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City Council streetcar letter a reminder that north Broadway extension faces an uphill battle

When we first reported the Seattle City Council’s decision that included support for a study of an extension to north Broadway as part of its streetcar resolution, we noted Publicola’s documentation of the challenges the city faced in convincing Sound Transit to pony up the cash to make it happen. This week, Publicola reported on a letter sent by the City Council to Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl. Below is a copy of the letter obtained by CHS from City Council staff.

While Council President Richard Conlin’s office has not yet replied to our request for background on the letter, a Council staffer did tell us that the memo is a response to buzz around City Hall that Sound Transit is preparing to push back on spending its budget to study extending the streetcar to Aloha.

Sound Transit did get back to us, however, and the message was even more clear: a Sound Transit-backed effort to extend the streetcar to north Broadway faces, at best, an uphill battle.

“… the ST2 plan stipulates that scope can only be added to projects if the agency has surplus revenues and everything else in the ST2 plan has been built as promised to voters. Given where we are today with revenues, it’s hard to see us having a surplus at the end of the program,” Sound Transit spokesperson Bruce Gray wrote in an e-mail to CHS.

In the mail, Gray described the streetcar extension “as a City of Seattle project.”

Voters approved the Sound Transit 2 ballot measure in 2008 voting for an increase in sales tax to power a new round of transit projects in the region. Sound Transit claims the program is facing an approximately 20% shortfall due to the economic slowdown.

The Capitol Hill Community Council’s Complete Streetcar campaign raised enthusiasm and lobbied Seattle Department of Transportation planners to include a study of a north Broadway extension in the plan sent to the City Council.

SDOT representatives declined to comment on the City Council letter.

Here’s the letter and the posturing from the other side of the table. Stay tuned.

 

Dear Joni:
We are writing to affirm the Seattle City Council’s interest in pursuing a request to the Sound Transit Board to use anticipated excess funds from the First Hill Streetcar project for work associated with extending the planned route north ofBroadway and Denny. This request is consistent with the agreement approved by both parties in late 2009, the Funding and

Cooperative Agreement between the Central Puget Sound RegionalTransit Authority and the City of Seattle for the Implementation of the FirstHill Streetcar Connector Project.

Currently, City transportation staff estimate Seattle can build the Council-approved First Hill Streetcar route for $125.4 million, which includes design and construction contingencies. Given this, the City is confident that “excess” funds will be available from the $132.8 million in ST2 capital funds budgeted for the First Hill Streetcar. At this stage, the City is only seeking $750,000 ofthe $7.4 million in anticipated excess funds for conceptual engineering and environmental review associated with extending the route. This will still leave a $6.7 million “cushion” that could be tapped in the event the Council-approved route between Pioneer Square and Broadway and Denny incurs unanticipated costs. (Should the City decide to proceed with extending the First Hill Streetcar route north of Broadway and Denny, the Council anticipates a follow-up request to the Sound Transit Board to use any remaining First Hill Streetcar project funds, up to $132.8 million, to help pay for the extension. The City recognizes it is responsible for securing any other funds needed beyond the $132.8 million allocated in ST2 for the First Hill Streetcar).

Until the City completes State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) requirements for the First Hill Streetcar, and then obtains final project approval from the Sound Transit Board, the Funding and Cooperative Agreement limits Seattle expenditures to $5.4 million. City transportation staff anticipates SEPA review will be completed in late August and the City will likely seek Sound Transit Board approval for the final project in September. At the same time, Seattle would also like to obtain the Board’s approval to use $750,000 for conceptual engineering and environmental review associated with extending the route north ofBroadway and Denny. In anticipation of this timeline, City Council staffwill work with Councilmember Conlin to prepare the appropriate motions for the Sound Transit Board’s consideration. To that end, we hope that Sound Transit staff will work cooperatively with our staff, Christa Valles, to ensure the appropriate documents are prepared and processes are followed to bring this issue before the Sound Transit Board in a timely manner.

