Chatham Area Transit brings streetcar plan to City Council - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Chatham Area Transit presents streetcar plan

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(Source: Chatham Area Transit) (Source: Chatham Area Transit)

Chatham Area Transit is pitching a plan to use property taxes to build a streetcar system in Savannah.

The project would cost $56.5 million. CAT wants to take out loans to pay for the project and pay that back with property taxes.

The transit authority wants to build a trolley system that connects Savannah's middle and lower income east and west sides to downtown.

The proposal says that streetcar lines would run from Stiles Avenue down River Street and to Randolph Street, then from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to Gwinnett Street.

The idea is that would spur economic development in those areas and make property values go up. As the values go up so would tax revenue.

That anticipated revenue is what the transit authority would use to repay the loans. But the key here is anticipated.

If property values don't go up, the city would still be on the hook to pay back the loans. Savannah just had to shell out $10 million for a similar tax anticipation district, commonly called a TAD, for economic development on the east side.

"It is financially hurting the city, so I'm very hesitant about going into another TAD. It does leave a bad taste in my mouth," said Councilwoman Mary Ellen Sprague.

Many City Council members say they're worried about the timing of this project.

The city's budget is $4 million short next year. Plus there have been two recent multimillion-dollar legal judgments against Savannah that the city is still fighting in court.

"I think that sophisticated cities have sophisticated transportation systems. And the reality is, Savannah should be no different. We deserve to have a world-class transportation system," said Mayor Pro-Tem Van Johnson.

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