The Seattle City Council today unanimously voted to approve the First Hill Streetcar.
The decision follows months of public outreach, which included strong lobbying from various coalitions seeking to put the alignment on 12th Ave or closer to the hospitals south of Union St. In the end, a two-way Broadway alignment was picked by Seattle’s Department of Transportation (SDOT). The mayor forwarded SDOT’s recommendation to the council.
The resolution is the same as the one passed last week by the council’s transportation committee. In it, the First Hill Streetcar will begin construction next year and start operations in late 2013. That is three years ahead of the original schedule in the Sound Transit 2 plan.
The Sound Transit Board must approve the plan before funding is released, but that is expected to be a formality. A more controversial board vote will center around an extension the city wants sooner than later.
The resolution calls an option contained in the inter-local agreement between Sound Transit and the city, which allows the city to propose an extension north of the Capitol Hill light rail station. The resolution direct SDOT to seek funding sources for an extension north to Aloha, which would serve more of the vibrant Broadway shopping and restaurant district. If preliminary engineering were completed on the extension — which SDOT has told us would cost around $20 million to fully construct — then Seattle could receive regional, state, or federal grants to fund the extension. Preliminary engineering would cost less than $1 million, and SDOT is expected to ask Sound Transit for the ability to fund that engineering from the streetcar fund.
Sound Transit staff — on background — do not support that move, even though the First Hill Streetcar is currently $6 million under budget including the contingency. Sound Transit is worried about its ability to fund its capital projects given the dire revenue situation for the Sound Transit 2 plan that went before voters in 2008. That plan is the funding source for the First Hill Streetcar.