Mayor raises dubious engineering concerns for Center City Connector

Center City Connector Route
Center City Connector Route

The fate of the Center City Connector (CCC) is still undecided, but Mayor Jenny Durkan may have tipped her hand towards canceling the project.

A release sent out by Durkan’s office last week explained why the mayor’s decision has been delayed. An analysis of the project by consulting firm KPMG has yet to be completed, despite an initial deadline for delivery in late June. The release follows a similarly skeptical note written by Councilmember Lisa Herbold, a longtime CCC critic, in her weekly constituent letter. 

“In August, it is hoped that KPMG will finalize their report to provide their independent analysis of the project,” the release said. The mayor will presumably make a final decision at that point. The release also suggests that the mayor could reopen the yearslong Center City Connector project design phase that selected a streetcar in the first place:

“Mayor Durkan believes we need better transit options along First Avenue and is committed to transit mobility and connectivity in this critical corridor. She has also asked SDOT to evaluate additional mobility alternatives in order to understand the transportation benefits that would accrue from either a streetcar or an alternative mode of transit.”

The release raised several critiques of the streetcar project, most notably about the size and operability of the tram vehicles that SDOT intends to procure for the project.

The mayor’s office wrote in a release that the much delayed, still unseen audit of the project by consulting firm KPMG “was much more complex than initially expected” as it required “the review of thousands of estimates, design materials and correspondence.”

At the same time, the release says that “concurrently with KPMG’s review, the Durkan Administration has also learned that the streetcar vehicles procured for the C3 are heavier, longer and wider than the existing SLU and First Hill streetcars.”

A low floor tram in service in Helsinki. Credit: LHOON.

However, the size of the vehicles is easily explained: they’re low floor vehicles designed to help people with disabilities load. That feature makes vehicles them inherently heavier than the vehicles currently on the streetcar network; the vehicles are increasingly common rolling stock for tram systems across the world. The release also raises the question of whether the vehicles have the correct gauge. As best as anyone can tell from the contracts SDOT executed for the vehicles, the vehicles should fit the track.

SDOT’s Director of Transit and Mobility, Andrew Glass Hastings, declined to comment on the mayor’s concerns.

Downtown groups who supported the mayor during her election campaign, like the Downtown Seattle Association and Alliance for Pioneer Square, are growing increasingly restive over the delayed project.

Transit and streetcar advocates have said that the concerns raised in the release are overblown. They argue that the questions about vehicle size are routine concerns that are typically addressed in the engineering phase of construction, and that the mayor is essentially engaging in concern trolling. 

“A connected streetcar network remains a critical investment for our center city—which in the last year alone absorbed 20% of all business district development in the United States and continues to absorb the lion’s share of Seattle’s new residents,” said Don Blakeney, the Downtown Seattle Association’s VP of advocacy.

“We’ve heard concerns from the Mayor about streetcar hardware and project costs. These are issues that call out for engineering solutions and not shelving the streetcar altogether. As a part of a coalition of community leaders, we remain committed to helping the Mayor find solutions to get this critical connection completed.”

SDOT Announces 3rd Avenue Improvements

3rd Avenue, with many buses and a few cars
Photo by Zack Heistand.

On Friday, SDOT and Metro announced two rounds of transit improvements for 3rd Avenue, still the region’s busiest transit corridor.  They will coincide with the next two Metro service changes, and are as follows:

September 2018

  • Extend the hours of the current car restrictions along 3rd to 6 a.m.-7 p.m. seven days a week (with 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. exception for permitted commercial vehicles).
  • Ban left turns from 3rd Ave at all times.
  • Remove on-street parking from Prefontaine Pl at all times.

March 2019

  • Install ORCA readers and real-time arrival signs at all 3rd Ave stops, not only those served by RapidRide.
  • Move current southbound stop at James St one block north.

Metro will also be adding a new northbound bus stop between Columbia and Marion at a later date, and presumably shuffling routes between stops for greater efficiency.

