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How Capitol Hill property owners could pay for half of the Broadway streetcar extension

First Hill Streetcar AnimationBroadwayStreetcar_factsheet_090315_optionb-01-306x550Designs are nearly complete for the Broadway extension to the First Hill Streetcar that will include a new stop at Harrison and a new terminus at Roy in 2017. The question remains how to fund it.

While some small business owners say it would be a nonstarter, the City of Seattle commissioned a study last year to explore how Capitol Hill property owners might foot part of the bill through a “local improvement district.”

On Tuesday, the City Council transportation committee authorized the City to accept a $4 million state grant to put towards construction of the two stops. Combined with a $10 million federal grant, that puts the Broadway Streetcar about $10 million short of its expected cost. A LID could make up the difference by having the City issue a bond to be repaid by property owners near the project. Assessments would be made based on property value and proximity to the stops.

Here’s how it works. First, the LID needs a boundary. In the case of the Broadway Streetcar, analysts from Valbridge Property Advisors recommended an area that extends two or three blocks on either side of Broadway from Prospect to Boren.Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 3.57.56 PM

Once the two-stop extension is complete, the study estimates the project would increase overall property values within the boundary by $20,845,000. The study assumes the LID would essentially recoup 50% of that value over 20 years to generate $10.4 million. So what does that mean for an individual property owner?

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Zone I was not included in the final recommendation.

Since the Broadway property closest the streetcar extension would presumably gain the most in value, those owners would pay the highest rate: $471 a year for 20 years on a $500,000 property. The report estimates that property would see a $12,800 boost in value from the streetcar extension. Buildings in Zone A include Joule Apartments, Broadway Market and Brix Condominiums.

Property assessments decrease across eight zones as they move further away from the planned two-stop extension. In Zone G, which includes some single-family homes, property owners would pay $140 a year on $500,000 property.

As a preliminary assessment, researchers note the study is only meant to give “a rough order of magnitude of the potential assessment” and that the numbers could change considerably once each individual property is assessed. A LID would also require the approval of a certain percentage of property owners and the City Council.

The half-mile Broadway Streetcar would accompany an extension of the Broadway Bikeway starting in 2017. The new stops are estimated to serve 1,000 streetcar riders per day by 2030.

The launch of the First Hill Streetcar was a big step towards completing a connected 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, past the Capitol Hill Station light rail station, and up to Roy St.

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 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.

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43 thoughts on “How Capitol Hill property owners could pay for half of the Broadway streetcar extension

  1. This would be an epic waste of money with little to no benefit. Thus, I expect the City Council and Mayor to be pushing it hard.

  2. If I understand this correctly, some single family homeowners would be assessed a yearly tax….including yours truly. I believe this would be a unprecedented, as in the past LIDs have applied only to commercial properties (correct me if I’m wrong).

    If this actually happens, I’m going to be very resentful, especially since I strongly oppose the extension in the first place.

    • If the construction does happen, your property will increase in value. The City would like to recoup the costs of half of the new value you would receive.

      Your investment raises with no work to you…not sure how you would be resentful with a higher appraised investment.

    • Property values will rise, so you should pay higher taxes for this useless extension? Did you seriously type that with a straight face?

      This extension has zero utility, except for those few riders who feel like going to First Hill slower than walking, and refuse to ride a bus. I think any claims that this extension would incrementally raise property values are highly dubious.

    • Property values going up because of this is a silly proposition. The streetcar is absolutely worthless, as slow as traffic, and like you said, zero utility.

      That won’t stop it from happening, however. Any and all idiotic transportation measures are fast-tracked for approval in this city. I’m expecting a complicated system of hot air balloons to show up shortly.

    • Long time ago, but, FWIW, this happened during the regrades. Individual property owners paid assessments based on expected property value increases; some got rich, some were foreclosed on.

    • I too am very skeptical that my property value will rise because of the extension. But even if that happens, I could care less….as one only benefits if they sell their home, which I don’t plan on doing. And as property values rise, so do property taxes.

  3. Enough already.

    As for “property values will rise” well that’s great if you intend to sell. I plan on dying in my home unless I cannot afford to live there any longer.

  4. I live in “Zone A” along Broadway and do NOT support the extension. I’d much rather see them make Broadway more pedestrian and bike friendly (even though I don’t bike). It is not a burden to walk the extra 5 blocks. They should remove the parking along a few of those blocks and turn it into something resembling a large/permanent parklet. Something that really draws shoppers and visitors to the area (via existing light rail and streetcar capacity).

    • This last comment makes me laugh… Do you realize that you just argued that you shouldn’t be expected to pay higher taxes for a public amenity that would actually increase your property’s value because you don’t personally like it; but everyone else should pay for a public amenity that you do personally like?

    • The idea that everyone pays for local amenities isn’t ridiculous, it’s the absolute norm in virtually every other government project.

