Seattle council supports streetcar expansion
The Seattle City Council voted to support connecting four streetcar lines to the existing line in the South Lake Union neighborhood when the money becomes available.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The Seattle City Council says a network of streetcars is the future of the city's mass transit, lending political momentum to a project that is millions of dollars short of becoming a reality.
The city didn't approve money for construction Monday, and that lack of funding wasn't lost on either supporters or opponents of the envisioned $685 million network.
The six council members who voted to support the concept of a citywide streetcar network said the city should position itself to build new lines as funding becomes available. The three who voted against the idea said there's no point in planning for something you can't pay for.
"Why are we in such a rush?" Councilmember Richard McIver asked. "I think it's a wonderful idea, but we ain't got no money."
The council vote was nothing more than a statement of support for the concept of a streetcar system. Still, the council's position likely will shape the future of Seattle's transit expansions.
The vote followed a report envisioning four additional streetcar lines:
• A waterfront line along First Avenue and South Jackson Street to 23rd Avenue East;
• A line across First Hill and Capitol Hill along Broadway;
• A line from downtown north along the west side of Lake Union to Ballard; and
• A line from downtown, through Eastlake, to the University District.
The study didn't spell out exactly how to pay for the lines. Voters last month approved $120 million for the First Hill line as part of Sound Transit Proposition 1. City Council members hope money for the proposed waterfront line will come with the Alaskan Way Viaduct rebuild.
This week marks the one-year anniversary of the South Lake Union streetcar line, a 1.3-mile loop that cost $50 million and requires a $2 million annual subsidy to operate. Approximately 500,000 people have ridden the South Lake Union line this year, more than the city had projected.
Property owners along the South Lake Union streetcar route paid about half of the line's cost — a model some council members support for future lines, but one that others cautioned against.
"Going forward, we should be aware of any kind of expectation that we're placing on the property owners along those corridors," Councilmember Nick Licata said.
Without additional lines, the South Lake Union streetcar is "an orphan," Councilmember Sally Clark said. She voted to support the network, along with Jean Godden, Jan Drago, Richard Conlin, Tim Burgess and Licata.
Licata initially opposed the plan — even co-sponsoring a competing measure — but he voted to support the system when the council agreed to an amendment requiring more specific information before the city spends any money on a new line.
Members Bruce Harrell and Tom Rasmussen joined McIver in opposing the streetcar system. Rasmussen compared it to the city's failed plans for a monorail expansion and said the city should invest in the transportation system it already has. He said buses are cheaper to operate.
"We shouldn't get caught up in supporting one person's favorite type of vehicle," he said.
Burgess compared the project to another Seattle project — the Ballard Locks between Puget Sound and Lake Union.
"I put this in the category of having the audacity to provide leadership," he said. "This is an opportunity for us to say, 'Let's talk about the future. Let's plan well.' "
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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