We continue to think that painting 3rd completely red would be the best and clearest solution, and would be amply warranted by the volume of bus riders 3rd serves.  But these changes are welcome, and better in some respects than the rumor mill and previous statements by SDOT staff had led us to believe.

The 24/7 ban on left turns off 3rd is a particularly happy surprise.  Left-turning cars frequently block the southbound through lane at all hours, holding up through buses.  Banning left turns 24/7 will also cause TNC drivers’ navigation apps not to recommend those turns, while the apps appear to ignore peak-hour turn restrictions.

It also wasn’t clear until recently that SDOT would extend car restrictions to weekends, despite frequent car-caused traffic congestion on weekend afternoons.  The weekend restrictions should improve bus reliability, especially given Metro’s longtime tendency toward optimistic scheduling on weekends.

With cars allowed in some places and at some times, enforcement will continue to be a challenge, as it is today. Enforcement of existing restrictions by SPD and Metro Transit Police has been inconsistent, and typically absent when traffic crashes or special events create gridlock on surrounding streets—allowing the gridlock to spread to 3rd and paralyze bus service too.  SDOT and SPD should prioritize enforcement more than they have to date.  In particular, more, not less, enforcement should happen on days when car traffic elsewhere is heavier than usual, so buses can provide a resilient alternative for people trying to get home.

2018 Primary: 34th District Senate

Correction: See the underlined and struck-out text in paragraph 3.

In a wide-open race for State Senator from the 34th District (representing West Seattle, Burien, and Vashon Island), there are several good candidates from whom to choose. Joe Nguyen stands out as having a razor-sharp understanding of transit and land use issues, and firm commitment to siding with transit.

Joe Nguyen

By day, Joe Nguyen is a Senior Manager at Microsoft. He gets around mostly by bus, light rail, and bike, except for when he has to get the family around by car.

By night, Nguyen is involved in various community groups, including as Chair of Wellspring Family Services’ Associate Board. Wellspring is committed to housing 2000 families in the next two years. “We have a housing crisis now, and it doesn’t require requires public/private partnerships to build” the housing we need, he said in our interview. In defense of allowing for-profit developers to build some of the needed housing, he mentioned the condo warranty law as a reason why for-profit developers will choose to build apartments when given the opportunity to build multi-family housing. He understands the bureaucratic hurdles that get in the way of building anything, including housing.

Regarding transit, Nguyen expressed frustration not only that the Center City Connector might not be finished, resulting in having to return a lot of federal grant money, but also that the CCC isn’t planned to go all the way to UW. On that point, he said he would support trying to get the state to throw in some money to get the job done.

We asked why Senators Maralyn Chase and Bob Hasegawa, no friends of light rail, endorsed him. He said their endorsements are based on other issues, such as making stuff accessible to regular people, and that he does not agree with them at all on transit issues. In particular, Nguyen does not support the rollback of Sound Transit car tabs.

Of particular relevance to many of Nguyen’s would-be constituents on Vashon Island, he “100%” supports getting Washington State Ferries to accept PugetPass and interagency transfers, and also pointed out the need for more pedestrian-friendly paths at the ferry docks. He is passionate about using price elasticity to incentivize more ferry walk-ons and make them cheaper for families.

Nguyen also points out the irony that most businesses have 5-year plans, have interest in building here, and find that the local governments have not planned ahead. He would like to see development plans prepared by local governments that include pedestrian and bike access to and through new construction projects, and that these plans be ready when prospective tenant businesses show up, so that shovels can be turned faster.

Continue reading “2018 Primary: 34th District Senate”

Will ORCA Follow TriMet’s “Virtual Card” Fee?

Portland TriMet recently rolled out the first-of-its-kind-in-the-US “virtual” smart card. The virtual Hop Fastpass account requires use of GooglePay on an Android smartphone, but doesn’t require getting or using a physical Hop Fastpass. The smartphone accessing the account provides all the functionality of the physical Hop Fastpass, using the same motion of briefly holding the phone against the card reader.

