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Local tax eyed as $12 million still needed to fund First Hill Streetcar’s Broadway extension

A First Hill Streetcar test run at 8th Ave S and S King (Image: SDOT)

A First Hill Streetcar test run at 8th Ave S and S King (Image: SDOT)

The original Broadway and Roy street car tracks

It won’t be the first time streetcar tracks have rounded the corner at Broadway and Roy (Image: Seattle Municipal Photo Archive)

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.

Screen-Shot-2014-08-19-at-4.24.03-PM-335x550SDOT 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.

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36 thoughts on “Local tax eyed as $12 million still needed to fund First Hill Streetcar’s Broadway extension

  1. So businesses want the streetcar extended so that they can get more business, but they want someone else to pay for it. Why do I continue to be surprised by this? I believe the phrase “Put up or shut up” is the appropriate response.

    • You’re assuming that business owners on North Broadway want this turkey to go even further, blocking other vehicle traffic and creating hazards for pedestrians and bicyclists. I doubt it.

      Cap Hill Blog roots hard for wasting money on more millions for streetcars, without ever mentioning how the SLUT helped create the South Lake Union traffic mess while never delivering on the inflated estimates of ridership. And that’s without a poorly designed bike lane that has messed traffic up even more, while driving bikers to 12th Avenue.

      Before talking about a trolley to Volunteer Park, what about restoring the Conservatory, where recession cuts were permanent, I guess, so there’d be more money for SDOT to draw up pretty plans. What about finding some money to restore cuts at SCCC? Not likely!

      • The density in that area makes a light rail a waste of money. Spend the money on buses, connecting areas not served by Link/rail.

        Agree with you, the bike lane should be on a different street (12th or 15th)

      • The SLU traffic mess is caused from the I-5 backup along Denny. The streetcar sits in traffic like everyone else when you have three lanes of traffic trying to turn onto Denny to access the highway. (This is also one of the major reasons why the #8 bus is always late.)

      • There are some businesses ho stood with the pols when the planning phase was announced. Whether or not those same owners would now stand in favor of an LID is an open question, they may not even still support the alignment and stop options that have been selected.

      • Having ridden it a few hundred times at this point, the bikeway design is NOT what is currently limiting bikeway utility; the horrible terminus in the midst of construction, plus the fact that is stops just as you’re starting to reach the more commercial portion, plus the fact that all of the possible northern connections (520 trail, burke gilman, u dist, Eastlake, and numerous other options those connections allow) are not in place yet – that’s what limits the bikeway utility at this point. Those are all temporary issues. Sure, this thing sucks in a LOT of ways right now, but it is exactly what it needs to be in the future when the construction is gone and those other connections are in place.

  2. Couldn’t agree more that the extension is a waste of money, that is why it should be paid for by those who benefit from it. If those that benefit from it do not want it, then the solution is obvious. As for restoring the conservatory – mission accomplished with private money.

  3. PULL THE PLUG. The Broadway extension is a complete and utter waste of money. A further extension to prospect as a way to draw more people to the SAAM and Volunteer Park is preposterous. Anyone who could walk up the hill from 10th the the museum could easily walk from Roy, or walk from points south. Better bus service along 15th would be a more suitable way to get people to the museum.

    The northern stretch of broadway already has serious retail challenges that can likely be attributed to high rents (Broadway Grill space is asking over $15k a month!) A LID Tax would only make it harder to attract and maintain a diverse set of businesses to the area.

    Enough is enough with SDOT and their street cars. Perhaps, before sinking millions into planning, they should have figured out where the money to build it would have come from. It’s not like you can’t do a back of the envelop calculation on what it costs to design and build a street car track costs per half mile. They have always known approximately what this extension would cost, and they should not have thrown money at designing it with a field of dreams mentality, “if we design it, the money will come.” As another commenter said, the SLUT proved the field of dreams fallacy, ridership is dropping. A pedestrian and a moderate pace can basically beat the street car unless it is departing a station at the exact moment you walk up, and even then, it is often a toss up.

    • No one I’ve spoken to who lives north of Denny wants this extension, and I agree that if someone can walk up the hill, they can walk a couple extra flat blocks to get to the park or just take the 10. Put the money into pedestrian improvements!

