SDOT's Recommended Alignment: Two-Way Broadway
The First Hill Streetcar alignment.

The Seattle City Council Transportation Committee voted today to send Resolution 31207, authorizing the construction of the First Hill Streetcar, to the full council. Every member of the committee voted to move the resolution forward. The resolution will be considered next Monday by the full council, who is expected to pass it.

The resolution adopts the two-way Broadway alignment recommended by the city’s Department of Transportation. Construction would begin in 2011 and the streetcar would start operations in late 2013, three years ahead of the original schedule that was approved by voters as part of the Sound Transit 2 measure in 2008.

The resolution authorizes the city to seek funding for an extension, north to Aloha. This includes asking the Sound Transit Board for the use of money budgeted for the streetcar, but would be unspent if the initial streetcar line comes under-budget as estimated.

[P]er Section 1 of the Funding and Cooperative Agreement between Sound Transit and the City, SDOT should request the Sound Transit Board allow the City to use any excess capital funds provided by ST2 for the First Hill Streetcar Project for the purpose of extending the Project’s route north on Broadway.

For what it’s worth, we’ve heard plenty of push back on this idea from Sound Transit staff who are already concerned about the rest of ST2’s financial plan because of the economic downturn that came right as the agency began to collect additional revenue to fund projects across the region.

56 Replies to “First Hill Streetcar Passes Council Committee”

  1. Yep, given all the budget problems now, I pretty much agree with your ST sources – ST shouldn’t be committing any “surplus” to the extension at least until phase I is well along and we are assured that there really is a surplus. Once that is determined, and only then, we can have the discussion about whether any surplus should be used for an extension, used for something else, or not spent at all.

    I say the city should find a way to fund the $750K design phase to get the extension “shovel ready” and then go looking for additional funding. Coming up with that amount of money shouldn’t be that hard.

    And if the city can work it out with ST, then have ST contribute the $750K up front in exchange for $750K of reduction in the total ST funding cap.

      1. The South Park Bridge is a far more important priority than this streetcar extension and is competing for Tiger II dollars.

      2. I actually agree. Other grants would be preferable. Thankfully, the Obama administration has been very supportive of streetcars.

    1. Sound Transit has already budgeted 132 million for this project. They will never have to pay any more than that. If the city went over (highly unlikely at this point) the city would have to pay the extra. There is no need for a complex scheme like you are proposing. Sound Transit just needs to hear from the people and the city that this extension is an integral part of the project (even according to their own planning documents) that should be approved out of the existing budget.

      1. Actually ST has budgeted “up to” $132M for a streetcar that specifically ends at the CH Link station. Per the agreement they have budgeted exactly $0 for the extension and are not obligated to fund any part of it.

        The issue here is that ST needs to be prudent. Their budget, written before the recession, might say $132M, but if the post recession revenue only supports a lesser amount then ST needs to deal with that reality. The easiest way of controlling their budget side risk is to say “No” to scope creep at least until the first phase is complete and the real budget picture is known.

        And remember, ST’s primary responsibilities are regional — not local.

      2. Actually ST has budgeted “up to” $132M for a streetcar that specifically ends at the CH Link station.

        That’s not an accurate reading. They have budgeted that amount for a streetcar with a minimum scope of ending at the CH Link station. The inter-local agreement says — plainly — that work for an extension northward would be fine as well. That is, the agreement “specifically” says the budgeted money may be used on an extension toward Aloha.

        In the inter-local agreement there is no way to spend money on bus service, no way to fund an extension to the west or east, and no way fund new cross walks in downtown — those are things that ST should reject outright. However, there is a section of the agreement specifically pertaining to an Aloha extension.

        If the city had voted to raise its sales taxes and budgeted $132+ million for a streetcar that was looking to come in under budget, there would be no qualms about using an un-budgeted $750k for preliminary engineering on an extension. We shouldn’t be punitive to the city simply because they chose to partner with ST for this project. The full budget should be available to the city, because they are assuming the full risk.