TriMet has become the US transit industry’s leader in accessible fare collection in multiple ways:

  • It is the only agency with daily and monthly fare caps (only available on Hop Fastpass).
  • It is one of a small handful of agencies offering a low-income fare discount.
  • It is the only agency that allows smart phones to provide the same functionality as smart cards, without having to get a smart card.

TriMet is trailing the industry in one regard, though: the price of its smart card. TriMet charges the third-highest fee in the country for its transit smart card – $3 – with only the ORCA card and Anchorage People Mover’s Smart Card (each $5) costing more. As I’ve documented multiple times, the industry standard is to make transit smart cards available for free, or free after rebating any fee into the card’s e-purse.

Now, citing what reads like a bizarre social justice concern troll, TriMet is charging for the “virtual Hop Fastpass card”, even while saving the cost of producing and distributing physical cards.

To keep the Hop system equitable for all users, virtual Hop cards will cost the same as physical Hop cards – $3. To date, TriMet has distributed more than 90,000 Hop cards free of charge at community events and to community-based organizations and employers.

Continue reading “Will ORCA Follow TriMet’s “Virtual Card” Fee?”

Sound Transit Board Approves Expanded Parking Permit Program

Issaquah Transit Center Credit: Sound Transit

This week, Sound Transit’s board approved an expanded permit program that would bring paid parking to several of its most popular park-and-ride lots.  In addition to the $5 carpool permits, ST will now add a permit for single-occupancy drivers.  Rates will vary based on the location of the park and ride but could be as much as $90/month, with a discount for ORCA LIFT holders. We covered the program in depth last year.

From the board resolution:

This action changes the parking utilization threshold for permit implementation (HOV and SOV) from 97% to 90% or higher for at least three consecutive months, allowing program expansion to popular facilities in Snohomish, King, and Pierce Counties (Edmonds Station, Mukilteo Station, Mercer Island Park & Ride, and Lakewood Station currently meet this threshold in addition to the facilities with HOV permit programs). All future facilities built to provide access to Link light rail, or projected to reach 90% utilization within the first year, would be eligible for permit implementation at opening.

At least 50% of spaces at the lots will remain free of charge.  ST first began piloting carpool permits back in 2013.

Stretch of 4th Ave Bus Lane to Open This Fall

SDOT announced last week that a key stretch of 4th Ave S will get a bus lane this Fall. The project extends the existing northbound bus lane between Jackson and Weller further south to the I-90 exit Royal Brougham Way. This lane will be 24/7, though cars will be allowed to turn right. SDOT will paint the lane red.

37 bus routes use this lane to access the curbside 4th & Jackson stop at some point in the day. Most are peak-only buses starting their evening run, but the 522, 545, 554, and 594 travel through there all day. A further 19 routes use the 4th & Jackson island on the left side of the roadway, and may be able to use the lane and then get over to the left in time. These routes include through-routed Metro workhorses like the 5/21, 24/124, 26/131, 28/132, 33/124, and 40.

The project does not currently include a queue jump at S Weller St to assist those buses that shift lanes, but planner Jonathan Dong says that a queue jump is a “great idea” that is “worth exploring.”

The project, which also changes Seattle Blvd S to a double right-turn lane to improve transit times, will cost $149,600.

While the big picture is pretty grim at SDOT right now, we can take small comfort from dedicated professionals who are making incremental gains for transit at this scale.

You can submit comments to Jonathan.dong@seattle.gov.

Update: the transit lane proposal has been adjusted based on Metro’s input. Improvements are scheduled for August 2018.

Federal Way Link cost estimate to increase by $460.3 million

Guideway for the Angle Lake extension under construction in 2014. Credit: Atomic Taco

Sound Transit staff will inform the agency’s board today that the Federal Way Link extension’s official cost estimate will increase from $2.088 billion to $2.549 billion. The notice comes a year after the agency announced similar budgeting problems for the Lynnwood Link extension.

