The Seattle City Council is considering the city’s 2018 budget this week, and may consider an amendment to remove funding for the Center City Connector streetcar. A key procedural deadline is on Thursday. At a Select Budget Committee meeting Monday, several members voiced skepticism about the project.
The CCC connects the South Lake Union and First Hill streetcars with a frequent connection in exclusive right of way through central Seattle. It is anticipated to carry over 8,000,000 annual riders when it opens in 2020. The capital cost is $177 million, inclusive of utility work. Of this, $75 million is covered by an FTA Small Starts grant, $25 million of which is to be appropriated in the FY 2018 budget. (Another $8 million is federally funded via the PSRC). The Council authorized SDOT to accept the grants in July. The CCC is in final design with the first utility work scheduled this month.
Proposals to amend the budget must be introduced by Thursday at 2pm, and the support of three members is required. An amendment could prevent Seattle issuing bonds to cover its portion of the project costs. In Monday’s session, Lisa Herbold, Kshama Sawant, and Kirsten Harris-Talley all appeared to likely to support amending the budget. The budget will be finalized over the course of several meetings in November with a final vote on November 20.
Criticism of the project focused on the risk of federal funding falling short, doubts about ridership projections, and SDOT contingency planning for funding risks. Council members also questioned the race and social justice implications of a downtown transit project over buses serving disadvantaged neighborhoods. But the discussion was also a replay of the decision to build the streetcar. For instance, Lisa Herbold:
“The streetcar, from my perspective, has limited utility as a transportation infrastructure tool for people to get to and from their workplace. It may have value as an economic development tool.  One of the performance measures  is increasing access to transit service and we really need to be evaluating our investments in how we are helping people get to and from their daily obligations.“
CM Harris-Talley asked whether the city should redirect spending to buses. Should spending be on “routes that only serve key parts of the city, instead of investing more into our buses which allow us flexibility.  In a city that is growing quite quickly, we don’t know where all the centers are going to be.”
CM Rob Johnson warned of the consequences of stepping back from a project with generous federal support. The federal grants would be repayable, and there would be downstream impacts to the city’s ability to capture federal resources for other projects.