RapidRide E on 3rd Avenue Credit: SounderBruce

The same day the Seattle City Council approved a design for the Roosevelt RapidRide and endorsed plans to seek federal and state funding for the project, councilmembers were given a dismal prediction on the future of federal transportation funding.

“It’s not a great picture,” said Leslie Pollner, a federal lobbyist for the city. She told councilmembers to expect significant cuts by the federal government in domestic spending, including public safety and transportation.  

The Roosevelt RapidRide project is expected to cost $70 million, with the goal of getting half of that funding from federal and state sources, said Councilmember Rob Johnson before the council voted to approve the preferred alternative Monday.

“If we are unsuccessful in securing in that the department will bring back to us a revised proposal,” Johnson added.

The vote committed the city to fully funding the development phase of the project at a cost of $4.3 million.

The Roosevelt RapidRide, estimated to decrease travel times by 20 percent, runs between downtown and the Roosevelt neighborhood via Eastlake and the University District. The project is one of seven RapidRide projects planned in the city in a partnership between the City and King County Metro. A previous STB post by Calvin Tonini describes the latest iteration of the project.

The city plans to apply for federal government dollars through a Small Starts grant program for both the Roosevelt and Madison RapidRide projects.

According to Mafara Hobson, a spokesperson for the Seattle Transportation Department, SDOT seeks federal funding for all projects that are eligible.

Pollner, the city lobbyist, during the morning council briefing, told members the House’s proposed Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development bill eliminates roughly $660 million from the capital investment section, hitting the Small Starts program hard.

“It would not fund all the projects needing an additional year of funding, like the Center City project would,” Pollner said. “We are expecting to see better numbers on the Senate side, but of course (we’re) waiting.”

Despite a more challenging funding environment, Shefali Ranganathan, executive director of Transportation Choices Coalition (TCC) remains hopeful Seattle will receive at least some federal grant money for the RapidRide projects.

“These projects are very competitive – especially Madison BRT,” Ranganathan wrote in an email. “I also think that as we adjust to a new funding environment, it should also make sense for SDOT to evaluate these projects and identify opportunities for state or local funding.”

Ranganathan said if federal funding does not pan out TCC would advocate for cheaper capital improvements, including painting transit lanes red and investment of local money, to achieve the best parts of RapidRide, such as dedicated lanes and more frequent service.

“The bottom line is we are going to get these projects done, the question is how,” Hobson wrote in an email. “So as you can imagine there’s a prioritizing exercise involved as well.”

“In short, today, I am not able to tell you what plan B looks like at this moment because we are figuring it out now,” she added.

28 Replies to “Seattle Needs Plan B for Federal Funding”

  1. Here’s a novel thought:

    Use Seattle’s bonding authority to fill the gap, extend voter approved taxes to cover for the total cost + interest.

    Sell it as “the Federal Government has left us to our own devices and we need to do everything ourselves”.


  2. This line duplicates Link to a significant extent, particularly when the extension to Northgate opens. I don’t know that I would consider this corridor a high priority in that light – areas that Link doesn’t reach should be higher priority.

    1. Link doesn’t reach the areas between the stations, and it doesn’t go anywhere near Eastlake. Should we cancel the 36 because Link runs in Rainier Valley an there’s one Beacon Hill station?

      1. I know it provides service to intermediate destinations. But I think increasing frequency on the route 70 and maybe extending it up Roosevelt can provide the infill service. And that investments to speed travel time are more impactful in corridors that have no light rail

      2. Increasing frequency on the 70 as well as making it faster is essentially what this is. They add off board payment, and given the nature of this corridor (especially with the addition of Link) that could be very important. The bus lanes also help as does avoiding the turn over to 15th. That turn is controversial (of course) but designed for faster speed. The point is that if you can quickly hop on and off this bus, then folks will use it, whether they are trying to get to Eastlake, South Lake Union, or parts of the UW that Link doesn’t serve (like Campus Parkway). This is not a bus that most people will take from end to end, but most buses in the city aren’t.

        All that being said, i don’t see this as a top three corridor. I would put it in the top ten, though. Yes, there are lots of places in the city that don’t have Link, but a lot of them don’t have many people.

      3. Increasing the frequency of the 70 and extending it to Roosevelt is the same thing, It’s more or less what Ranganathan suggested above. Two things to keep in mind:

        * The Move Seattle money may be restricted by its ballot to capital investments (paint, buses) rather than operations (service hours).

        * Running it north on Roosevelt/11th is incompatible with going east to the Ave. If you really mean to just extend the 70 north and west, it would be a detour for Roosevelt riders, and it would require expensive trolley wire north of 50th. Trolley wire is something like half the cost of the project, so it would be the first thing to minimize if cuts are required. That implies a route requiring less new wire, or a non-trolleybus solution such as battery buses or diesel buses.