According to Sound Transit spokesperson Scott Thompson, the Federal Way cost increase is driven by the same issues that drove up Lynnwood’s budget. The Puget Sound region’s gobsmacking real estate market has increased the price of land acquisition. Right of way, stations, and parking garages are all much more expensive than the agency’s 2015-16 cost estimates predicted.

Construction is similarly pricey, as the development boom has created a hypercompetitive contracting bid market, especially for technically sophisticated projects like light rail. According to construction firm RLB, the U.S. average for construction costs increased from 2017 to 2018. Seattle had one of the highest local cost increases, trailing only Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles among major markets.

Cost reduction and mitigation

Fortunately, ST was able to reduce the Lynnwood cost increases by $200 million to $500 million. Cost cutting measures included removing down escalators, changing the concrete used to build stations and guideways, and shrinking platforms. Similar mitigation could presumably happen for the Federal Way project.

ST will also introduce a new cost cutting method: combining the design and build contracts for Federal Way into a single bid. According to Thompson, ST is confident that the new bid method will reduce costs, but said it was too premature to say how much money the new bidding process will save.

If current real estate and construction trends continue, more cost increase announcements are likely to follow.

Correction: The Lynnwood project’s cost increase was decreased by $200 million, not to $200 million.

News Roundup: Not Nearly Enough

Mountain lift

This is an open thread.

Big oil is already spending almost $1m to oppose carbon pricing

The Andeavor refinery in Anacortes. Credit: Backbone Campaign.

Several of the world’s largest oil companies have committed nearly a million dollars to defeating Washington Initiative 1631, which would institute a carbon emission fee on the state’s largest polluters in order to fund affordable housing and green energy projects.

Two “against” campaigns have been organized to oppose I-1631. One was organized by the Association of Washington Business (AWB), and the other was created by the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA). The WSPA is an oil industry group whose membership includes Exxon, Shell, Andeavor, and BP.

According to the latest campaign finance filings with the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), two campaigns will spend at least $992,006.19 to defeat I-1631. The vast majority of that spending–$916,974.88–comes from out of state oil producers. The campaign will probably raise more money. Initiative campaigns can raise funds until election day, and there is no cap on contributions for PACs working on initiative votes.

Five multinational oil companies have pledged to contribute the following to the oil industry’s campaign:

  • $396,031.40, BP
  • $201,186.54, Phillips 66
  • $162,827.17, Andeavor
  • $60,067.84, Chevron
  • $56,826.50, Shell

The AWB campaign is, so far, much smaller than the WSPA campaign. The Washington lobbying group has only raised $14,500 so far. Washington businesses and trade groups have spent or pledged $75,031.31 across both “against” campaigns. Washington-based donors include a trade group for general contractors and a Tacoma oil refinery.

Continue reading “Big oil is already spending almost $1m to oppose carbon pricing”

Financial Engineering to Accelerate Link

Downtown Everett (Image: Emersb/Wikimedia)

Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff has suggested the agency is exploring creative financing options for Everett Link that shift some costs outside of agency debt limits. If successful, this would mitigate the risk of project delays as Sound Transit bumps up against statutory limits on debt in the 2030s, and may even accelerate the timetable.

The remarks came in a meeting of the Everett City Council. In response to questions about earlier service to Everett, Rogoff replied:

“Our goal in terms of being able to serve Everett sooner is two-fold. One, to work with the communities as cooperative partners to see if we can’t focus on results and minimize bureaucracy to get a plan to get up here as soon as we can. That’s A. B, if there is a way that we can work out a financial arrangement where we could start incurring costs for this that would be exempt from the debt cap imposed on us, that might provide some opportunities to get up here sooner. We’re trying to be as creative as possible.

