Last week, the Seattle City Council Budget Committee reviewed SDOT funding for 2018, and some members appeared ready to reconsider city funding for the Center City Connector. The Mayor’s budget proposal would finance $50 million of the projects $177 million capital cost via bond sales backed by Commercial Parking Tax revenues. Another $14 million is funded via utility funds, with the balance from other sources including $83 million in federal grants.
To amend the Mayor’s budget, the first procedural step is a “green sheet” sponsored by three Council Members (so called because they were once printed on green sheets of paper). In a lengthy Committee discussion last week, Lisa Herbold, Kshama Sawant, and Kirsten Harris-Talley all appeared likely to support such an amendment. The deadline for submitting amendments was on Thursday, October 19.
The green sheets were published this morning ahead of a 9.30AM meeting of the Budget Committee. No proposal to reduce or delay Connector funding appeared. This moves forward the Mayor’s proposal to fund the streetcar as the budget is finalized over the next four weeks.
There was no comment at this morning’s meeting why members hadn’t introduced a green sheet proposal. Instead, CM Mike O’Brien introduced a Statement of Legislative Intent to extend additional funding for “speed and reliability recommendations for the South Lake Union and First Hill streetcar lines”. The SLI is co-sponsored by Council Members Sally Bagshaw, Lorena González, Rob Johnson, and Kshama Sawant. SLIs do not specify funding levels, but indicate a policy direction that Council Members wish for staff to evaluate.
The O’Brien statement is responsive to concerns that, despite running in exclusive right-of-way through downtown, the reliability of the Connector could be harmed by the ends of the line running in shared right-of-way in South Lake Union and on First Hill.
The Center City Connector is scheduled to open in 2020 and will carry 25,000 average weekday riders. It will connect the existing South Lake Union and First Hill Streetcar lines with five-minute headways on First Avenue. The locally preferred alternative was selected in 2014, and recommended for $75 million of federal Small Starts funding in 2016, $50 million of which has now been appropriated. The remaining $25 million is included in appropriations bills in both the House and Senate.
In other news of interest to downtown mobility, CM O’Brien introduced an amendment to SDOT’s budget to fund a $200,000 consultant study of traffic diversion onto downtown streets when the SR 99 tunnel opens. The SR 99 tunnel will be tolled, and the tolls may divert traffic that currently uses the untolled viaduct to move through downtown. The study would explore options including pricing downtown Seattle exits so that transit service continues to operate reliably. Modeling has suggested a negative impact to downtown congestion and to transit travel times if diverted traffic is not managed effectively. The SR 99 tunnel opens in early 2019.