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Downtown LA streetcar project gets new boss

An artist rendering shows downtown L.A.'s proposed streetcar.
An artist rendering shows downtown L.A.'s proposed streetcar.

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A large San Francisco-based engineering company has been named to manage planning and construction of a proposed downtown streetcar line.

URS will oversee the project which envisions a four-mile long streetcar line that would loop through the Financial District and LA Live and serve the growing numbers of tourists and residents. 

The company has experience putting streetcar systems in Seattle, Portland, Atlanta and other cities. It will work with the city's Bureau of Engineering to construct the project.

There's lot of work to be done before the first rider steps aboard, and backers of the project -- including Councilman Jose Huizar -- acknowledge that they don't know what the final construction cost will be.

Originally pegged at $125 million, the project could now cost twice that much or more because of the need to move underground water and utility lines. The Los Angeles Times has reported city staffers estimate the costs could rise to $327 million.

Huizar's spokesman Rick Coca said that such high estimates are worst-case scenarios that are unlikely to become reality. A project to map the underground water and power lines is expected to reveal more about the utility network and help the city estimate costs with more precision by next spring.

As project manager, URS will have to come up with a construction timeline, calculate how to move those utility lines and pencil out an independent cost estimate.

Some funding is already in place. Downtown property owners have agreed to tax themselves $62.5 million to build the line. The city has also committed $290 million of its Proposition R transportation sales tax to operate it.