As the city tries to zero in on a launch date for the First Hill Streetcar, a planned two stop extension along Broadway remains underfunded by about $12 million and a controversial property tax hike is likely to be key in closing the gap.
Streetcar tracks for the 2.5 mile Pioneer Square to Capitol Hill line currently terminate at Broadway and E Denny Way, but a planned stop at Harrison St. and a new terminus at Roy St. would extend the streetcar’s route and accompanying Broadway Bikeway by a half mile starting in 2017. Like it does along the rest of the route, the Broadway extension tracks would share traffic lanes with motor vehicles and buses.
The city’s Department of Transportation currently has enough money to complete ongoing design of the extension, known as the Broadway Streetcar, but not enough to complete construction of the $25 million project. To come up with an additional $12 million, the city is planning to apply for federal grants that will include local matching requirements.
A Local Improvement District is likely to be used to meet that local funding requirement by the raising property taxes of buildings near the project based on value added due to the streetcar extension.
Michael Wells, executive director of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, said a LID would face major opposition from north Broadway business owners, who are trying to breath new life into the business corridor and are considering an expansion of the Broadway Business Improvement Area.
“If there’s any way to avoid creating a LID for the project, we want to do it,” Wells said.
SDOT spokesperson Art Broche told CHS that an independent firm is wrapping up a study on creating a LID and its findings should be available soon. According to Broche, the city would likely need to make a decision on the LID by early 2016 at the latest in order to keep the project on schedule for a mid-2017 opening.
Last July, the city secured $8.5 million for the extension as part of a $27 million federal transportation package for the region. The city has put up an additional $3.3 million for the project so far.
The project was left out of the recently announced $15.5 million in federal grant money the city is receiving for transpiration projects. The state transportation package currently working its way through the legislature also won’t include any funding for the streetcar extension, Broche said.
The Roy terminus has drawn some strong criticism among those who wanted to see the streetcar land closer to Volunteer Park. SDOT says that some have even called for the remaining two stops to be scrapped, though it seems unlikely given the millions already sunk into funding the early stages of the project. Broche said that “short of the big one hitting,” the Broadway extension will continue to roll forward.
Part of the project will also include extending the Broadway Bikeway up to Roy, where it is then planned to split into one-way bike lanes going north on 10th Ave E. As drivers and cyclists adjust to maneuvering around Broadway’s multimodal elements, the Roy St. S-curve will throw another obstacle in the mix in 2017. The First Hill Streetcar tracks are already causing safety issues for cyclists as bikeway ridership along the tracks increased 10% in the first three months of 2015 versus the same period in 2014.
Meanwhile, SDOT crews made the first streetcar test runs around Pioneer Square using battery power only. The off-wire power system uses batteries that are charged whenever the streetcar is braking.
In March, CHS reported on SDOT’s new contract with the Czech Republic company manufacturing the trolleys to keep new streetcar project serving Capitol Hill from falling any further behind schedule. According to SDOT, the sixth and final car in the Inekon deal is due by June 30th.
When the line does start running, streetcars will arrive at the 10 stops every 10 to 15 minutes from 5 AM to 1 AM Monday to Saturday and 10 AM to 8 PM on Sundays and holidays.