A long-awaited and somewhat controversial streetcar project has officially been put on ice. Late Friday, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office announced that due to rising costs, most work on projects related to the Center City Connector streetcar should be halted.
Last week, Durkan had ordered an independent technical review of project costs to be completed within 90 days. Preliminary findings of that review found the project is facing a potential $23 million shortfall, with total project costs reaching more than $200 million.
“There are too many questions about the true costs of this project and the risks to taxpayers, which is why we must put the brakes on this project,” said Durkan in a statement.
It’s not the first time that the streetcar’s been on the chopping block, but so far it’s chugged onward through not only federal budget fears, but a contentious city budget process that almost cut the project’s funding.
The project relies on federal grants for completion; City Councilor Rob Johnson had raised concerns during the city budget process that if the streetcar system didn’t move forward, it could jeopardize federal grants in the future. Durkan’s office said that the city “continues to communicate closely with federal partners on the project.”
Johnson’s office didn’t immediately return a request for comment, but the decision comes with the support of at least three City Councilors. Mike O’Brien, who represents parts of Northwest Seattle and serves as transportation committee chair, added in a statement that he has “serious concerns about the recent revelations regarding anticipated operating and capital costs.”
Sally Bagshaw, who represents much of the downtown area and chairs the finance committee, also lended support.
City Councilor Lisa Herbold, who represents West Seattle, was an early critic of the streetcar project. “This step is necessary to ensure that the independent review ordered by the Mayor is meaningful,” said Herbold in her own statement. “Had work proceeded as scheduled—especially in awarding a construction contract—it would be more difficult to integrate the results of the independent review, or delay or stop the project.”
Herbold added that, due to concerns about operations shortfalls, she had planned to introduce legislation similar to the mayor’s executive order—although she noted it now “won’t be necessary.”
The Center City Connector, if completed, will run down First Avenue downtown, connecting existing South Lake Union and First Hill lines. Construction started on the line late last year.