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Concern over cost of LA streetcar plan
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles City Hall staffers kept mum about concerns that the cost estimate for reviving downtown's streetcar system was not detailed and the price tag could balloon, according to a newspaper investigation.

The Los Angeles Times cites records that show aides to Councilman Jose Huizar were reluctant to incorporate higher estimates into public discussions, partly because of concerns they could slow the streetcar system's progress.

Officials recently announced that cost estimates have more than doubled, to as much as $327.8 million. Earlier budgets had not accurately accounted for inflation or the potentially high cost of relocating utilities. The route probably will be shortened, no longer passing by two high-profile venues, the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Huizar's chief of staff, Paul Habib, explained that earlier not enough engineering work had been done to move beyond "guesstimates."

When downtown voters agreed last winter to bring back the Los Angeles streetcar, they were pitched a $125 million plan, with funding split between federal grants and a new property tax.

The concern now at City Hall is that with no clear way to close what could be a $200 million funding gap, the federal grant could be in jeopardy, potentially delaying construction by several years.

The estimates are a worst-case scenario, Huizar aide Jessica Wethington McLean said, and she expects them to come down as engineers find ways to cut costs.

A spokesman for City Attorney Mike Feuer said he could not speculate whether the cost increase would pose problems for the downtown tax district that voters approved at a lower estimated cost.

The next cost estimate is expected in January.