We’ve made that commitment to not only Paul Roberts, to Dave Somers, to Dave Earling, who’ve been on this for a long time. I don’t want to say it’s impossible. I’d like to continue with each passing year to see if we can’t drive that schedule closer and closer.”

Sound Transit, like any local government in Washington State, faces a constitutional limitation that non-voted debt not exceed 1.5% of the assessed value of property within its jurisdiction.  This constrains the size and timing of capital investments as revenues must accumulate to cover most of the program. At its peak, the financial plan envisions $17.6 billion in debt by 2035, just as Everett Link is scheduled to open in 2036. The debt limit in 2035 is projected at $20.1 billion. There are many risks to that forecast, starting with the inescapable vagaries of a financial forecast two decades into the future. MVET reform alone could erode almost all of Sound Transit’s cushion unless accompanied by offsets. Several billions of anticipated federal grants are uncertain. Community pressures may drive some project costs higher.

We asked Sound Transit to elaborate on the options to spend beyond the debt cap, and Sound Transit spokesperson Kimberly Reason explained: Continue reading “Financial Engineering to Accelerate Link”

Near-term Options for Montlake Transit Mobility

Cars queued up at the Montlake offramp

When the new 520 bridge opened last year, it created a glorious, continuous HOV-3 lane from Bellevue all the way to Montlake. Unfortunately, it also created a new bottleneck for buses: the Eastbound offramp from SR-520 to Montlake Blvd has become a notorious parking lot for cars and buses exiting the freeway, as any passenger on the 255 or 54x buses an attest.

When WSDOT finishes the Montlake lid in 4-5 years, things will get better: buses will have a dedicated exit from the left-hand HOV lane onto the surface, potentially all the way to and from UW Station.

Future transit-only Montlake offramp (WSDOT rendering)

Alas 2023 is still a ways away, so STB reader Glen Buhlmann invited STB and some fellow transit advocates to meet with WSDOT staff at the Montlake offramp to see if there were any opportunities for near-term improvements. As bad as the situation is now, even more buses may need to be truncated at UW in the near term.

Continue reading “Near-term Options for Montlake Transit Mobility”

Long-Awaited Bellevue Tunnel is Fully Excavated

The final pieces of rubble are cleared at the north portal

After 15 months of relatively easy digging, Sound Transit celebrated the completion of East Link tunnel excavation in Downtown Bellevue. The tunnel will carry East Link trains from East Main Station (at 112th Avenue and Main Street) to Bellevue Downtown Station (at Bellevue Transit Center and the city hall), traveling for 1,984 feet under 110th Avenue, at a depth of about 12 to 30 feet below street level.

Unlike the neat and tidy bores left by the tunnel boring machines on University Link and Northgate Link, the Bellevue tunnel was dug using the sequential excavation method (SEM; also called the New Austrian tunnelling method), which involves removing soil with heavy machinery and spraying pressurized concrete to support the void. Additional waterproofing and steel lattice girders (479 in total) were then added to support the new tunnel, which moved at a rate of a few feet per day.

Continue reading “Long-Awaited Bellevue Tunnel is Fully Excavated”

News Roundup: So You Don’t Have To

Westlake transit lanes

This is an open thread.

2018 Primary: Keep Marko Liias in the State Senate

Transit has no stronger advocate in the State Legislature than Sen. Marko Liias. Liias serves as Vice Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, where he has been able to speak up against non-sensical efforts to undermine transit agencies, and advocate for more investment in public transit, with huge success.

STB has covered Liias’ career championing transit in Olympia at length.

If you live in the 21st District (north Edmonds and Lynnwood, and south Mukilteo), please vote for Marko Liias by August 7.

The STB Editorial Board currently consists of Martin H. Duke, Brent White, and Dan Ryan.

2018 Primary: Promote Jesse Salomon to State Senate

Outside of Seattle, very few candidates are mentioning transit these days. It seems to be an ebb tide in willingness of politicians, including Democrats, to stand up for transit.

