To get the streetcar to reach north Broadway, Seattle needed to have a plan — for a plan — to get to Ballard first.
Monday, the full council is expected to approve the City Council transportation committee’s lifting of a proviso that will open the gates to further streetcar planning in the city now that a solid plan is in place for finishing the First Hill line.
“We’ve got a great master plan for a high capacity transit system in Seattle,” committee chair Tom Rasmussen said. “I’ll work hard to secure the funding needed for that.”
Construction on the streetcar line connecting Pioneer Square, the International District and Capitol Hill via First Hill began in April with dignitaries and gold shovels and continues today with scenes like this along Broadway. The route will stretch at least 2.2 miles by the time service begins in 2014. The currently planned terminus on the Broadway end of things is Denny — where Capitol Hill Station will provide access to light rail beginning in 2016. A continued push from Capitol Hill community and business concerns has kept an effort to complete the streetcar line and extend the route all the way up Broadway to Roy or Aloha alive. The extension would add millions to the $134 million project but could help better connect north Broadway with the Pike/Pine area.
One proposal would add a stop both northbound and southbound in front of the Broadway Market shopping center bringing total stops along the line to 11.
The First Hill streetcar is expected to eventually serve around 3,500 riders per day, according to transit planners. Extending the route to Aloha would add about 500 riders per day. That study also said that extending the line to Aloha would add 3 minutes to the trip in each direction. Trolleys will leave every 15 minutes and vehicle traffic and streetcars will share a lane as a separated bikeway is added along Broadway.
The lifting of the restrictions opening up planning for a new Ballard streetcar line comes as Seattle has been able to “federalize” the First Hill Streetcar project’s proposed extension down to Aloha/Roy St making the plan eligible for federal grants at both the planning and construction levels. Previously, city officials said they were unsure if grants could be secured to make the extension past Denny Way possible, but now according to Rasmussen, things are looking much clearer.
Funding will come in the form of Federal Transit Administration 5307 Formula funds, with help from Local Vehicle License fees. A breakdown of the plan for the Broadway extension can be found in the proposed legislation, which will be voted on by the full council on Monday. The totals are rather staggering but, apparently, more modest than earlier predictions of a $30 million project. Here’s how some of the $24 million+ project breaks down: $50,000 for environmental planning, $2.1 million for preliminary engineering and design, $2 million for vehicles, and $9 million for the actual construction.
“It’s now looking realistic for the extension to happen,” a representative for Rasmussen’s office said. “We were able to propose a realistic, viable plan for planning and construction — we know that there is available funding in the pipe so to speak, and we know where it’s coming from.”
Now that the extension has a plan for execution, the First Hill project has met the provisions necessary to lift the spending restrictions. That’s also a game changer for folks in Ballard.
For those unfamiliar with the proviso, City Council has been dealing with an $800,000 chunk of funding for planning and constructing the downtown connector between Pioneer Square and First Hill. A proviso was placed restricting that funding “as a reserve for streetcar planning and construction with the expectation that funds would not be released until the Council was satisfied that the First Hill Streetcar project is funded and there is a funding plan for the potential Broadway Streetcar Extension” as was stated in the project’s legislation.
“We indicated most forcefully through the proviso that the First Hill project was a priority. The proviso was a means to make sure requirements for the project were met, because it can be very easy for a department to proceed with a new project before another is finished,” Rasmussen said.
With the Broadway extension plan in place, Seattle City Council’s transportation committee lifted the proviso on rail funding for planning streetcar service to Ballard.
“This means we’ll look at the options for high capacity transit between downtown and Ballard. It doesn’t mean we’ve okayed light rail or a tunnel — it means we will fund a study of what the best option for transit could be,” Rasmussen said.