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8 thoughts on “City Council streetcar letter a reminder that north Broadway extension faces an uphill battle

  1. So everything comes down to the interpretation of different sets of bureaucrats. Sound Transit feels all of ST2 money is one pot, and the City of Seattle takes the streetcar budget out of ST2. The question I have is: Is there a mechanism to have a conclusion that doesn’t involve the courts? I can see some lawsuit filed, and all that 7 milltion gets eaten up by legal fees.

  2. Honestly, I’ve had enough. If our civic leaders (and voters!) had showed some foresight and even a modicum of ability to plan for growth and transit, we would’ve had a complete system (paid primarily by the Federal Government) back in the 70s. Granted it might be old and ugly by now (see the BART), but we’d have it! Seattle’s elected officials and beaurocrats have woefully failed to address real transit solutions and while we’re currently making progress, the system is about 25 years too late and far too minimal.

    I hope the neighborhood fights back HARD and makes Sound Transit realize that they can’t just “connect the stations”, regardless of what their directives are, without looking at the real negative impact of a streetcar that doesn’t include all of Broadway. It’s a kiss of death to leave a third of the business district unconnected and there is nothing more ludicrous than the idea of a streetcar turnaround at Broadway/John. Another traffic nightmare.

    If Seattle wants streetcars, and I support any additional forms of mass transit, then it needs to look at neighborhoods as a whole and not just as Sound Transit projects. And since they’re so concerned about “connecting” the stations…maybe they should look into a means of restoring and connecting the Waterfront Streetcar again (instead of just fighting about it) and making sure that the South Lake Union Streetcar actually connects to SOMETHING! But I digress…

    Grow up, Seattle…”world class” cities have world class transit.

  3. You have it exactly right. We need to argue that the $132 million allocated by ST2 for the streetcar should stay with the streetcar. ST2 is not one big pot of money–it is a whole bunch of projects with different budgets. They want to reward SDOT for being frugal by taking away the savings for other projects? That is a terrible way to operate. They are basically providing a reverse incentive for SDOT to not be frugal just to get full use of the funding. If SDOT can keep the streetcar project under budget, the excess should be used to improve and expand the streetcar, end of story.

  4. While I support the idea that the streetcar should extend to Aloha, it’s simply not the responsibility of Sound Transit. We’re in a recession which likely wasn’t predicted by the revenue forecasters for ST2. Revenues are down but the expectations for the projects are still there. If there is money available, it should go back into the pool to help out funding other projects for the sub-area (i.e. extending Light Rail to Northgate).

    If Seattle wants the extension, Seattle should pony up the money.

  5. They are only requesting $750k out of the millions remaining to just design the extension, which could open it up to federal grants. The potential return on investment could be huge for Sound Transit through increased accessibility and ridership. $750k is a fair and worthy reward to SDOT for being frugal by $7.4 million.

  6. But SDOT isn’t being frugal. The only reason why there is a thought that there will be a surplus is because the construction bids are coming in low due to the lack of work in this economy. You could even make a case that SDOT is actually being more loose with the money when considering ideas such as a cycle track along Broadway.

  7. ST is not going to release this funding, period. What we should be doing is getting the City to ask Patty Murray for an earmark of $750,000 to fund the design and engineering of the streetcar extension. Murray chairs the Transportation Approps subcommittee, and that kind of money in the context of the federal budget–or even what Murray can get in transportation earmarks–is pocket change. Moreover, the city and neighborhood strongly support and have planned for it, and we’ve already voted locally to fund the line up to Denny or John. And once we have that design money, we can get eligible for federal streetcar grants Obama has been happy to hand out liberally, recently to the tune of $25 million each which is at least enough to build the streetcar to Aloha. We need and can get this critical but small amount of money to leverage much more. We need to ask ST, but we really need to be focusing on Murray.

  8. To be fair, the bad economy also means that bids are coming in under budget. ST has awarded numerous contracts in the past year that have saved at least $100 million from the budgeted figures. If the good bidding climate is the only reason SDOT is building the streetcar for less than ST (and it’s not), it’s also saving ST more money elsewhere.

    Seattle doesn’t have the money, at least right now, and it’s ST’s decision how to spend their money. We should be asking the feds, because they do have the money and will spend it on this.