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When in 2014 will streetcar service start on Capitol Hill?

(Image: SDOT)

(Image: SDOT)

According to the current official timeline, the First Hill Streetcar service is slated to start at the “end of summer or fall.” But as the Seattle Department of Transportation wrapped up the last phase of track construction this month, we can’t help but wonder at the exact date we’ll see the trolley’s maiden voyage along the 2.5 mile, $134 million line.

A SDOT spokesperson told CHS the streetcar schedule is being updated and he expects next month to announce “definitive information” on the start of service.

We’re betting Seahawks will be a major factor in setting the date — though it has nothing to do with Sunday’s Super Bowl. While the date for the Hawks’ first game of the 2014 season is yet to be determined, the NFL regular season kicks off Thursday, September 4th. We’re predicting SDOT to proclaim the streetcar open for service ahead of the first Seahawks home game. The Pioneer Square terminus is just blocks from CenturyLink Field, ensuring the line will be quite popular among Capitol Hill ticket holders.

Our very non-scientific survey of SDOT ribbon cuttings shows that smaller projects often open on weekends, but larger ceremonies that require the mayor happen on weekdays (the South Lake Union Trolley ribbon was cut on a Wednesday afternoon).

Given those factors, however extraneous they are, we’re guessing the streetcar will open Tuesday, September 2nd — though Labor Day is a complicating factor.

A September opening would also have the line running in time for the start of classes at Seattle University and Seattle Central.

Another factor is Sound Transit contractors finishing this pedestrian concourse beneath Broadway. The schedule shows the project stretching until the end of 2014 but it’s unclear if the final phases would keep the streetcar line above from operating.

Whenever the streetcar does make its first run, we know Denny will be its northern terminus, at least for now. In June, SDOT’s Ethan Melone told CHS that there’s no firm deadline SDOT needs to meet to make a decision on extending the line to Roy or Prospect. “Ideally we would like to have a decision before we advance beyond 30% design, so next spring,” he said.

Last year the Seattle City Council approved plans for the city’s Transportation Benefit District spending, which included $175,000 for planning of the Broadway Streetcar Extension. The money “provides funding to complete formation activities for a Local Improvement District (LID).” CHS reported on the planning for the streetcar’s push for Volunteer Park here.

Meanwhile, Capitol Hill Station and the U-Link light rail extension is planned to come online less than two years after our predicted start of streetcar service. You’ll be able to jump off the streetcar and onto light rail starting in the first quarter of 2016.

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23 thoughts on “When in 2014 will streetcar service start on Capitol Hill?

  1. Can someone educate me on why spending so much money on a streetcar is better than just adding a bus or three for the same price?

      • That’s a completely different government with completely different funding mechanisms, bound by different votes.

        And it’s worth noting that because Sound Transit’s budget is capital-heavy, they have a lot more leeway than Metro – in a time of low tax recovery, they can slow down a capital project to keep service operating. More rail service makes our transit system more stable and resilient.

    • Because it’s what we voted for. Part of the link extension. I can’t wait for it to open. I REALLY can’t wait for the Capitol Hill link station to open!

      • Um, we didn’t vote for a streetcar, we voted for light rail via First Hill. When ST claimed they couldn’t tunnel under First Hill, we ended up with a First Hill Streetcar that doesn’t even come close to where the First Hill light rail station was going to be (Boren & Madison). We already have trolley wire from Aloha St to Pioneer Square on the majority of the streetcar route. The real issue is that the streetcars were ordered with unproven technology and incompatible voltage with the South Lake Union Line. ST and the City of Seattle should be ashamed of themselves.

      • Wrong. This is from the ST2 plan, which was what we voted on in 2008

        “Enhance transit service connections between First Hill, the Central Link light rail line, and downtown Seattle transit hubs with new streetcar service along the Jackson Street / Broadway Avenue corridor between the International District and Broadway/John.”

        Ummm… What part of “streetcar” do you not understand?

    • The bargain made with First Hill Transit advocates was one street car line to compensate for the lack of light rail (subway) access from a station in or near Harbor View Hospital. Soil conditions, etc made the construction of an elevator shaft and station unfeasable.
      Think the First Hill population would have thought that a bus, even an electric trolly version might have been just compensation for no First Hill Station? Think again.
      I’m suprised, with Seattle’s reputation for nit picking and over organizing everything, that September has been suggested as an opening date.

    • Because that ‘bus or three’ wouldn’t attract nearly as many passengers, either today or when extended in the future. There are a lot of reasons for this, and you can see them in Link already, where the old 194 got 4,000 passengers per day, but Link now gets nearly 40,000. Note that bus routes in the same corridor now see *more* ridership than they did before Link, as well – it simply attracted tens of thousands more people to transit.