        If you want to extend the 70’s wire, would you go north from 15th & 50th to 65th and west to Roosevelt Station? Or from 45th & 12th to 11th and up to 65th? Note the traffic on 45th, and the fact that it will be under construction for the 45th line. On the other hand, there may be new trolley wire on Brooklyn anyway to get RR 48 to U-District Station.

      4. For the bits between stations, shouldn’t they be covered by high frequency local buses? 100+ billion seems a little much

    2. Besides serving Eastlake, this provides nice connecting service to several Link stations to help provide high-quality transfers to/from Link. Also, all Seattle RapidRide lines run 24/7, so this route is an opportunity to provide good service when Link doesn’t operate at night.

      1. I wouldn’t call less-than-hourly night owls “24/7 service”. The A, C, D, and E have some runs after 2am. The C, D, and E will be hourly in September with the late-night reorg (I think it’s all of them), although that depends on MVET so it may go away with the Eyman initiative. The B and F stop running at midnight (+/- 30 minutes).

    3. THe problem with that is not everyone who uses transit is trying to get from their home in the burbs to downtown for work. Many in Seattle have committed to a lifestyle that includes using transit for errands, commuting, weekend fun, etc. and either do not own a car or use it only for long distance needs. The train is useless for these applications and is difficult to access for people West of I-5

    1. And Jarrett, give it a break. Don’t blame you for not wanting to go to Portland City Commission meetings. But ridiculous GP use of a wired and tracked street not fault of streetcar technology.

      Just that Portland finally exceeded Seattle in passively-psychotic self-disabling. What streetcars can’t get around, buses on same streets usually can’t either. ‘Til somebody legislates that automobiles can’t be in their way.

      Though when you start paving over the grooved rail in the new Tillicum Bridge, call and give me an invite. Forget Sounder. I’ll be on next MAX Red Line train in from the airport. Especially when you get that expensive aerial tramway back to bus route that was so much cheaper. Think of it! Has either one of those gondolas ever passed another one on the same wire?


      1. >> What streetcars can’t get around, buses on same streets usually can’t either.

        Nonsense. A streetcar can be stopped by someone who did a poor job parking. All it takes is sticking out an inch and a streetcar can’t do anything. A bus can go into the other lane. They can even be easily rerouted when there is construction (or some other reason to do so). Buses can go up steep hills and they can be extended easily into surrounding neighborhoods, They don’t require special tracks, that are literally deadly to bikers. This means that our acute angle streets are just fine for bus lanes, but a disaster for a streetcar, which leads to either very dangerous conditions (so much for Vision Zero) or less than ideal routing. Oh, and did I mention that adding rail actually costs extra money?

        The only thing that streetcars can do is carry more people per vehicle. Except that ours can’t! Our streetcars aren’t even that big (and our buses are).

      2. The City of Seattle owns what, seven streetcars? And this forever dooms every Seattle streetcar project to Inekon’s?

      3. A streetcar stopped where a car or bus could have gone around is a rare problem. Most of the time when streetcars are stuck in traffic, buses would be too. Why are we worrying about a marginally rare problem and ignoring the biggest factor in transit’s effectiveness? Seattle’s main problem is a lack of transit rights-of-way for the volume of people who want to travel and the time expectations they have (expectations based on the existence of cars which can get from downtown to Wallingford in ten minutes). We should build grade-separated transit or at least paint the streets red and work on signal priority, but instead we prioritize streetcars in the same lousy rights-of-way we already have. With appropriate respect for the planned exclusive lanes on 1st Avenue. But those lanes on 1st Avenue don’t help 3rd Avenue or Broadway or Westlake or Eastlake or Rainier or Jackson Street which are core transit corridors.

      4. Mike,

        You are absolutely correct in your list of streets which need transit priority. Where is the political will to give it for a single bus line? It’s really non-existent. Sure, streets which serve many routes such as Battery get red lanes, and they certainly should. But Westlake didn’t get lanes until the C Line came that way, even though it has a streetcar.

        The right thing to do is to curtain toll downtown, including SLU, and use the toll revenues to pay for more bus service.

  3. I wouldn’t typical propose delaying transit projects, but if …

    – Federal funding does dry up
    – Move Seattle and other SDOT funds won’t allow completion of all the near-term projects

    Then …

    – Roosevelt Rapid Ride could be delayed until the U-District Link Station opens in 2021
    – Then elimination of direct 15th Av NE/Downtown service will be less controversial/inconvenient
    – Re-deploy limited SDOT funds to complete Madison BRT, Center City Streetcar and Delridge BRT without federal funding
    – Wait for Bernie to fully fund Roosevelt Rapid Ride (and, say, all of ST3) after 2020

    1. Why on earth would we complete Center City Streetcar without federal funding? The only reason to finish that turd is because the feds are chipping in for it. If the money dries up for the streetcar, it is time to sell those things and put the money into projects that actually make sense for a city like Seattle.

