Streetcar Extension up Broadway Paused Indefinitely

While the Seattle Department of Transportation pushes for the city council to approve a budget that includes the Center City Connector, a streetcar extension north on Broadway is paused indefinitely.

“They’re committed to the design work, but listen, it’s not going to happen,” said Sierra Hansen, executive director for the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber and Capitol Hill Community Council advocated for the Broadway Extension, from where the First Hill Streetcar ends at Seattle Central to two more stops at East Harrison and Roy streets on Broadway, back in 2009.

Coming out against the extension

Since then, Broadway business and property owners have come out against the extension over the cost and perceived negative impacts, such as removing left-turn lanes northbound and center lanes used by delivery trucks.

Hansen said the chamber, which manages the Broadway Business Improvement Area, sent SDOT a letter in August asking the transportation department to decline project funding provided by the Puget Sound Regional Council. PSRC awarded the Broadway Extension $1.75 million in 2012, and another $10 million in 2014.

SDOT transit and mobility director Andrew Glass-Hastings told the Capitol Hill Times on Tuesday the transportation department will keep the project on hold, and that it will be returning funding to the PSRC.

“If we’re not going to do this particular project, the funding needs to go back to the PSRC to invest into other projects,” Hastings said, adding it’s possible other SDOT projects graded by the council could get some of that funding back. “We’re looking into seeing where our projects fit on that list.”

The budget

As it sits in SDOT’s 2017 budget, the Broadway Extension is estimated at around $25 million. When the project was still looking viable in the near term, covering the additional cost of the streetcar extension was proposed to be done through a local improvement district (LID). If property owners representing 60 percent of the assessed value of the proposed district had voted against the LID, it would have failed.

Glass-Hastings said SDOT had been responding to a request made by community stakeholders, but with the addition of the First Hill Streetcar and Capitol Hill light rail station, the department understands priorities have changed.

“We weren’t going to put ourselves in a position of trying to slam this project down the community’s throats if their priorities changed,” he said.

Design for the Broadway Extension is beyond the 90 percent mark, Glass-Hastings said, and will remain available should the desire to explore the line comes back up in the future.

Higher priority

Glass-Hastings said a higher priority for SDOT now is getting funding and constructing the Center City Connector, which would connect the First Hill Streetcar and the South Lake Union lines through a $177 million line along First Avenue.

The city expects to cover $83 million of that cost through federal grants and $94 million through local taxes and utility bills.

Councilmembers weighed in on the project during a Monday budget meeting, where Select Budget Committee chair Lisa Herbold questioned the cost versus ridership. Glass-Hastings said he doesn’t believe all councilmembers feel the same.

The added cost

Councilmembers also talked about the added cost for operating the First Hill Streetcar, which receives an annual contribution of $5 million from Sound Transit. The streetcar line was Sound Transit’s alternative to constructing a First Hill light rail station. The agreement between the city and Sound Transit that commits the agency to the $5 million contribution expires in 2023.

“It makes sense for them to have an ongoing obligation to support the alternative to that station, which is the streetcar,” Glass-Hastings said, adding conversations about Sound Transit continuing to support the First Hill Streetcar will start up as the expiration date comes closer.