Jesse Salomon

Swimming against this tide is Shoreline Deputy Mayor Jesse Salomon, whom we endorsed when he got elected to the Shoreline City Council in 2015. Salomon proved our instincts right when he voted with a majority of the Shoreline City Council for upzones around the future Shoreline Station, over shouting by neighbors opposed to new housing in their neighborhood.

Salomon is challenging Sen. Maralyn Chase (D – Edmonds), who campaigned against the Sound Transit 3 ballot measure.

The 32nd District, which Salomon is vying to represent as state senator, includes Shoreline, Woodway, most of Lynnwood, and parts of Edmonds, Mountlake Terrace, and far northwest Seattle.

While most other politicians don’t mention transit, Salomon’s transportation page is all about light rail.

Cars and buses get stuck in gridlock. Most major cities have light rail, subway, or other transportation systems that run on their own dedicated route and have traffic signal priority. We need to complete our light rail system as soon as possible and add bus rapid transit service to high commuter locations not served by light rail.

Replacing Sen. Chase with Jesse Salomon would tell the Democratic caucuses in Olympia that transit is an important priority.

The deadline to return ballots for the primary election is August 7.

The STB Editorial Board currently consists of Martin H. Duke, Brent White, and Dan Ryan.

Link Advisory Group Reviews Chinatown, Sodo, Water Crossing Issues

The railroad stations and 4th Avenue viaduct from above. Credit: Bruce Englehardt

On Monday, the Sound Transit West Seattle and Ballard Link stakeholder advisory group, which includes transit advocates, prominent community members, and business and labor leaders, moved further along the process of selecting alignments and station locations for the West Seattle and Ballard light rail lines.

In Monday’s meeting in Union Station’s Sound Transit boardroom, agency staff briefed the group on siting and alignments in Sodo and Chinatown. They also briefed the group on water crossings at Salmon Bay and the mouth of the Duwamish river.

The advisory group will eventually pass recommendations to a subcommittee of the Sound Transit board, which in turn will recommend the ultimate preferred alternative to the board as a whole.

A breakout group at work. Credit: Peter Johnson

In breakout sessions conducted over pad thai, the advisory group discussed the alignment and station locations of the new West Seattle line’s Sodo station. The advisory group also discussed the location of the new Chinatown/ID station, which will have far-reaching impacts on the future of the light rail system.

The Chinatown station, and the segment of the new line closest to it, was the subject of intense discussion, with good reason. It’s the centerpiece of the project, and it could have the most disruptive construction impacts of any Link project so far.

Tough choices for Chinatown/ID station and alignment

Concept map of the alignments. Credit: Sound Transit

The future Chinatown station is one of the most critical elements of the new Link line. It will be the southern terminus of the new downtown tunnel, the site of hundreds of thousands of intra-Link transfers every day, and the light rail network’s busiest multimodal hub, with connections to Sounder, Amtrak, public and private buses, and the Seattle streetcar.

The station and alignment’s siting and design will have permanent impact on Link’s capacity, headways, and expansion potential. Sound Transit is committed to making the Chinatown station a central transfer hub, so it has to be built adjacent to the existing Chinatown/International District Link stop next to Union Station.

Construction in Chinatown and Pioneer Square is complicated. Much of the area is infilled tideland, which would liquefy during an earthquake. Liquefaction aside, the loose soil requires deep foundations for newer construction, and would force Sound Transit to make a deep bore tunnel even deeper than in most areas of the city.

Plus, many of the buildings in the area are built on pilings, since the neighborhoods are the city’s oldest. Those pilings could be obstacles for any alignment, and might not be replaceable with a new foundation. Demolition isn’t a way out of that problem: a large slice of the area—and King Street and Union Station themselves—are historic landmarks, or in historic districts.