      3. Exactly right, there is no risk to ST, only to the city. The agreement anticipated that this question of the extension might come up–the only stipulation was that the city has to formally request permission from ST. This does not count as scope creep–it merely restores the project to its original scope.

      4. The scope as approved by the voters in ST2 does not include the extension — anything beyond what was in ST2 and approved by the voters is scope creep.

        Also remember that the voters rejected the longer line when it was presented as part of Roads+Transit.

        ST is not obligated to fund this. They need to tend to their own budget realities first before agreeing to scope creep. Having a well run ST is what got us ST2. If ST blows it on ST2 by allowing scope creep then ST3 is in jeopardy.

      5. I’m not seeing how funding the study would put ST at risk.

        My understanding is that Sound Transit has a pot of $132M that it can spend on the First Hill Streetcar, anything more is picked up by the city. The city wants ST to use some of that money now. So then ST would have $132M-750K (or whatever it ends costing) to spend on everything else, anything more is picked up by the city.

        What am I missing here?

      6. ST is running about $2.1B short on revenue due to the economy. So, yes, ST did budget $132M for a streetcar, but the money isn’t necessarily there.

        ST needs to get their budget situation under control before agreeing to additional commitments. They aren’t any different then any other branch of government.

      7. This is scope creep. The city can pretend like sales tax revenues aren’t down 20% and that ST should finance the $750K for study and get nothing back in return for a lower bidding climate. But that is poor regionalism. ST2 will need to tighten costs. The board is driving a tough deal in Bellevue. There are many ways to fund an extension on Broadway, including local improvement districts. The city should acknowledge that working together with ST is in their best interest instead of looking at them like a cash cow.

      8. @ reality based commute

        A $150 million dollar tunnel is not the same at a 750k study that is necessary to get federal funding or allow SDOT to quickly build the extension when Seattle has enough money. Completely different.

      9. $750K here, $750K there, pretty soon you are talking about big money.

        The city should come up with at least the bulk of the $750K. This is a city project after all and the extension is clearly out of scope per what was approved in ST2.

        Besides, our “mayor” just blew $250K on a study that concluded what everyone already knew — that LR doesn’t fit well into the State’s current SR520 bridge design. That represents 30% of the amount we are talking about here.

        If the mayor is willing to blow $250K like it is pocket change just to prove what everyone else already knew, then maybe he could spend the $750K to actually do something. Assuming of course that he actually *wants* to do something.

      10. I think some of you are being way too pedantic about the Aloha extension. All that is being discussed right now is the $750K needed to have the extension be “shovel ready” for other sources of funding.

        If the ST board approves using $750K of the $132M First Hill streetcar budget for the studies it does lower the amount of money available for other aspects of the project. There is no need for a new agreement or some sort of complex scheme to lower the agreement amount by $750K.

        BTW this being a streetcar project it is very unlikely there will be cost overruns large enough to push the budget much past the current City estimates. This isn’t U Link or the Beacon Hill station.

        At the moment I’d object to using any surplus in the First Hill streetcar budget for anything other than just funding the necessary studies. I agree that U Link and North Link might very well need the couple of million left over after the First Hill Streetcar is built. However I think not funding the study for the Aloha extension is being stupidly penny wise and pound foolish with so much Federal money sloshing around for streetcars. Besides there is a good chance the City itself might be able to come up with the $35 million needed for the extension on its own in the next few years. Say as part of a ped/bike/transit ballot measure.

    2. Make sure that the design for the Aloha extension is done and the main streetcar is built “Aloha-ready” (so it doesn’t have to shut down at all while the Aloha extension is built), with tail tracks, etc.

      For *this* Sound Transit should spend money, just to make sure the money doesn’t need to be spent twice, as it would if design for the extension had to be done later.

      Then leave it up to the city to try to find the actual *construction* money.