      • I live north of Denny. I want the extension. There, now someone you’ve spoken to north of Denny wants the extension.

      • Me too! This is going to be a nice boost for N Broadway and access to Volunteer Park. Bummer it won’t extend further north.

      • Maybe there’s a difference there. I don’t want more people to come to Volunteer Park.

      • Okay, but I’ve spoken to many people about this and hadn’t found anyone who wanted it and many who didn’t. I guess I don’t understand what the benefit of this would be. Why do you want the extension?

    • The extension to Prospect should be completed. There’s essentially a promise here and the city should keep its word and implement it.

  4. The extension makes so much sense to tie all of Broadway together, it is so half baked that it ends at Denny now. The SLUT has the same problem, it doesn’t really go all the way to Westlake/Tunnel/Monorail connections. The SLUT often has packed trains and would likely have more if there were more if it ran more often and there weren’t so many cars in the way. This is why Amazon paid to have another streetcar added to the line. My hope is that the extension doesn’t take as long to get open as the current route.

    • I Work across the street from the southern end of the SLUT, and I rarely see it “packed” and I often see it stuck at traffic lights or blocked by buses at virginia. If amazon was truly committed to the streetcar they would stop running there 23 passenger private van loop which is often less than half full and simply creates more traffic obstructions for the streetcar. But I digress from the topic at hand: the Broadway street car extension.

      The absurd thing about the existing streetcar terminus at denny is the same problem with the SLUT terminus at Olive way: it is 1 block shy of a bunch of transfers. The Broadway street car should have terminated south of john/olive where there would be a 0 block transfer to the 43, 49, 8, and those continuing on foot would be closer to the broadway commercial strip. An extension with 2 stops doesn’t serve anyone very well, not the least businesses, many of which will just be completely bipassed by streetcar riders who otherwise would have been pedestrian shoppers.

  5. Oh, one other thing: the plan right now is for the 2 way cycletrack to continue to aloha, not roy. I’ve said it before in the comments on this site: the extension to roy/10th is the most absurd concept — why go as far as the s-curve? why not co-terminate the extension with the existing bus stop north of mercer if you were going to extend it at all.

  6. Just another cynical thought. Is there any way the push for this extension is driven by anything other than some politicians looking to get kickbacks from whichever company gets the contract to extend the line? Because really, there are so many “public works” projects that no citizens seem to want but still get done because they benefit some construction company that has bought some of our representatives. Kind of the way our so-called representatives in DC keep voting to go to war, which benefits no one but their buddies who sell arms or services to then “rebuild” the countries we eff up.

    • Big developers believe they will benefit financially if there is a cute looking streetcar stop in front of their giant cube. They don’t care as much about bus stops and electric trolley wires.

  7. Can we please start calling this the Broadway Urban Trolly Transport?

    I’ll accept Useless in place of Urban depending on your viewpoint.


  8. I live just north of the streetcar terminus. I don’t know what everyone is talking about regarding the streetcar not going anywhere. This will be right next to the light rail station. No need to hop on the 43 then!

    Going to Roy or Prospect though… No. IF the streetcar should be extended north, it should be to Republican and that is all. Are people going to use the streetcar for sports games, getting to school when it’s raining, or getting to the ID? Yeah. Are they going to take the streetcar to the museum or the park? No.

    • You seem to be confused. The extension is from denny to roy, with two stops. The current terminus at Denny leaves your about a block from the 43, 49 and 8 buses, and at the light rail station.

      The walk from roy to denny takes 7 to 10 minutes. The street car (if it doesn’t have signal priority, and doesn’t get stuck behind a parallel parker or delivery truck, or bus loading) will take 5 to 7 minutes.

  9. Bryan can you get an update on when the finished First Hill streetcar line will start running?

    The lack of communication from the streetcar people is, frankly, offensive. Their FB and web pages are silent and none of my polite email inquiries are returned. My family planned a visit last August knowing the streetcar would be completed (remember the original, late winter 2014 deadline?) and we joked then that it wouldn’t even be finished by summer 2015. It’s really pathetic that my family is visiting again this July and I’ll have to tell them it’s STILL not done.

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