4th Avenue vs. 5th Avenue

Sound Transit’s “representative alignment” is under 5th Avenue, with a station perpendicular to King and Jackson streets and parallel to the current Chinatown/ID station. During the first round of outreach with the Chinatown and Pioneer Square neighborhoods, there was strong demand for siting the line and station on 4th Avenue, or under Union Station. Continue reading “Link Advisory Group Reviews Chinatown, Sodo, Water Crossing Issues”

PSRC assigns federal funds to Link and four BRT projects

Boarding Swift and RapidRide buses. Credit: Atomic Taco

On Thursday, the Puget Sound Regional Council’s (PSRC) Transportation Policy Board (TPB) recommended that five transit projects receive additional Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) funding in 2021-22.

The projects were part of a larger disbursement of federal transportation funds, including highway funding, which must be approved in a meeting of the PSRC’s Executive Board on July 26. Area agencies submitted proposals for a competitive bid process earlier this year.

PSRC staff selected the five projects from that group of proposals, and created an additional list of projects, including Rainier RapidRide and Colman Dock, that could receive funding should additional federal funds become available.

Three of the five projects did not get as much funding as they initially requested. Four of the five projects are for BRT, and East Link also got a boost. According to PSRC spokesperson Rick Olson, that’s because the funding competition was remarkably popular. Bidding agencies worked together to make sure that funding dollars could be used to the furthest possible extent.

“The projects that got less funding than requested this round voluntarily took cuts in order to get more projects funded,” Olson says. “We had far more funding requested than was available.”

Link in Redmond

The segment of East Link between Microsoft and downtown Redmond gets $7 million towards the Microsoft and Redmond stations and the guideway between them. According to Sound Transit’s presentation to the PSRC on the project, the Redmond funds will also be applied towards a cycle track near the downtown Redmond station, a bike and pedestrian bridge over Bear Creek, and several trail connections.

Community Transit’s Swift Orange line

Continue reading “PSRC assigns federal funds to Link and four BRT projects”

Fate of Center City Connector depends on Mayor’s delayed consultant report

The First Hill Streetcar under construction in 2013. Credit: Gordon Werner

The Center City Connector, a streetcar on First Avenue with dedicated right of way, has an uncertain fate. Mayor Jenny Durkan halted construction of the streetcar at the end of March and ordered a project review by consulting and auditing firm KPMG. When Durkan first halted construction on the streetcar, transit advocates speculated that the pause and assessment might be a pretext for canceling the project. The delay in the report has deepened that impression.

Durkan’s office promised to make the report “available no later than June 19,” but, though a version of the report has been delivered, it has not been made public. According to Durkan’s staff, and a June 29 project update on an SDOT website, Durkan was “verbally briefed” on the project on June 19.

However, the mayor “asked for a further analysis on technical assumptions, ridership projections, operations and capital costs, and funding options, as well as more detailed information regarding additional alternatives for providing transit connections moving forward.” The review of KPMG’s findings will be conducted by city agencies including the City Budget Office, SDOT, Seattle City Light, and Seattle Public Utilities.

While the contents of the report remains unknown to the public, members of the transit policy community, who did not wish to be identified, believe that the report contains ridership projections higher than the estimates that accompanied the design stage of the CCC. 

The review of the KPMG report will “verify updated ridership projections, material costs and labor, utility relocations and project timelines for a series of options to ensure the final report is accurate for taxpayers.” Sources believe the motivation behind the second round of auditing is to find policy reasons to cancel the project. When asked for an update on Durkan’s decision, the mayor’s staff directed STB to the June 29 statement.

If the project is cancelled, more than the 1st Avenue streetcar might be in jeopardy. Members of the transit community and the city’s D.C. lobbyist worry that turning down federal money for the streetcar could endanger federal funding for other regional transit projects.

Even if the streetcar is not built, the city will still have spent a substantial amount of money. The city has already paid for some utility work and is already on the hook for a total of $90 million of contracts, including an SDOT contract to purchase vehicles. Ironically, if the mayor chooses to cancel the project because of cost, a large amount money will have been spent for nothing.