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SDOT says federal money for 1st Ave line won’t change Broadway streetcar extension plan

CCCSmallStartsApplication10-23-2015Officials say progress on a $75 million federal grant for a planned 1st Ave streetcar won’t necessarily affect the schedule for a possible 2017 start of construction for a two-stop Broadway extension to the recently opened First Hill route.

Tuesday, Seattle Department of Transportation officials said that the White House’s proposed $4.1 trillion budget — the last for President Barack Obama — includes 0.00182926829% for Seattle’s planned Center City Connector streetcar route envisioned as linking the First Hill Streetcar with the South Lake Union line by 2019. In total, SDOT says 25,000 riders per day could use the system — though few would find it useful to complete the Broadway to Westlake circuit via Occidental Square.

According to SDOT, the recommendation is only a first step toward a final grant agreement, which can only be completed after Congress approves the budget, “so we don’t expect the grant agreement before late 2016/early 2017.” Construction of the 1st Ave line would begin in 2017 and operations would mostly likely begin in 2019, a SDOT spokesperson said.

The Broadway Streetcar extension project, meanwhile, is now in what SDOT calls the final design phase and 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 with construction in 2017. The new stops are estimated to serve 1,000 riders per day by 2030. But 2030 and that half mile may only be part of the journey.

CHS reported in late January on the Capitol Hill business community’s increasing wariness of the extension project after the First Hill Streetcar suffered long delays after months of disruptive construction. Funding remains a question mark. SDOT has secured $10 million in federal funding and $4 million in state grants toward construction, leaving the project roughly $10 million short. Using a Local Improvement District is one option to make up the difference by raising the property taxes of buildings near the project based on value added due to the streetcar extension. It requires a certain percentage of businesses to vote in favor of the tax and approval by the City Council.

The 1st Ave route, as long as Congress doesn’t take notice of that 0.00182926829%, appears to have much smoother tracks to run on. “Seattle thanks President Obama and our Congressional delegation for the incredible support so far for downtown transit,” Mayor Ed Murray said in City Hall’s announcement about the grant. “We look forward to working with our supporters in Congress to change how downtown residents, workers and visitors move around the urban core.”

It will also be — literally — faster. Learning from issues already sometimes painfully apparent along the First Hill line, the 1st Ave streetcar is being planned with its own dedicated route and won’t share lanes with vehicle traffic. CHS proposal: Also make the First Hill route streetcar-only. No?

After a few weeks of free rides and higher than expected ridership, the First Hill Streetcar will begin requiring paid fares next week following a weekend lion dance in the International District to celebrate the new line connecting Pioneer Square, the ID, First Hill, and Capitol Hill. More free ride dates are planned in conjunction with upcoming art walks in the various neighborhoods and for a few big events including July’s Capitol Hill Block Party. There’s also a Capitol Hill celebration of the streetcar line being planned for May 12th.


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15 thoughts on “SDOT says federal money for 1st Ave line won’t change Broadway streetcar extension plan

  1. The long delays were not due to the track or overhead wire construction and installation. It was due to the issues identified during the car manufacturing and assembly. Even if more cars are needed for future capacity, the current cars would not cause delays to the extension project.

  2. Before they add another segment to a haphazard existing transportation system, they should plan ahead, taking it seriously. They should think of an extension that could connect with the north end of the SLU train.

    I don’t buy the argument that the grade is too high for a second. There’s 400ft of gain (overestimating) from Broadway to SLU, that means at a spec’d 9% grade limit for streetcars, they need to get 400/0.09 = 4444 feet or 0.84 mi of tracks to cover. Let’s be generous and double it for a 4.5% grade, so that’s a bit over 1.5 miles of track to make it happen. Don’t tell me it’s not doable.

    Seattle’s transportation planners just throw up their hands and say things can’t work without seriously looking for ways to make it happen. Plan ahead for how to do it now, rather than doing something now and living with the poor consequences.

    • How do you propose crossing I-5 along a path that is less steep than Denny without building a huge bridge on the SLU side and/or a deep trench on the Capitol Hill side?

      Why does the connection from Broadway to SLU need to be a streetcar? What does that get us that giving exclusive lanes to the 8 wouldn’t?

  3. The streets from Broadway to SLU are already full, so a street car would not be that great. An overhead enclosed ski resort-style gondola could work. It seems far-fetched, but I think it could be cost-effective an move a lot of people.

    • The Portland aerial tram cost $57,000,000 to build, about a decade ago.

      Others have suggested a very tall tower over the Capitol Hill light rail as one terminus, perhaps a middle stop at a giant Amazonville area apartment building, then how about ending at Pike Place?

  4. How about an extension up Yesler to 23rd, with stops at Pratt Park and the Douglas Truth library? According to google maps that would be 0.6 miles. Additionally, the First Ave route is 1.0 miles.

    1) Ignoring the construction cost of the stations and assuming the cost of laying track is proportional to the miles of track, what would be the cost of an extension to Yesler and 23rd?

    2) If President Obama decided to add this project to his proposed budget, by what percent would the budget be increased by?

    3) Using a complete sentence describe what X and Y are in the following phrase “X is 0.00182962829% of Y”

  5. Can someone please explain to me why a 1st Avenue streetcar is needed, when we already have a perfectly adequate/fast light rail line which parallels 1st Ave just a short walk away?

    Justin, when you suggest that the First Hill Streetcar route be made “streetcar only,” are you saying that would be from Pioneer Square all the way to Denny? That’s not gonna fly.

  6. It does seem ridiculous that someone would get on the street car on Capitol Hill and ride through First Hill, the ID, Pioneer Square, and downtown along 1st Avenue to get to South Lake Union. SLU is not a long walk from many parts of Capitol Hill. It would probably take half the time of a street car ride. I have been commuting as a pedestrian for a long time and have had much longer walks. Walking is not always pleasant, but it is doable for those who are healthy. There are also other transit options for SLU. I will admit that they don’t look ideal, but they are no worse than what people in other neighborhoods struggle with every day.

    • The obvious transit route from Capitol Hill to SLU is to take the soon-to-open light rail to Westlake, then either walk or take the SLU streetcar…..MUCH faster than taking the First Hill streetcar.

  7. Create a three-day tourist pass for visitors and conventioneers allowing unlimited boardings along the combined route of the three streetcars, plus the monorail. Watch the entire route develop successful new restaurants and nightlife. Seattle is a destination.

  8. Re: “Learning from issues already sometimes painfully apparent along the First Hill line, the 1st Ave streetcar is being planned with its own dedicated route and won’t share lanes with vehicle traffic.”

    To that, my mom says that “the wise man learns from others’ mistakes, the fool has to learn from his own”

    Why would Seattle have the need to learn firsthand that building a streetcar in a non-separated route is a bad idea? Couldn’t we have just modeled it — or learned from other cities?

    This great article (just published today) calls out Atlanta’s failed streetcar, which made the same bad decision as ours to be traffic-mixed:

    Similarly, if putting rapid transit in the same lane as cars is a bad idea — are we going to hear the same excuses from SDOT now that they plan to repeat the same mistake on Madison?

    I hate to sound like a Seattle Times commenter, but I just feel incredulous watching our city make bad decisions on expensive projects again and again, as if there was no way they could have known.

    • Exactly. It has been apparent to most people from the announcement of the First Hill Streetcar line that it would be a disaster if it didn’t have a dedicated lane. You don’t have to be a traffic engineer to predict that. What the hell was SDOT thinking?