  2. Thank you to everyone who has supported the Capitol Hill Complete Streetcar Campaign! This streetcar will be a great asset to the community, connecting people and neighborhoods to the light rail system. We are very pleased to see the resolution supporting the north Broadway extension, and hope Sound Transit will see the value of the extension as part of driving greater ridership and leveraging federal funding. This extension was always in ST planning documents, including the 2007 Roads and Transit measure that failed. Eliminating it for the 2008 vote was driven by a political desire to keep ST2 as inexpensive as possible. It makes sense to add the extension back in if the project comes in under budget, not divert the money to some other project. It will take a lot of advocacy to make this case in the coming months, and we can use all the help we can get.

    1. This is not an accurate reading of history. ST reduced the scope of the FH project in order to provide enough financial capacity to extend Link into Snohomish County. That was the deal cut by Nickels and Reardon in 2008, and its result was to make ST2 MORE expensive, not less. The FH Street car is defined in the ST2 Plan, page 8, as a “line between Downtown Seattle, First Hill and the future Capitol Hill light rail station.” It replaces the FH Link station that should have been part of U-Link. That’s it. ST’s mission is expanding regional connections, not necssarily local ones. If the city wants an extension to Aloha, it should be a city project on the city’s dime.

      1. There is a huge difference between using some of the $132 million budget for the First Hill Streetcar right now to fund the studies needed for the Aloha extension and using the money to actually fund the construction. Sure any leftover money from the streetcar project should not go to fund construction of the extension, but by not even funding the studies the line won’t be able to take advantage of various alternate funding sources for the extension including Federal programs.

        If the City and ST hadn’t made their agreement to build the First Hill line right now it is quite likely it would have cost Sound Transit considerably more money. The city is already saving ST money by building the streetcar now and taking away the cost overrun risk.

  3. On a side note (speaking of budgets)…ST is in an interesting position right now. While ST projects they’re going to come up some $2.1b on ST2 receipts, all the projects sent out to bid recently have come in under budget. Would be nice if they pushed all the ST2 projects up to try to get them done early and take advantage of the weak economic climate and have the bids come under budget. They could possibly save the $2.1b their losing. Construction companies are hurting right now and one of these project would be a nice boost in the arm for the company and the local economy as well.

    1. Under budget bids are not the same as under budget work completion; ST needs to be very careful about going ahead with a bunch of work that may cost a lot more depending on a lot of factors.

      1. From my understanding all projects already have a built in contingency depending on the risk level of the project. With that said it might not be large enough contingency for ST to be comfortable and they might just apply the extra money to the contingency budget.

      2. The First Hill Streetcar project currently has a 20% contingency, so the actual cost could be well under the currently projected 125 million. Sound Transit also builds in large contingencies, which is why the recession is not really hitting them as hard as Metro. Just something to think about.

      3. A good project manager never commits to spending the contingency until after the project is substantially built and the contingency remains unspent and uncommitted.

      4. It depends on how the construction contracts are written and what overruns the contractor is responsible for. I suspect few if any of the recent contracts ST has awarded based on under budget bids will wildly exceed the bid amount.

        ST has been pretty good about avoiding the sort of project mismanagement that leads to huge cost overruns. That said, U Link and North Link are rather risky due to all of the underground construction so the potential is still there for large cost overruns even if the project is well run. For example one of the TBMs could break down like happened with the Brightwater project.

    2. ST doesn’t have the cash flow in the early years to do that. You bond against revenues as they come in so the early years are lean on money.

      1. Yes and no. If I recall correctly the budgets for both North Link and East Link have a certain amount of unspent Sound Move funds in them.

        One of the methods Sound Transit has been looking at to manage the revenue shortfall is moving some projects up to take advantage of the current construction climate. Other than the First Hill Streetcar, S. 200th extension, and North Link I’m not sure what other projects are candidates for starting work sooner rather than later. I suspect some money could be saved by doing engineering now rather than later (the big engineering firms are hurting for work too) and I’m sure there are ways to save money by adjusting the structure and schedule for the financing.

        This has been discussed in a number of ST board meetings. If you really care about the details you can go look at the videos or read the minutes and staff presentations.

