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Center City Connector survives part of budget process

A budget deadline has passed with no amendments to stop the streetcar

The South Lake Union streetcar in 2008.
Via SDOT

Comments by city councilors had some worried that money for the Center City Connector streetcar line, which was included in Mayor Tim Burgess’s budget, was in jeopardy as the budget winds through the Seattle city council. But the budget amendment deadline has come and gone, with no proposal in sight for pulling funding.

Utility work started this week on the streetcar line, which will run down First Avenue downtown and connect the existing South Lake Union and First Hill streetcar lines.

During budget meetings, city councilors Lisa Herbold, Kirsten Harris-Talley, and Kshama Sawant had all expressed reservations. In a blog post earlier this month, Herbold noted that some streetcar funding services are “among the most flexible revenue sources we have,” and that spending the funds on that streetcar would mean “less money for other things.”

Former city councilor Nick Licata also wrote a newsletter opposing the project.

The total project cost is $177 million. Burgess’s budget would fund the project with bonds backed by commercial parking tax revenues, along with money from utility funds.

The project has also received $83 million in federal grants—something that city councilor Rob Johnson had cautioned that not moving forward with the project could jeopardize federal money in the future.

Transit advocates also leapt to the project’s defense. Seattle Subway argued that not only is the third streetcar line crucial for connecting the existing lines, but it’s an essential part of the city’s future transit framework. Platforms integrate with bus rapid transit lines. A streetcar on the First Avenue corridor, they argued, can move people from one end of Downtown to the other faster than buses in the Third Avenue corridor.

Regardless, with nothing in place to pull the funding, the project appears to be moving forward for now. But the budget process continues through November, and Herbold’s aides are still exploring options.