there was $135 million secured for the project, citing the $30 million from the TIRCP grant, the $50 federal funding and $25 million allocated through Measure V from voters of West Sacramento. The project previously had $9 million allocated by the city of Sacramento, thought its council later made the decision to pull $2 million of that funding before trying to pull out of the project.

“Sacramento leadership worked to kill the project,” McCoy said. “Once light rail comes over into West Sacramento, there becomes a lot of competition, both for business, for residential density, it goes on and on.”

McCoy added that Matsui was important in keeping Sacramento involved, though it took two years to get Sacramento to agree to a resolution to support the project.

“The condition of that was that they are no longer a project sponsor,” McCoy mentioned. “We said ‘Okay, not a problem, we’ll take it off your hands.’”

McCoy said West Sacramento and SacRT are now spearheading the efforts, though West Sacramento has relinquished control of the project to the latter. 

“That puts us at their mercy, and we do have $25 million that we have invested into this project,” McCoy said. “So, we are trusting, but verifying, that this will happen.”

Trusting – and hoping for support from the Sacramento Area Council Of Governments, which has proposed developments that include denser housing and office space. McCoy’s team has explained to SACOG that to prevent traffic congestion, light rail will be needed.

“I think SACOG recognizes that,” McCoy noted, “and they have provided funding in the past.”

Despite the difficulties McCoy and West Sacramento have faced in completing the project, Sacramento residents like Anne Geraghty see a definite upside to the light rail extension.

“I’m glad to see that it’s being looked at again,” Geraghty said. “The city has created a high-density area meant to be easily accessible that would be a great place for a light rail extension.”

Geraghty is one of the founders of the Washington Commons, a co-housing complex being built in West Sacramento, just a short walk from the planned Sutter Health Park station. When the complex is complete, Geraghty will be one of the residents moving in.

“It would definitely be ideal for the people I’m working with,” Geraghty said. “When it comes to using transit systems though, it’s important that it be convenient.”

Outside of the convenience of having light rail, which will stop by the Crocker Art Museum, Golden 1 Center and Old Sacramento, McCoy thinks having the transit system available will also have economic benefits: There were over 8,500 dwelling units planned near the river, but the light rail was needed to support that development.

“Overall, light rail in general helps economic development,” McCoy observed. “Once you get the light rail in, you’ll see that instead of sprawling out to other areas, more people will want to live a little bit closer to where they work.”

McCoy believes there is a lot of support in West Sacramento for the extension, but says his city has still had to fight misinformation regarding it and transit in general. For him, it just came down to communicating to people that they are getting a beneficial service.

“That’s all we have to tell them, is that, ‘Hey, this is just light rail service coming over the bridge,’” he stressed, “like every other city in our region, and that’s what people want.”

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