Slog has an interesting report on the Capitol Hill Community Council and its fight for the city to fund a study an extension of the First Hill Streetcar north to Aloha:

“If we’re going to build it, let’s build it right,” says Tony Russo, who designed the Capitol Hill Community Council’s kickass Broadway streetcar proposal, and has lobbied the city hard to extend the streetcar to the end of Broadway Avenue. “We need cycletracks and the extension, and we need them both now.” The Capitol Hill Community Council has been fighting to get an Aloha Street extension back on Seattle Department of Transportation’s agenda since it was cut due to the project’s budget constraints. An Aloha extension would cost an estimated $20 million dollars to build.

However, the Capitol Hill Community Council says this $20 million dollars isn’t pressing—the city has several years to come up with the money while it works on the main leg of the streetcar, and, as Russo put it, “Obama’s throwing money at streetcars right now.” Their concern is funding the $750,000 preliminary engineering study and environmental review, which they say needs to be completed by June of this year when SDOT and Sound Transit finalize contract agreements for the streetcar line. Currently, the scope of the contract is written to terminate construction of the streetcar at Broadway and East John Street, at the light rail station.

The report goes on to say that SDOT doesn’t believe that there is any deadline for preliminary engineering, which is consistent with my reporting. The issue is probably better explained as follows: Right now, Sound Transit doesn’t provide any funding to do preliminary engineering on an Ahola extension, and it would be easier to study the extension at the same time we plan the current streetcar plan. (Similar to how East Link is planning a connection between Overlake and downtown Redmond, even though it will probably be many years before that segment begins construction.)

However, Seattle’s Department of Transportation can’t study the Aloha extension without money to do so. It would make sense to ask ST to provide the funding for planning the extension since the streetcar budget is scheduled to come in millions under budget and the Mayor has said a top priority should be extending the line to serve north Broadway.  And if ST doesn’t give the city the opportunity, then the city could lose out on federal money since the extension won’t be “shovel-ready” for a future round of streetcar funding.

That’s the larger point: if ST doesn’t step up to the plate soon, no one will and the Aloha extension will most likely have to be entirely funded locally rather than with federal aid. And that means that the relatively cheap extension is unlikely to be built soon.

27 Replies to “Slog: Cap Hill Fights for Design on Aloha Extension”

  1. I cannot believe that extending the line to Aloha would really be a big deal. It’s not like that portion of the line would be any different than the current planned route … it just makes it longer. The extension makes sense and it needs to be done. I am tired of how little foresight we have here in Seattle when it comes to stuff like this.

    1. There’s a possibility that an Aloha extension would require an additional vehicle (and therefore an additional operator) and would significantly change how the streetcar switched tracks to head back south.

    2. Actually, you’re both right. Extending the streetcar is a big project. It will require tearing up Broadway for several months and will cost $20 million, which is exactly why we should get this preliminary engineering done, and then secure funds for construction before the rest of the line is built so that it can all be done as part of one project rather than two.

  2. Seems to be the mentality of the day: avoid spending a little money today so we can spend a lot more tomorrow.

  3. It seems like I’ve been seeing a lot of talk about how ST should just spend a little money for this project and that project. Throw in a little more for the Bellevue Tunnel, add a little for the Aloha extension study, accelerate the study of the Ballard-520 corridor. I’m all for as much transit as possible, but at some point we are stretching ST resources thin and it could hurt us when we try to execute existing, planned projects. I’d hate to hear 5 years from now, how North-link is delayed because we paid for a tunnel through downtown Bellevue knowing full well it was way out of scope of an already reduced and under pressure budget. Or that reliability decreases because we don’t have the maintenance budget to maintain our new rail infrastructure.

    I say study it now, but we need to start asking funding questions beyond, lets just use ST2 funds for every new unplanned effort.

    1. I’d hate to hear 5 years from now, how North-link is delayed because we paid for a tunnel through downtown Bellevue

      That’s not going to happen because East Link is a completely separate funding source than North Link. If the tunnel in Bellevue puts East Link over budget then the only thing it will delay is East Link. But you make a fair point that budgets are tight (zero reserve left in East Link right now) and the cost of some of these studies and advancing options that will never be considered really eats into what can actually be built. The EIS process is screwed up. There are numerous options on East Link for example that will never be built because they are so ridiculously over what is in the budget. Yet all of these must be funded to the same level of environmental impact as those that are actually in play. Of course you can blame ST to a great extent for floating such pie in the sky schemes in the first place. It seems like there should be much more vetting of options before the official DEIS is submitted. Immediately weed out any options that are so over budget they’re useless to even discuss. You can start gathering environmental information that will still be valid for the DEIS but don’t submit until you’ve narrowed it down. Central Link was a planning disaster. It seems large parts of the line was advanced to 30% engineering before they decided to change direction and do something different (First Hill, Airport, Tukwilla). U Link was completely tossed out after the “preferred alternative” was rejected.

