El Paso started construction last month on a $97 million streetcar program that local officials apparently never had any intention of funding.

If the project is completed by its scheduled date in late 2018, patrons will be able to ride back and forth along a two-mile corridor from the border crossing at Stanton Street downtown to the University of Texas at El Paso, at speeds slightly faster than walking.

In 2012, the El Paso City Council paid $4.7 million for streetcar studies after a local mover and shaker dangled the possibility of state funding.

The funding took two years to materialize. In 2014, Ted Houghton, a local businessman and political figure who also chairs the Texas Transportation Commission, persuaded the commission to approve $97 million for the project out of a $2.2 billion debt issue.

While local officials welcomed the money, State Rep. Joe Pickett (D-El Paso), chairman of the House Transportation Committee, denounced the deal as a “pet project” that sucked up funds that could have gone to more practical needs such as highway improvements.

“Regardless of the source, it is tax dollars, your tax dollars,” Pickett wrote.

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