Returning streetcars to the Twin Cities

More than 50 years after they disappeared from the Twin Cities, a movement to bring back streetcars has reached the State Capitol.A bill from Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, would allow local governments to create special taxing districts that would help pay for transit improvements, including bringing streetcars back to Minnesota.HF 3218 would let cities capture some property tax revenue from land located within one-half mile of a transit line and invest it in improvements along the line, including bus or rail stations, streetscaping and attracting business development.The bill received a hearing in the House Taxes Committee and was laid over for possible inclusion in an omnibus tax bill that could be introduced in the second half of the session.The new type of tax increment financing district would apply to commuter rail, light rail, bus rapid transit and streetcars, but Hornstein’s bill only lets cities use the captured revenue to subsidize the operation of streetcar lines.Private transit companies operated in the Twin Cities until 1970, but the last regular streetcar line was phased out in 1954 due to high operating costs, lack of reinvestment in their infrastructure and growing suburban sprawl.The city of Minneapolis studied the feasibility of returning streetcars to service in 2007, and last month released a report outlining the potential $78 million capital cost of starting up five streetcar lines in the city and potential sources of funding.The report concluded that the federal government is looking to partner with cities on new streetcar lines, if the cities have lined up a source of local funding.Hornstein, who heads the House Transportation and Transit Policy and Oversight Division, partnered on the bill with Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, whose SF 1919 Senate companion bill awaits action in the Senate Finance Committee. Continue Reading