Augusta streetcar study team in Little Rock today

A four-person team studying the feasibility of a light rail system in downtown will be boarding a jet for Little Rock, Ark., this morning to begin a two-day close-up look at that city’s River Rail streetcar system.

The Augusta contingent is using the trip to complete its study, getting answers as to how officials in Arkansas’ capital operate their streetcars and overcame challenges to get it started five years ago.

“It is a transportation system, so it is not meant to make a profit, but we don’t want it to be a bigger burden,” said Margaret Woodard, the executive director of the Downtown Development Authority of Augusta.

The travel team consists of Ms. Woodard; Juriah Lewis, the transit planner for the county’s planning commission; Steve Cassell, the city traffic engineer; and Brian Plascik, transportation planner for URS Corp.

The cost of the trip is coming from the remainder of $40,000 in special purpose local option sales tax funds that the authority redirected last year toward the feasibility study.

URS Corp., which was paid $37,000 for its role in the study, has already presented several potential routes for a 2.5-mile light rail track through downtown. It could cost $25 million, using a rule-of-thumb estimate of $10 million per mile.

URS is still determining ridership estimates for an Augusta system. The final report is expected to the DDA board in August.

The Augusta team will meet with Little Rock traffic engineers today to discuss construction challenges and with the mayor about political issues related to the streetcar system.

“I’m sure it happened there; what were the political issues,” Ms. Woodard said.

The team will spend four hours with River Rail today, some of that time with developers along the track to collect information on what made them begin businesses there.

Ms. Woodard said she is interested in what kinds of businesses would fit along a light rail system and could potential locate in vacant areas downtown.

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