    2. BWill,

      These are valid concerns, but there needs to be a balance. We do not want to stretch ST too thin, but we also don’t want to be penny-wise and pound-foolish. Also, it is not really fair to compare the $300,000,000 downtown Bellevue tunnel to a $750,000 engineering study for the Aloha extension. Those are nearly 3 orders of magnitude difference between the two. The cost of the Aloha engineering study would not even be a rounding error on the cost of Bellevue’s tunnel project. The Aloha study represents an opportunity to spend a relatively tiny amount of money for a huge potential gain, we should not pass it up.

      1. I agree completely and do think the aloha study is a good idea. My only concern is the propensity to say ST can find the savings whenever a design or planning adjustment is needed. When raw materials due increase in price, and they will, we’re going to find it a lot more difficult to keep existing projects in budget. As a principle ST shouldn’t be bailing a city out because they have personal concerns (re: Bellevue tunnel) with the recommended route or option. We shouldn’t be hiding the costs of these changes and should make those who “demand” them accept the risk. Right now someone complains and ST assumes more risk, its becoming a pattern and they will take the fall if it blows up in their face $ wise….not for example the BCC.

  4. The $750k shouldn’t be too hard to put together from City and ST funds, but I don’t think the Aloha extension is going to be built very soon. If we don’t have the $20m, we don’t have the $20m, hopefully we’ll get it sometime soon in the future.

    1. We don’t need the $20m any time soon. The line can’t be constructed north of Pine until Capitol Hill Station opens in 2016, regardless of whether the Aloha extension is approved. What we apparently need is $750K, like now.

      This plan does sort of commit to finding that $20m, but the Mayor has suggested some kind of transit measure go before the voters in 2011, and who knows what various sources could emerge in the next five years, as it isn’t really that much money. I think the real issue is, will the project be ready to receive such funds when they are made available?

      I can’t imagine not actually serving the north end of Broadway. There are a lot of small businesses there, and it’s all zoned for midrise development, some of which is underway right now. Building a streetcar that turns around before it gets to that district makes no sense to me.

      Sound Transit essentially promised Aloha a light rail station in the original vote, which probably would have cost about ten times as much as this streetcar extension. First Hill lost its station a bit later on, hence this streetcar project.

      1. I’m not sure that is correct regarding the lack of being able to construct the line north of Pine St until 2016. Yes, we can expect construction to be into 2016 at the latest however, whether the work will prevent the construction of a street car is not known (at least to the general public). Additionally, remember that there will be a testing period similar to what occurred with Central Link so completion in 2016 doesn’t mean that the construction has finished and trains are carrying passengers from downtown yet.

    1. I’m an economist, not an engineer, but yes, I am the person quoted in the Slog story (though I did not say that we needed to complete preliminary engineering by this June). The other quotes are fairly accurate.

  5. I actually do not recall saying that “preliminary engineering study and environmental review…needs to be completed by June of this year”. If anything, I said that it would be highly desirable to have the funding agreed to by June, which is true, but SDOT and John’s reporting are both correct, there is no hard deadline.

  6. Slow down guys. This is pretty simple. The policy rationale for incoluding the project in the ST2 plan was to replace the former 1st Hill lRT station. That’s quite a ways form Aloha. It doesn’t matter that Aloha was included int eh Roads & Transot plan. That was a 20-year plan, and it lost. The ST2 plan defines the 1st Hill project. Sound Transit cannot exceed that scope without adversely affecting other North King projects, namely Link to the county line. The project itself is funded through a CAPPED contribution. There will be no more money from ST than is provided in the agreement between the two parties. Bottom line here: if the city wants an Aloha extension, it’s a city project, and therefore requires city money to advance.

    1. I believe that the Two-Way Broadway option selected is underneath the budgeted amount, so that should leave $750k for the study with plenty of extra room for higher costs on the first segment of the streetcar.

      1. The project is about $7 million under budget so Sound Transit could easily find the money to fund the extension. But they are not under any obligation to do so. ST could put that money to any Seattle project (i.e. North link) that it desires.