  4. Has any work been done calculating what, if any, boost to Cap Hill Station ridership numbers the extension would bring in?

    Oh, and, Rock! So far so good with the First Hill Streetcar. If things continue Seattle may actually do a project where they get everything right! *gasp*

    1. SDOT is not using the notoriously inaccurate ridership forecast models for this project. Instead they are studying “ridership potential” and “trip generators” that would impact ridership. North Broadway has high density, with more to come thanks to a recent upzone allowing 7 stories. It also has retail, Cornish Art School, and Volunteer Park as trip generators for jobs, shopping and recreation. It is clear that ridership would be pretty high.

      1. Do you mean the upzone to 6 stories that catalyzed the apartments on the Safeway and QFC lots? Or was there another upzone after that?

        I’m wondering what’s planned for the Jade Pagoda block. It’s all fenced off like they’re going to raze the block, but there’s a FOR LEASE sign on one of the doors. You’d think they’d be interested in either leasing or razing, not both simultaneously. Unless they just left the sign there and forgot about it.

      2. Yes, that’s the upzone I was talking about. I believe it is 65 ft. on Broadway and 40 or 45 ft along 10th and Harvard. I think 7 stories is allowed with some kind of incentive bonus.

        The Jade Pagoda block will be developed into a mixed-use building eventually, I’m sure, but they are sitting on it like a lot of developers are nowadays. They are doing a short-term lease for a dumpling place right now, then Bank of America is moving in short-term while their current location gets redeveloped at Broadway and Thomas.

      3. Bank of America is moving in short-term while their current location gets redeveloped at Broadway and Thomas.

        Is the Broadway and Thomas project moving forward? I’m surprised this hasn’t stalled given all of the projects on Capitol Hill that have recently opened and the less than favorable economic climate.

      4. Yes, it’s moving forward. It’s a pretty massive development that we all need to keep an eye on. The main problem I see with it is that it has way too much parking for a building a half block from light rail and streetcar. They say the banks make them include a certain level of parking even though the city got rid of parking minimums on Broadway.

      5. I’m kind of supprised, you’d think they’d wait until some more of the excess inventory is absorbed.

        The banks requiring developers to include a certain amount of parking is why the city needs parking maximums particularly around stations.

  5. This is sort of a tangent, but I find this entire streetcar line to be really frustrating, and somewhat redundant. The vast majority of neighborhoods in Seattle lack rail or streetcar, yet the only streetcar line currently approved is one that connects two (in CH’s case, future) light rail stations?

    I know the purpose is to connect First Hill since it had to be cut from the original Link plan, but really, is centralized First Hill that desparately in need of transit that we have to build this line instead of the the Ballard/Fremont line via Westlake, or even a Queen Anne to Pioneer Square line?

    Like I said, it seems pretty redundant (gee, now we can get from CH to the ID two different ways!) in a city where so much is missing.

    1. And yes, I do recognize the First Hill Streetcar was packaged with ST2, hence why it’s being funded. I also understand that this project isn’t necessarily displacing another streetcar line.

      Im just expressing a general frustration that so much of Seattle lacks decent transit, and yet the only approved streetcar line is within a pretty short radius of one of the few areas that will actually be served by LINK.

      1. Well, the original Sound Transit studies put a huge emphasis on First Hill, making it seem like it was one of the most important places to connect to, a huge source and destination for transit users, ideal for light rail demographically, etc.

        So who knows, maybe it is sufficiently important. I certainly don’t know.

      2. James, I understand your frustration, but just think of this as a beginning, or maybe a second beginning being that this is streetcar line #2 (#3 if you include the Waterfront line). I’m sure once this is built that it won’t be the last and there will be a push to connect the two new lines. As time goes on, I hope each city council (and good economic times) will help bring more lines to all parts of the city.

    2. It’s important for transit advocates, like you, to think about more than just the end-points. Connecting Broadway to the ID is just one function of the line — all the points in-between now have access to rail whereas they currently have as much access as your neighborhood does — none.

