By Tony Bizjak

Federal transportation officials have preliminarily agreed to help fund a $150 million downtown Sacramento streetcar project this year, as long as Sacramento can come up with local matching funds in the next few months, according to local officials with knowledge of the federal plans.

The federal funding is seen as critical to local efforts to build a 3.3-mile streetcar line that would run across the Tower Bridge and past most major Sacramento landmarks, including Raley Field, Old Sacramento, the downtown depot, the railyard, City Hall, the arena, convention center, state Capitol and major hotels.

Sacramento officials say they are pleased that the project has been included by the Obama administration in its proposed budget as part of a new Accelerated Project Delivery and Development Program. They said the support will help push the project forward on a time frame to have the trolleys up and running in 2018.

"Today's federal budget news highlights that the Downtown Riverfront Streetcar project is becoming a reality," Sacramento Rep. Doris Matsui said in an emailed statement to The Sacramento Bee. "As the project continues, it is clear that the federal government intends to be a true equity partner."

"This is a huge step in the right direction," said Sacramento City Councilman Steve Hansen, who represents downtown. "If we complete our local financing plan, it sounds like we will be able to achieve our federal match."

Hansen said he thinks Sacramento, West Sacramento and other local advocates should have the necessary groundwork done by June. "In six months, we should be able to take the federal government up on their offer."

Among the key steps Sacramento must take in order to qualify for federal assistance:

--Secure a majority vote on $30 million in construction funding from an estimated 900 property owners within three blocks of the proposed streetcar line. That vote is being conducted and will conclude later this month.

--Secure majority approval from registered voters who live within three blocks of the line. That vote is tentatively scheduled for later this spring. People who live in the streetcar district will not be asked to pay any part of the streetcar funding, but their approval is required under law.

--Win a commitment from the state to pay $10 million into the streetcar construction fund. The state is being asked to help because many state office buildings are within three blocks of the streetcar, which will benefit state workers.

--Win a $3 million commitment from Sacramento County.

--Receive federal approval of environmental documents.

--Establish a nonprofit governing board.

Streetcar advocates say a trolley line will help economic development in the downtown, allowing workers, visitors and others to more easily get from place to place downtown during the day or evenings without having to drive and park a car.

The streetcar cost is expected to be $1 per ride. The trolleys will connect with downtown Amtrak and Capitol Corridor trains, and light rail, including a planned light-rail line to the airport.

(c)2015 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)