      2. I agree. Although the project is projected to come out below budget, ST is also not taking in as much revenue as originally expected due to the economic downturn. I would benefit tremendously from an extended street car however, I strongly believe that ST needs to maintain a solid reputation of getting things done within budget, on-time, and not sneaking in things that the public did not vote for. (BTW, when I speak to this, I am not saying things like minor sidewalk or bike trail extensions to connect to stations need to be voted on, rather, that items such as extending streetcars beyond the proposed scope/limits as set forth in ballots should not be included.)

        This is solely a city project and the Mayor/Council should pursue it.

  7. The Aloha extension is not an ST project and it shouldn’t be funded with ST2 dollars. It is purely out of ST’s scope given what was in (and not in) the voter approved ST2 package.

    That said, it makes sense to both design the extension now ($750K) as part of the larger project and to eventually build the extension ($20M) with whatever funding is available at the time.

    This is a perfect time for our new Mayor to show a little leadership and both publically support the extension and to come up with the $750K required to get the design on the books and “funding ready.”

    Hopefully the Mayor will step back from his war against 520 and the tunnel just long enough to actually accomplish something that is small, but doable. But I’m not holding my breath….

    Maybe the Seattle City Council will step into the void and support the extension…..

      1. All that document does is commit ST to the “Minimum Scope of Work” which is defined as a project that ends at John St. ST is not committed or obligated to anything more per the document.

        ST needs to resist this raiding of its budget by transit advocates just as vigorously as they need to resist the raiding of their budget by the road warriors. They need to deliver on what they promised and not get mired in endless scope creep (no matter how well-intended or desirable).

        However, the point remains, this is a great opportunity for McGinn to show his commitment to transit by (at the very least) announcing his support and funding the $750K design phase. His silence on this is deafening. I hope he changes that.

  8. What I like best about the street car dialogues that are underway now… is that we no longer have to pretend the streetcar is to serve those suckers in the Central District and First Hill.

    1. 1. *rolleyes* Yes, b/c any given piece of infrastructure can only serve one purpose or one area.

      Not to mention I guessed you missed the discussion (about a week and a half ago.. maybe two weeks?) about extending it Southward to Mt Baker and how while not as pressing as a Cap Hill extension, design provisions need to made for expansion in that direction.

      2. When was the FIRST HILL Streetcar about serving the Central District? Isn’t that what the CENTRAL Streetcar line was about? Which if you have been paying attention has actually come up in First Hill Streetcar discussions as many people (myself included) have voiced worries that the Pioneer Square loop in some proposals seemed to be a way to duck out of commitments to the Central Line.

      3. I think one problem that keeps coming up is that people see this all as a zero sum game, where if one area gets service another loses out. If instead of everyone fighting over one line, they worked just as hard to get other lines built I think we’d all come out winners no matter what neighborhood we lived in. The city has already put out plans for Comprehensive Streetcar System. We need to work on getting all planned lines built out, and then expansion.

  9. your comment is smug. you make a lot of assumptions that are incorrect – about a relatively short comment. i am not going to comment on your item 1 or 2, i dont have time, i have a job – and frankly i am too pretty (and educated) to engage in an argument with someone that copy and pastes a wikipedia link in a blog.

    per your item 3. my comment did not indicate it is a zero sum game. you have really simplified a complex challenge with a sort of “cannot we all just get along” approach. how the street cars and all public transportation are planned, coordinated, and developed is a big deal. this process should be considerate of those currently underserved by public (and private) transit. if i remember correctly, the Broadway Streetcar – which when it was the First Hill Street car – came about as part of a compromise with Sound Transit and First Hill voters in the 90’s – when they took away the potential light rail Madison stop by the old Wells Fargo (this is info that you wont find in wikipedia, but by the way… thanks for the pretty map).

    its funny that people like you, that probably drive more than they take public transportation have so much to say…

    and you shouldnt document eye rolls, its rude.

    1. 1. So sarcasm is okay but smug is verboten and rolleyes are strafbar?! Interesting.

      2. I posted the wiki link b/c obviously you were a bit ignorant as to entire streetcar grid (glad you liked the map btw). Also notice that the people that created it were all STB posters (take two guesses at who Anc82 is.. :D), so the idea that we’re all Cap Hill centric is incorrect.

      3. Oh what? We can just ignore those arguments we can’t counter?!?! Awesome! God help us if we ever had to admit we were spouting BS!

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