      How much was the area-specific assessment for people living next to Cal Anderson when they covered the reservoir? How much was the area-specific assessment when the RapidRide lines started?

    • I have no problem paying more in taxes and never said that I would. The fact that you think this is just anti-tax bs proves to me you’re missing the point. This also isn’t some NIMBY crap either as I am very supportive of all of the recent transit development in the neighborhood, even the current streetcar. I just think we should spend the money on something BETTER and that’s not a laughable opinion! As an aside, I’m an apartment dweller so it actually doesn’t do anything but hurt my bottom line.

  5. No one should be penalized for living next to this idiotic boondoggle. I already get to deal with the new obnoxious DING DING all day long for the sake of a streetcar that moves at walking speed and can’t dodge obstacles. Now they want to charge me for the privilege of it.

    When was the last time a bus route extension raised funds by taxing people along the route? Or the people living next to a road got charged for fixing the potholes in it? This is simply not done for anything else.

    Transit is a network. If this project improves the network, then the money should come from the general transportation fund, same as it does for road repairs, bus service, bike lane construction, sidewalk improvements, and everything else. If this project doesn’t expand the network, then don’t do it.

  6. As those of us who commute from the Hill to Pioneer square everyday figured out on day one, the streetcar is an epic waste of time and money spent by our city. I won’t delve into all of the specific reasons, as this has been covered in multiple other posts, but to further pour money into this ridiculous project is idiotic at best. As a homeowner in this proposed tax zone, I will do everything I can to make sure this doesn’t happen. On the other hand, only 16 days until our REAL mass transportation on and off the hill opens up! If my property value goes up, it’ll be from the light rail and not the streetcar boondoggle.

  7. $20 million for 5 blocks? This is crap being pushed on us by the developer elite who doesn’t live here and wants the streetcar as a selling point.

    The streetcar makes traffic worse, not better. I can walk faster than the streetcar. Once it opens, you’ll be able to walk faster than drive too.

    Plus, once light rail opens, I don’t see why anyone who lives on the hill would take the street car. The street car is only beneficial to people on the line farthest way from the light rail terminus.

    • It’s not developers.

      “If streetcars are so slow and costly, why are there suddenly so many? Because federal subsidies have encouraged them. Under Barack Obama the Department of Transportation has made grants of up to $75m available to “small” projects that promise to revitalise urban areas and cut greenhouse-gas emissions. They need not be cost-effective in the conventional sense if they make a place more liveable or offer other vague benefits.”

  8. This would be more palpable if we weren’t already paying a large transportation levy, being asked for more transit money with ST3 and if the line went to Aloha as it was originally supposed to. What is being proposed here is a waste of money. At least people have to vote to approve it so the city council can’t just force it through.

  9. Although I was an advocate for the “first hill” streetcar going to Aloha BEFORE it was designed and built, I believe it’s premature to move on with this extension until we see how the operation of the current version works out over the coming year. In retrospect, I wish the bike-lane were on a different street – we are trying to mix too many uses into too few lanes on Broadway. Broadway/10th E is one of TWO primary direct routes over the Hill South/North (23rd the other) – . We need to observe the changes in traffic patterns with the coming of the streetcar and the re-opening of Denny Way. There will be unintended consequences, and any design of the extension (if it happens) needs to empirically observe and take them into consideration. We really have to think more deeply about how we are implementing our infrastructure Seattle can become more nimble in learning from our mistakes. And: guess what everybody – it’s alright to make mistakes. Better to acknowledge them and move on with that new knowledge.

    • I agree with your points but unfortunately this city believes that if something is not a success it must be because we’ve not expanded it far enough to receive the anticipated adoption so they want to continue expanding it further. The bike share is a perfect example of this attitude.

      As others have mentioned or eluded to, were property owners on the current section of the Street Car project taxed this way? Did those along Light Rail have to pay similar taxes? What about other transit, infrastructure and enhanced services?

      As this is proposed, its a dangerous precedent.

    • Observe and adapt! Good plan.

      There isn’t quite enough room for delivery trucks on Broadway north of the park now, and there doesn’t seem to be room for an alley, and I don’t want to see the remaining small/cheap/varied businesses wiped out because traffic is a knot.

  10. Why not charge all the property owners along the 23rd corridor for the road use changes taking place along that route? The road diet and other improvements will raise their property values. Same for those living on the new greenway, who will benefit from slower vehicle traffic along the route. Then we should charge all those living near light rail stations, improved bus stops, parks that see any improvements. What a great city we will have then.

  11. To the several of you who are insisting that homeowners near new transportation projects should be assessed an extra tax levy because their property values will rise, let me remind you that property taxes are based on valuations. Thus when a property’s valuation rises, the property owner will pay additional taxes even without additional, special tax levies.

