As Capitol Hill piles on the transit projects in 2016, some business owners want the City to pump the brakes on an expansion to the First Hill Streetcar on Broadway.
Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce director Sierra Hansen says some of the organization’s members are less than thrilled about the prospect of more street construction and a proposed tax on businesses to help pay for the two stop addition.
“People were really excited two years ago… but I think the (First Hill Streetcar) delay has made people nervous,” she said. “I think the emphasis has focused away from expanding the lines and more on connecting the lines.”
The First Hill Streetcar line finally opened last Saturday, returning streetcar service to Broadway for the first time in 75 years — but only after more than a year of delay on the project.
The Broadway Streetcar calls for adding two streetcar stops on Broadway — one at Harrison and a new terminus at Roy — that would extend the First Hill Streetcar route and accompanying Broadway Bikeway by a half mile starting in 2017. The new stops are estimated to serve 1,000 riders per day by 2030.
As the project enters its final design phase with construction slated to start as early as the end of this year, funding remains a question mark. So far, SDOT has secured $10 million in federal funding and $4 million in state grants toward construction, putting the project roughly $10 million short.
Using a Local Improvement District is one option to make up the difference. A LID works by raising the property taxes of buildings near the project based on value added due to the streetcar extension. It also requires a certain percentage of businesses to vote in favor of the tax, which Hansen said would be a tough sell at the moment. The chamber is neutral on the project, Hansen said.
A LID would eventually require approval by City Council. No other near term votes would be required by Council for the project to continue.
The Roy terminus has drawn some strong criticism among those who wanted to see the streetcar land closer to Volunteer Park. 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.
Saturday’s launch of the First Hill Streetcar, with ongoing free rides, was a big step towards completing a connected streetcar system in Seattle. With one transfer, riders will one day be able to travel from the southern shores of Lake Union, though the Denny Triangle, downtown, the ID, First Hill, Pike/Pine, and up to Broadway and Denny across from the soon to open Capitol Hill Station.
To do that, the Seattle Department of Transportation will need to complete the Broadway Streetcar, as well as the Center City Connector to run between Westlake Station and Pioneer Square. The line is planned to run along 1st Ave with stops at Cherry, Madison, and Pike, and one more at 3rd and Stewart before connecting with the South Lake Union line on Westlake Ave.
In October, SDOT applied for a $75 million federal grant (PDF) to fund the connector as it continues to study local funding options to cover the remaining $35 million. Design of the downtown line is currently 60% complete. Both the Broadway extension and Center City Connector are part of the City’s Capital Improvement Program.
Meanwhile, the countdown continues towards the first light rail train pulling into Capitol Hill Station on March 19th. Celebration plans are in the works. While you wait for details, check out how you can win a “golden ticket” for a seat on the first regular service train.