Seattle streetcar' Center City Connector is 'on' again

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SEATTLE — Seattle’s financially-troubled on-again, off-again Center City Connector streetcar project appears to be on again.

The Seattle Department of Transportation has asked the City Council for $9 million for additional design and engineering work on the mile-long line through downtown that would link two operating streetcar lines.

Mayor Jenny Durkan suspended work on the project and ordered a review in March 2018 following reports of ballooning costs for the project. This past January, she indicated she wanted to go ahead with the project, although major questions about how much the project would cost and where the money would come from remain.

One of the contributors to the higher cost is that the new vehicles that the city plans to purchase for the new line from CAF are nine feet longer and 25,000-lbs. heavier than the Inekon-made streetcars in use today, according to a transportation department presentation to a council committee. That will require modifications of platforms and a maintenance facility, and reconfiguration of some tracks.

The council’s transportation committee has approved the request and sent it on to the full council for a vote.

At present, the city transportation department estimates the cost of the Center City Connector, including utility work, at $285.8 million, leaving a funding gap of $87.9 million. The earliest the line could be in operation is estimated at 2025.

The transportation department has also reported to the council committee that combined ridership totals on the two streetcar lines were up 18% in 2018 over the prior year, to just fewer 1.7 million riders. That was entirely driven by increases on the First Hill line, which runs from Pioneer Square to Capitol Hill, ridership on that line was up 31% year over year. The South Lake Union line, operating in a part of town that is home to Amazon and other tech companies, saw a 4% decrease, which the city blamed on deteriorating on-time reliability caused by construction and traffic congestion in the area. For the first quarter of 2019, however, ridership on the South Lake Union line is up 6% over the year-ago period.
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