  12. I have been 100% against the street car from day one, and even more opposed to the proposed extension (if that is possible). I own property in zone e, and i can’t believe i would have to pay an extra $208 a year to pay for this absurd project. If our property values do increase, we will get hit with increased property taxes based on our assessment, no? So we will pay twice for this thing? and have to deal with additional traffic problems it creates at roy and aloha that will result in air and noise pollution?

    To all the other property owners reading this thread: if you don’t want to pay for this project through a LID, we should get together and talk with our new City Councilperson and let the mayor know we’re not going to have this shoved into our front yards and be forced to pay for the privilege.

    • Meeting with the elected officials is a good idea. There was a lid to build the SLU one also, but now in terms of operations, it is the single most expensive route for which the City of Seattle reimburses Metro due to inefficiencies and was not a Metro project. It was a City project. We are all paying extra for the SLU Streetcar. I worry that this will be true for the Broadway extension. I believe that the existing First Hill Street Car was not a Seattle proposition, therefore the whole county will pay if there are inefficiencies, not true for the extension.

    • While I agree that property owners should come together to fight issues that have an impact on their neighborhood, I seriously doubt that you will get any type of response from Sawant. I sent a letter to her about another issue. I spent time writing it and think it is reasonable to expect that the councilmember from my district would acknowledge my correspondence. She didn’t even bother to send a form letter response.

      I agree with many of the other posters that the streetcar isn’t effective. I was on the #3 bus a couple of weeks ago, and when we passed the streetcar at the Broadway intersection, I noticed that those of us on the bus outnumbered those on the streetcar by 2 to 1. The other times I have seen the streetcar it hasn’t had many riders.

      There was an interesting report on NPR a few weeks back that streetcars have become the darling of mayors around the country even though they are far less efficient than buses. The report stated that the driving factor behind this trend is developers and investors.

    • Responding to “joanna”: The difference between the SLU Street car and the one on first hill and this extension of it is that the neighborhood through which the SLU street car travels as been completely redeveloped in the years since the streetcar was planned, and the building nearly all have commercial use, which some do also have residential. I don’t think that street car is good either, but one could t least argue that it helped do what streetcars are generally seen as doing: spurring redevelopment (or development) in under utilized areas by sending a signal of transit commitment to that neighborhood. SO a property owner that owns vacant land that would become newly and easily accessible to other areas because of the construction of a streetcar line might be willing to pay for part of that streetcar line.

      In the case of the broadway extension: no “vacant” land becomes accessible. The closes thing to vacant land in proximity to the line are two surface parking lots. I’m not going to tear down my house a build a 40 unit efficiency apartment building because a street car provides a “reliable” and “permanent” transit option for my future tenants.

  13. Double taxation sounds great if your into that for the heck of it. How again is a trolley different than a bus except for the fact that it costs more to purchase, make ongoing infrastructure investment, operate and maintain? Oh, and that it can do a fraction of what a bus can in do in maneuvering through traffic and adapting to transportation needs. I am literally on the changing tracks of this stupid idea and it will not raise the value of my house. It will most definitely shake the foundation of my house. Can I get a stupidity refund?

  14. Who is behind this? We can’t believe someone is really considering extending this to Roy. For what end? The buses that come from the north end, down 10th, are full of students trying to get to Seattle Community College. The streetcar has already made that difficult and I’ve seen few people on it, now that it’s no longer free. Please bring some sanity to this proposal.

  15. This is what you get when you vote down an income tax on the wealthy. Look forward to seeing more and more property taxes, LIDs and sales taxes for YEARS to come.

    • This is a waste of money regardless of who pays for it. Whether or not an income tax is a good idea, we don’t need a streetcar extension. If we had an income tax, I’d rather see the money spent on something worthwhile… like education.

  16. Odd man out here, but I always thought that the logical terminus for the street car should be close to Volunteer Park, and would love to see this extension completed.

    • Do you really think there’s room? I walk or bike through there all the time and the Aloha-to-Roy section is full of close-call turns and merges already. Fitting trolley tracks in would be annoying to car traffic (and v.v.) and TERRIFYING as a bicyclist.

      I agree that transit to our lovely parks is required, but the 49 already gets you just as close.

  17. Maintaining #10 service all the way down 15th to Pine is impossible, but let’s increase taxes for this trinket for developers.

  18. I like how they calculate the taxes based on a 500,000 dollar valuation when most of the green area is actually twice to four times that. So not $140 per year, more like $280-$560 per year in taxes per household.

  19. “No taxation without representation” is still important. If it requires a special tax on the LID, is it a vote by the LID residents that decides whether to go ahead with the project?

    I’m down with a citywide or statewide move to land-tax (Georgist) principles, but only if we all vote on whether to apply them to ourselves — blithely mandating that other people should pay needs a higher justification than a trolley.