      As far as your other points are concerned, the Roosevelt HCT project is slated to open in 2021. The fallback position as stated by SDOT sounds reasonable. Just put the money into paint, and that is about it. Don’t run wire, don’t have off board stations, but at least get the buses moving a bit faster through greater downtown (which includes South Lake Union). As you say, eventually someone with more sense will take over in Washington D. C., and help fund reasonable, cost effective transit solutions (like this one).

    2. Has the city said it would pursue the CCC without grants and cut other projects for it? Or would it simply put the CCC on hold until/if grants or other funding through? We need to get those RapidRide lines finished.

  4. Mike, no reason the 70 can’t use its present wire, trailing onto and off of the new RapidRide lines. Five-block walk from Ave to Roosevelt short by the map, but experienced by present UW passengers as a slapped face.

    With battery propulsion, wouldn’t need passing-wire to do local service while Rapids ride by on-wire. Just wiring “pans” -no idea why they call them that, except it’s shorter than “Little Plastic Houses on the Wire”- to re-wire after express goes by.

    Also, any chance we could get a RapidRide fleet that can run hybrid with either trolley-poles already attached or just fittings and circuits for poles to be added when funds permit.

    Aside from that, shouldn’t need anything from the Feds for paint stripes, signal preempt, to cessation of tweets calling public transit illegal apple-pickers, main means of bringing in illegal voters.

    In trade, willing to give the Russian mob its choice of any of the ugly square columns of rectacular glassware they choose. Especially the one where Moka’s Espresso used to be on Harrison Route 70 stop. And free of charge put a sign with familiar name on it. And buy space in The Times to note that opening crowd was entire population of Khazakstan.


  5. What I’m saying, Ross, is that on urban streets most likely to be rail corridors, especially at rush hour, any transit vehicle may not have a clear lane on either side. So there’s stronger motive to keep transit lane clear for a streetcar.

    With a bus, because theoretically it can change lanes and pass, transit pretends that multiple clear lanes aren’t needed. Blockage only prevented by completely clear lane the whole route.

    Streetcars can be coupled, buses can’t. So as DSTT proves every rush hour, following space between buses effectively lengthens the vehicle- with majority of space first to last bumper carrying only polluted air.

    While tracks also need maintenance, pavement on bus routes seems always allowed to operate in worse condition because buses can run gravel roads if they have to.

    Not only am I not saying buses don’t have their place. DSTT history makes it tempting to advocate starting eventual rail routes on at least part of every line planned to carry rail. To create the land use and travel patterns ideal for trains when they arrive.

    But my main argument is that what I’ve seen overseas convinces me that in tight quarters, both passengers and nearby pedestrians are more comfortable with railcars than buses. An outdoor cafe 20 feet from streetcar track will draw more patrons than one same distance from a bus lane. Diesel, electric or hybrid.




    A balance sheet has two columns. In crowded heavily traveled places, the early red ink for streetcars delivers a longer black column later. Jarrett points to a planned streetcar line replaced by planned buses. But wonder how many existing streetcar lines have been paved over lately. Okay, main street crossing First in Pioneer Square.
    That’s what jackhammers are for.


    1. Well said, Mark. Ross is beginning to sound like a Trumper in his hatred for streetcars. They have their place, and you well noted that people feel much safer around them. In Amsterdam people walk right next to the warning lines and never think about passing trams. They would never do that with buses.

      1. Of course streetcars have their place. But Seattle is just not one of those places. I’m not sounding like Trump, I’m sounding like Al Gore, in that I’m speaking an inconvenient truth. I’m not the only one (http://humantransit.org/2009/07/streetcars-an-inconvenient-truth.html). https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2014/07/29/streetcars-a-momentary-lapse-of-reason/

        I don’t know where you get the idea that streetcars in other cites don’t get blocked. I was in Toronto a very short time, and saw a streetcar line (not just an individual streetcar) blocked by an accident. The accident didn’t involve the streetcar, but two cars that happened to collide. Buses simply went around the problem, but the streetcar (and all the streetcars behind it) were stuck. That is why Toronto periodically considers getting rid of their streetcars. Toronto! A city with huge density, that is basically flat as a pancake. It is only their enormous investment in existing streetcar infrastructure that keeps them from replacing them with buses. Which explains why our neighbor to the north (Vancouver) hasn’t invested in them, despite much higher density than us.