  2. Umm you’re wrong. The street car was on the ballot as part of ST2 which was approved by voters. I myself will use this new street car on a weekly basis.

    • You are both partly wrong and partly right. In 1996 voters approved the Sound Move proposal which promised 26 stations on 25 miles of track for $1.8 billion and would be open by about 2006. What we got was 15 track miles and 13 stations, including the airport, which was not part of the initial operation. Let’s just say that Sound Move was “optimistic”, since I don’t want to get sued by saying what I really think.

      Sound Transit 2.was the proposal that completed the line to the U District (at a cost equal to the entire Sound Move proposal) and added the streetcar to compensate for the inability to tunnel to First Hill. among other additions to the Link, Sounder, Rapid Ride and other projects. Of the Link projects, some are underway (extension to S 200th St) others aren’t yet fully designed, must less under construction. ST2 is supposed to be done in 9 years….

      • Even you are partly wrong! The 1996 vote didn’t promise all of those stations. See how there’s planning in ST2 for downtown Redmond? Northgate, Brooklyn, Roosevelt in 1996 were the same way. We weren’t promised a specific number of stations, either. Sound Move was flexible so that when it became clear the initial goal wasn’t possible, they could build it in phases, as they are today. What’s cool about all this is that they *learned* from that for ST2. That’s the most important part – if you want more transit, there is zero point in complaining about the past now, because the agency doesn’t do things anymore the way the people in 1996 did.

      • Also, you can’t compare 2008 dollars to 1993 dollars, so saying U Link is “equal to the Sound Move proposal” is pretty fallacious. And you can’t use CPI to adjust, because construction cost inflated at twice that rate. And even past that, we vote for a tax rate, not a total number of dollars. They just project what the total number of dollars is likely to be. You pay the same rate regardless.

      • In my head, there are three trains:
        The Streetcar (currently running from SLU to Westlake)
        The Link (currently running from airport to Westlake)
        The Sounder Trains (Everett to Seattle and Lakewood to Seattle)

        What are the current projects for each? Where are they going and when are they supposed to be done?

      • Okay, let me list them: there are three streetcars right now, but lots more, including connecting the two in Seattle, in the works:

        1) Tacoma Link
        2) SLU
        3) First Hill (under construction, opens this year)

        Tacoma Link is soon to be extended, once Tacoma comes up with some local match funding or federal funding to go with funding Sound Transit has offered.

        SLU will be connected to First Hill via downtown (making one long route, and making both SLU and First Hill lines much higher ridership). This is in design (after study). There may be some local funding available for this already, and definitely federal funding.

        SLU may also be extended up Westlake or Eastlake (or both) to connect with Fremont and UW, respectively. These are in study.

        First Hill goes up Broadway, and will be extended northward. That’s in design, and could piggyback on the downtown connector funding from the feds.

        Then there’s Sounder, Lakewood/Seattle and Everett/Seattle, that share track with Amtrak Cascades, which is a state service now, not federal. Improvements to Sounder benefit Cascades and vice versa. For instance, right now the state is working on design for an improved station in Tacoma for both Sounder and Cascades, and Sound Transit is making track upgrades to speed up Lakewood/Seattle Sounder. There are a lot more improvements coming to Cascades with federal money (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) which will also help Sounder.

        Then there’s Link from Westlake-Airport, which is being extended in several ways:

        1) S. 200th St/Angle Lake – one more stop south of the airport (under construction, opens 2016)
        2) University Link – extending from Westlake to Capitol Hill and Husky Stadium as subway. (under construction, opens 2016)
        3) North Link – extending from Husky Stadium to 45th, 65th/Roosevelt, and Northgate, also as subway (and then elevated at Northgate). (under construction, opens 2021)
        4) Lynnwood Link – extending from Northgate to Lynnwood with stops between. (in design, funded for construction, will open 2023)
        5) East Link – splitting the track at ID station to go east over I-90 to Bellevue and Overlake (Microsoft). (in design, funded for construction, will open 2023)
        6) South Link (or Federal Way Link, or whatever). (in design, *some* funded for construction, probably only to Highline community college for now, should open 2023)

        Because it takes so long to build stuff like this, we want to line up future plans before a lot of this opens, so in 2016 we’ll probably be voting to fund Lynnwood-Everett, Overlake-Redmond, a new line from Ballard-Downtown (big Link), and farther south from Federal Way.

      • Wow, that helps a ton. I guess I was mainly confused by the two different Cap Hill projects, and the fact that some stuff was underground. Thanks a lot!

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  4. I hope it will be up and running by September. I attend Seattle U and it will be a lot easier to get up there with the street car vs. the bus.

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