Yesterday, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan petitioned the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to extend the environmental impact statement (EIS) scoping period for the West Seattle-Ballard Link extension by 15 days, in order to solicit more comment on the planned second Chinatown/International District (CID) station.
Durkan’s request is a result of lobbying from CID community leaders. Under present plans, the EIS scoping period will end on March 18.
“We are supportive of the request by residents, civic, and business leaders of the Chinatown-International District and Pioneer Square neighborhoods for a scoping extension for gathering comments for the [West Seattle-Ballard] project,” Durkan wrote in a letter to the FTA’s regional administrator, Linda Gehrke.
Mayor Jenny Durkan retained Anne Fennessy, of public affairs firm Cocker Fennessy, to represent the City of Seattle in planning for the final alignment of ST3’s West Seattle and Ballard Link segments. Durkan’s office also told STB that the search for a new, permanent SDOT director is “underway,” started “earlier this fall,” and that the hire should be announced soon.
Durkan spokesperson Chelsea Kellogg says that the search is similarly to the recruitment of new City Light CEO Debra Smith, who was hired in April:
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.
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.
The City Council voted yesterday afternoon to kill a controversial private bus pilot program proposed by Mayor Jenny Durkan. The pilot was opposed by unions and transit advocates, who mounted a last-minute advocacy push to defeat the program over the past two weeks.
The bill will also, as Martin reported, reappropriate unused Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD) funds for bus service improvements, and provide ORCA cards to Seattle primary and secondary students. Durkan is expected to sign the ordinance.