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Seattle - June 2005

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Rail Transit Online, June 2005

Seattle — Streetcar Approval

The proposed South Lake Union streetcar line received a major boost on June 27 when the city council voted 7-2 to approve the $47.5-million project subject to several conditions that will limit the amount spent from the city’s general fund.  The legislation allows Mayor Greg Nickels to put together a special taxing district for property owners along the route that would generate about $25 million for construction.  Nichols is also authorized to negotiate the purchase of three modern streetcars, probably from Inekon, the same Czech firm supplying vehicles to Portland and Washington, D.C.  The mayor would attempt to find sponsors for cars and stations, which is expected to provide significant operating income; work up an operating agreement with King County Metro; and seek bids from developers who would build housing units above the trolley maintenance facility. 

The council still must approve formation of the assessment district package and would have to give approval to the streetcar purchase.  Operations and maintenance for the first two years must be covered by fares and private sector contributions.  The 2.6-mi. (4.18 km) line would basically run in a north-south direction on a couplet of parallel streets from Westlake Center to Fairview Avenue, primarily serving a proposed redevelopment area in South Lake Union that would be converted into a high-end residential area and a biotechnology center.  Several council members say they believe the line will be the first increment of a larger system.  Construction could start next April followed by revenue service in late 2007.

Seattle — Streetcar Delay

An ambitious plan to rescue the existing Waterfront Streetcar from a threatened shutdown because its maintenance base is needed for a museum expansion has been pushed aside in favor of a less expensive alternative.  The need for a new carbarn became urgent earlier this year when it was learned that the existing facility was sitting on the site of a new Olympic Sculpture Park being planned by the Seattle Art Museum.  There appeared to be no other suitable location to service the antique trolleys, which would force the 23-year-old line to close by year’s end.  But last March, Port of Seattle Commissioner Paige Miller announced she had solved the problem.  The line would be extended north, with two new stations, to Port property near Pier 86, where a new trolley barn would be built. Miller said the Port would finance trackwork, catenary and the new stations and that it could be completed relatively quickly.  In April, Miller promised to have all the details sorted out by June 1 and urged city and county officials “…to act quickly.” 

However, the deadline came and went with no word from Miller, who is a candidate for city council.  But on June 20 King County Executive Ron Sims and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels revealed they have approved a new proposal in conjunction with a mixed use development on a site in Pioneer Square currently used as a parking lot.  It would include the maintenance base and retail stores at ground level and residential units on the upper floors.  The county would buy the maintenance facility from the developer when it’s completed in mid-2007.  The price tag would be about $9 million — $6 million from the county and $3 million from the city — compared to around $20.2 million for the Port plan.  “We were all excited about the port option that came out of left field,” Nickels told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.  “But as the numbers were crunched, it became clear that it would be a very, very expensive option.”  The streetcar, which carries about 450,000 passengers a year, would have to be closed for about 20 months.  “We will have a far more robust system when it reopens,” Sims told the Post-Intelligencer.   In addition, the new barn would provide more opportunities for expansion of the two-mile (3.21 km), nine-stop line.


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