The head of the City Council’s transportation committee says the Council’s late-July letter to Sound Transit spelling out Seattle’s desire for a study of an extension of the First Hill streetcar line isn’t the first salvo in a war. And, he says, we might not be calling it the First Hill streetcar much longer, either. More on that, below.
“I don’t anticipate a fight at all,” City Council member Tom Rasmussen told CHS this week. “No one has indicated opposition from the Sound Transit board.”
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, Publicola talked with Issaquah deputy council president Fred Butler, head of the Sound Transit board’s capital committee. “We have an agreement with the city of Seattle for a certain scope of work and for a certain amount,” Butler told ‘Cola.
The City Council’s July letter to Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl looks like it could be a reaction to that sentiment. One Council staffer did tell us that the memo is a response to buzz around City Hall that Sound Transit is planning to push back on spending to study extending the streetcar to Aloha. Add to that a growing deficit for future Sound Transit projects and things look bleak for the extension.
But Rasmussen tells us this week that the letter is simply a first step in formalizing the Seattle Department of Transportation’s plan to repurpose cost savings from the bids to build the streetcar line as planned to John. “I haven’t heard that there is opposition to this,” Rasmussen said. “This is a fully funded project. I think that any effort to take funds away will face a very difficult path. Our request is within the budget.”
As reported previously, while Rasmussen may not have heard any push back from the Sound Transit board, that doesn’t mean the agency is sounding positive about the possible extension study. “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 last month.
And the new name for the First Hill streetcar which is actually planned to run from the International District, through First Hill and across Capitol Hill? Rasmussen said there may be some movement afoot to give the line a name that works for all the communities it will serve citing examples from other cities that involve letters or numbers like the A Train. He didn’t bother to mention the SLUT because he knew you would. More suggestions for a name for the line in comments, please. And I know somebody already asked this question but he was joking and I’m dead serious. Really.
Here is the Council’s letter:
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.
Want to get involved in the community effort to shape the streetcar plan? Check out the Complete Streetcar Campaign’s Facebook page for information on their initiatives and next planning meetings.