The office of Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan finally gave the go-ahead for a downtown streetcar her office put on ice ten months ago—but, as the Seattle Times first reported, the city needs more money and more time than initially planned. In addition to rising cost estimates, the city’s timeline for completion has been moved to 2025, five years later than initially planned.
Durkan initially put the project on hold back in March after initial reports that the project, which at the time had an estimated budget of $177 million, was facing a budget shortfall of more than $20 million. In August, a city-commissioned report by auditor KPMG found that project capital costs—the cost of city scoping and construction for the line—could run between $241.9 million and $252.4 million.
But some design and engineering will have to be redone. Since that initial report, the city has upped its cost estimates to $286 million, including an extra $17.4 million for engineering analysis and $10 million in added construction costs.
Part of the anticipated funding for the project is a Federal Transit Administration (FTA) grant—which the city’s office of intergovernmental relations had expressed concern about during the delay. The mayor’s office said that if FTA funding isn’t secured or if the city has to shoulder the full cost, the funding gap would be $140 million.
The city submitted its FTA Capital Investments Grants application in September, and was told by the FTA in December that the project is still eligible for its $75 million Small Starts grant, although that funding isn’t guaranteed yet. The FTA’s grant review schedule pushed the project’s estimated completion date to 2025.
Building the Center City Connector, which would link Seattle’s two existing streetcar lines, could boost ridership on all of them to 5.4 to 6.9 million a year—or 14,795 to 18,904 a day—tripling the city’s current streetcar ridership during even the current lines’ busiest days, according to the KPMG report. Not only would the Center City Connector complete the unconnected network, it would also have its own dedicated traffic lane, helping correct the slow service that has plagued the rest of the network.
While both the rising costs and issues with existing streetcars have made the project somewhat controversial, support for building the line is broad. An alliance called the Seattle Streetcar Coalition has been advocating for the line’s completion, and includes businesses, advocacy groups, nonprofits, and some higher-profile private citizens in downtown, South Lake Union, Pioneer Square, and the International District.
“Our community was told our pain and suffering during the [First Hill Streetcar] construction phase would be worth it because we’d have a connected system to benefit our residents and businesses,” said Maiko Winkler-Chin, executive director of the Seattle Chinatown International Preservation and Development Authority, in a statement. “With the First Avenue line, we will have a connected, functioning system and this community will actually see the promised benefits.”