The Center City Connector project took another step forward with the recent publication of its Environmental Assessment (EA) documentation. A 30-day public comment period began Monday, with emailed comment accepted at email@example.com
The EA process is a slimmed down version of the more familiar Environmental Impact Statement. Agencies proposing projects unlikely to have significant impacts may opt for the smaller study, and assuming a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), the agency may proceed without further review.
If the proposed $75m federal funding contribution comes through (60% of the project’s cost) SDOT would begin construction late next year, with a 12-24 month construction period that is deliberately squishy at this point. The EA proposes breaking the work into 4 phases, working from Pioneer Square northward to SLU. The length and exact phasing of construction would be determined later in a delicate dance with major, concurrent impacts such as removal of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, uncertain timelines for the opening of the Deep Bore Tunnel, and completion of the Waterfront and Seawall projects. These challenges will also ostensibly be answered in the forthcoming Center City Mobility Plan, and like the increasingly delayed Center City Bike Network, it seems possible that construction mitigation and coordination needs have the potential to slow things down.
If built as planned, the two current streetcar lines would both be extended to overlap with one another for combined 5 minute headways (or more accurately, 12 trains per hour). Trains from First Hill would travel to SLU but stop short of Fred Hutch, returning via a new turnback track on Republican Street. Trains from Fred Hutch would terminate at 7th/Jackson, using the non-revenue access to the Charles Street OMF facility to turn around.
Given the U-shape of the proposed streetcar network, any trip longer than a few stations would likely be faster by bus or Link, but the project still has some potentially significant advantages. It would provide highly visible front-door service to Pike Place Market (and thus be a hit with tourists), it would provide a better transit connection to Colman Dock (currently awkwardly accessed by Link), and it would serve the heart of Pioneer Square (unlike the 3rd/Yesler “Pioneer Square” Link Station).
Unlike the poorly performing First Hill line, all new trackage would operate with full transit priority. Even those of us (myself included) normally sympathetic to arguments against streetcars can rejoice when right-of-way is taken for transit, whatever the mode. A traffic-calmed, streetcar-laden 1st Avenue just sounds downright pleasant compared the largely transit-free thoroughfare today.