      1. I hear you, and this definitely isn’t a “my neighborhood doesn’t have transit so I’m jealous of other neighborhoods that do” thing. I actually live in Beacon Hill, so Im one of the fortunate ones to have LINK at my disposal these days.

        And I understand this serves as a feeder line and that there are many points in between that will greatly benefit from this line. But there are currently no plans to bring any transit to neighborhoods like Belltown, Queen Anne, Ballard, Fremont, Wallingford, Greenwood/Phinney, etc.–it just feels like something should be started in these areas. As I mentioned, the Ballard Streetcar or perhaps a line along 50th from the U District to Ballard? Even a streetcar line along Madison that would cross the edge of the CD, Madison Valley, and Madison Park would be stretching out more…

        It sounds like McGinn’s West Seattle to Ballard light rail idea will struggle to pass if it goes to vote in 2011, and either way it’s a long way off.

      2. The First Hill line is happening because there is a funding source for it. Since the money is coming from ST the City can’t very well go off and build a Fremont/Ballard SLUT extension instead.

        The First Hill Streetcar is important for a number of reasons:
        * If the project is done right it very well may have neighborhoods all over the city clamoring for their very own streetcar.
        * It has the potential for showing off the possibilities for cycletracks and complete streets.
        * It should fuel redevelopment, TOD, and neighborhood revitalization all along the line, not just on Broadway which probably really doesn’t need much help North of Union. SHA is planning on redeveloping Yesler Terrace which the line will pass through the middle of. There is potential for redevelopment and revitalization on Broadway South of Union, in the Little Saigon area, in the International District, and Pioneer Square.
        * Ridership is likely to be much higher from the start than the SLUT, which while it won’t shut the streetcar critics up entirely will blunt the effectiveness of their criticism some.

        This is really turning out to be the showcase line for streetcars and for a lot of new urbanism concepts in Seattle.

      3. As I said, I understand this line is not displacing another line, and I agree it has many benefits. Im just expressing frustration about the enormous swaths of the city that have no transit in their forseeable future.

  6. Kudos to the First Hill Line… now… HOW about extending the Benson Trolley to Pier 91 and take advantage of the 10 year lease for Holland America, Princess, and Carnival to bring about a half million transits to the Pier? The line could run through Myrtle Edwards, with a stop at the Amgen Campus at each end. Amgen is currently paying a charter bus company to run shuttles from the campus into town. THey might help cover some of the cost of the line. We own the land.

    Then a stop at the sculpture park. Its original design HAD a Benson Trolley stop. Then run it as far south along the water as Seawall and Viaduct reconstruction allow.

    Like to the OTHER cruise Pier so that ALL one million visitors can transit along the waterfront without adding to traffic on Elliott, Western and Alaskan Way.

    Being able to have TOURISTS help cover the cost. What a thought. A historic trolley, a “Green” system that connects 4.1 million walk on passengers of the WSF, the West Seattle Water Taxi, and until the Viaduct comes down and amputates the line, bring them to Pioneer Square and the International District.

    Until they tear it down, maybe, dare I offer, all the way to King Street and
    meet up with the First Hill Trolley, Sounder, and Link Light Rail? Or is that too much to hope for?

    We already own the trolleys and the right of way. We only spent 20 years to get them so they could rust away while everyone bickers about other stuff.

    We still have 8 years in the Lease with Carnival Corp. And we already own the equipment!!! Just the 1.2 miles through Myrtle Edwards. How hard can that be to see the Potential? Take traffic OFF the streets, and move tourists between the waterfront attractions, Ferry and water Taxi?

    5 years back the Port and Amgen were even willing to help Pay for this. I bet it would pencil out positive faster than the South Lake Union and First Hill Lines.

    Crew, Pier Employees, and 950,000 passenger transits. 4.1 million ferry walk ons. Water Taxi, City owned Aquarium, the Market, Long in need of help Pioneer Square.