        There are only a handful of places in Seattle where the demand could reach the levels where a streetcar makes sense in Seattle, and those places are:

        1) Already served by a light rail tunnel.
        2) Too steep for a streetcar.
        3) Would get caught in traffic (which is why we built the tunnel in the first place).
        4) Be part of a shared corridor that has high demand in the shared section, but lower demand in most every other place.

        Meanwhile, you think we should double down, and build even larger platforms for larger streetcars? Really? How much money should be blow on the thing, while other essential improvements sit waiting.

        Look at this project. They are looking at abandoning off board payment stations, as well as trolley wire on this corridor. But you think it is great idea to what — run a streetcar there instead? They are struggling with getting 10 minute headways, but you want to run a streetcar every 20 minutes instead? Remember, this is one of the few places where a streetcar in Seattle might actually make sense. You are talking about the UW, South Lake Union and downtown Seattle. It doesn’t get much bigger than that around here, and yet we struggle to even get off board payment and better than ten minute headways. A streetcar doesn’t make sense on this route because it just doesn’t make sense anywhere in Seattle. It is an expensive distraction from the real work that needs to be done, which (as Bruce said in the earlier post I referenced) is to make the buses faster and build out the subway.

      2. Woo hoo, I have hit the bullseye.

        WHICH corridor have I said we should “run a streetcar every 20 minutes”? A few days ago, on the specific streetcar thread I said that I agreed that it might make sense to extend the Broadway car down Rainier to JPS and MBS, but that I really preferred that the Metro 8 go that way in the air.

        The other two corridors I agreed potentially make sense are Jackson to 23rd and First Avenue as far as Republican. Both leverage the existence of a soon-to-be-protected right-of-way into the CBD and increase the frequency of service in the “trunk” portion of each service.

        The Jackson extension is to support the density that’s growing along Jackson while leaving Yesler free for “express” access to the center of downtown. It’s closer to Jackson than Roosevelt is to 15th NE, so you’d be bound to agree that for the small number of people from Mount Baker who want to go to Jackson west of 23rd, moving the 10 to Yesler would not be a hardship. Yes, it would need wire, but it’s going to Eighth next year.

        On First Avenue I believe it would be of real value to connect the entertainment district in Pioneer Square, the Market and the enormous number of housing units between Second Avenue and Elliott up in Belltown. In a best of all possible worlds future, it might conceivably make sense to extend it south to Starbucks at First and Lander. There would be your guaranteed access to the stadiums from downtown restaurants. Buses can’t do the job here, because there is simply no way in the world that you’re going to get lanes for buses on First Avenue through Belltown for local service buses.

        For the rest of the streetcar suggestions four days ago, especially the orphaned sections requiring truck haulage for maintenance, “No, this will not fly.” That’s it. You could look it up.

        So far as streetcars getting blocked, sure they occasionally get blocked by intruding accidents. That’s one reason why there are tow trucks. However, if you cobble the trackway — or better yet grow grass between the rails as Tri-Met is doing in South Portland and SDOT did along Valley — cars simply can’t intrude. They can block at cross streets, but not within the trackway.

        Look, I’ll certainly agree that SDOT screwed up the Broadway car royally by trying to squeeze three modes of transportation onto one fairly narrow street. But that’s an indictment of SDOT, not of streetcar technology. It needs to have the same priority as surface LRT and relatively long cars. It needs to connect at least two activity centers through a dense neighborhood. It shouldn’t go very far, because it doesn’t go very fast. It should stop reasonably often because its function is to give people a lift within the neighborhood.

        “Subways” (e.g. heavy rail or “metro” light rail) are for longer trips within a real city.

        You’ve confused our argument about Eastlake with this obsession you have against streetcars.

    2. If we can build the world’s first light rail on a floating bridge, I suspect we can figure out how to run a streetcar up a hill. Problem with First Hill/Broadway is not the slope or using 14th Ave. instead of 12th, it’s priority. Until signal priority for transit is taken seriously, neither streetcars nor busses will be “rapid.” In the age of the “Internet of Things” someone should be able to figure this out! And as for vehicles parked partially blocking streetcar tracks, I bet the tow companies would love the business. In the end the reason corners are cut on RapidRide (and why proper BRT is not really on the table!) is not because streetcars it’s because we can’t/won’t inconvenience drivers.

  6. Way to much money is going into ttransportation in the City of Seatttle and not
    headed in the Right Direction. Not a lot less planners. and a lot less money might
    solve some problems.

    1. Which neighborhoods would you bulldoze to move transportation in “the Right Direction”?

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