Tucson, Ariz., secured federal funding for an ambitious project to build an electrically powered streetcar with the approval of a $63-million grant through the Federal Transit Administration.

Officials with the city’s transportation department finalized the paperwork for the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) funds on Dec. 28. The move protects the project’s funding from congressional stimulus cuts, they say.

The city now must find a way to close the $26-million funding gap for the project.

The city must close a $26-million funding gap.

Tucson also is awaiting FTA’s approval of an environmental assessment, required before grant funds can be used. Expected by the end of January, federal clearance would allow construction to start within weeks, putting the streetcar on track for completion by the end of 2013.

The total cost for the 3.9-mile streetcar system is estimated at $196 million. The Regional Transportation Authority is providing $75 million for the project via a half-cent sales tax approved in May 2006. The remainder of the cost will be spread out across local agencies.

In development for five years, the project is designed to connect the city’s west side to the downtown area. The University of Arizona campus and its associated medical center cause traffic congestion and make parking difficult.

The system is designed so that the electrically powered streetcars will share the travel lane with regular vehicles. Each of the low-floor, air-conditioned streetcars will carry as many as 150 passengers; when the project is completed, the ridership is estimated at 3,600 boardings per day.