    1. I agree that we realllly need the Waterfront Streetcar back, but first we have to build a barn, and there is no money for that. Even if we had the money, the barn would probably be completed just around the time the viaduct is coming down. But we need to pressure them to include rails in some part of the Alaskan Way rebuild, if you’re already rebuilding a street it probably doesn’t cost much at all. Then we could easily start the service up again when the political will is there.

      1. I wonder if the First Hill barn could be used for the waterfront line…presumably such a line would connect to First Hill streetcar.

      2. There might be some issue with different voltages. On the other hand I think the old Melbourne Cars are probably due for a down to the frame rebuild and I doubt it would be too hard to change the voltage to be the same as either the ETBs or the First Hill line at that time.

        Building the First Hill line barn big enough to accommodate the Waterfront line cars would seem to be a smart plan. It still wouldn’t allow the Waterfront line to start back up before Alaskan way is rebuilt though.

      3. I’ve been saying all along that the Waterfront Streetcar could return if they connect the First Hill Streetcar at the terminus of the WF line at 5th and Jackson. The only real estate along the new FH line that could support a car barn is along Jackson either in Chinatown or Little Saigon. Since this would be close to the WF station at 5th and Jackson, the old trolley’s could easily be stored here.

        Next thing I’ve advocated is extending the WF line north from the Sculpture Park through Myrtle Edwards, to Amgen to Pier 91 much like the previous bloggers. This is a really good idea since, as was stated, Amgen and the cruise ship operators are already busing people from this area to downtown. Why not allow the trolley to do it and bring in all that extra money?

        Yes, when the Viaduct is torn down, the WF line will have to stopped again, but it appears that WSDOT is going to make this window much smaller than originally thought. In fact, it appears the old Viaduct will remain open for almost the whole time that the new one is being constructed.

      4. Thanks Alex…

        I would humbly offer that the barn goes at the NORTH end of the line… under the Magnolia Viaduct, or behind Pier 89 on port land. It would be a temp barn (the line had a temp barn its entire previous life!).

        Once the Viaduct / Seawall project is done, we can reconnect with Pioneer Square, King St. Station… and then add 3 more blocks of track south on 5th. Put a stop just before Dearborn, then cross it, and head down Airport Way South to… wait, can it be so? A METRO TROLLEY BARN filled with folks who work on electric trackless trollies? MAYBE EVEN SHARED SERVICES? Wow. What a concept.

        NOW if you REALLLY want to think Big here… Build a spur onto the Metro Garage, but continue the line westbound on Edgar Martinez Way, cross 4th with the light, and have a station at Safeco Field/Ex Hall, then run up Occidental with another stop at Qwest North end. Then back to the main line… By looping the trolley, they would only have to flip the overhead at the NORTH end of the line, and could run higher capacity.

        But that is really dreaming… or is it? I would love to see this added to become part of the 4 trolley expansion plan.

      5. Between the Sculpture Park and Pier 91 there are a number of Port and City owned parcels that could be used for a barn. This would allow for a streetcar between the Cruise terminal at Pier 91 and at least the Sculpture Park while Alaskan Way is rebuilt. Depending on what portion of Alaskan Way gets rebuilt it might be possible to run the streetcar as far South as Pier 66 while the work on the rest of the Waterfront is going on.

        There is still the issue of funding and if the barn should be temporary until a connection to the First Hill line can be made or a dedicated barn for the Waterfront line.

        I’m guessing an extension would eventually need more cars than the City currently owns. Since Melbourne isn’t too keen on exporting more W class trams (in spite of the fact that more are likely to be preserved this way), perhaps some refurbished double-ended PCC cars or Milan Peter Witt cars could be bought from somebody. There are also some new-build “retro” style streetcars being made but I’d rather see historic cars rebuilt and restored.

  7. Sounds like a plan is falling into place. Now the larger question is, how long until Mayor McHurricane comes through and tries to change everything?

    1. The Mayor has been very supportive of our plan, and I’m sure will be one of several valuable allies on the Sound Transit Board.

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