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.