While the city awaits Mayor Jenny Durkan’s decision on the fate of the Center City Connector, scores of business owners, individuals, and organizations have waited for weeks to speak face-to-face with her about the project. On June 19th, the coalition sent a letter to the mayor outlining why the she should complete the project, instead of canceling it and forcing the return of federal dollars. The deadline that the Durkan administration had set for the release of a report, completed by outside consultant KPMG, blew by almost a full month ago with no word from the City on an updated timeline.
It sounds like the KPMG report the mayor is sitting on actually shows daily weekday ridership projections increased from 20,000 in its first year to 25,000 across the streetcar system. Ridership that high would dwarf Seattle’s busiest bus route, the RapidRide E Line, which averaged 17,000 at last count. Mayor Durkan, however, seems to doubt both her own transportation department’s estimates and apparently the independent consultant she just paid $416,000 to check their work.
“So we need to know, before we start a project like that, how much is it going to cost to build, how much is it going to cost to operate, and how many people will it really move, because the goal of transit has got to be to move as many people through Seattle as we can,” Mayor Durkan said in a KUOW interview.
Coalition members, in an email, have expressed a willingness to help trim the budget by finding sensible cost savings for stations and maintenance facility consolidation. Despite their request to speak with the mayor, she has refused to meet with the more than 100 individuals and businesses in the coalition that support the Center City Connector–among them are some notable Durkan backers like former Mayor Charles Royer.
In spelling out their support for streetcar extension, the coalition pointed to its heavy reliance on federal funding and connectedness as a whole system: “We all have skin in the game–Seattle has spent more than $45 [million] on the Center City Connector to date,” the coalition wrote. “The federal government has allocated $75 million for Seattle to complete this project. This is money local leaders have fought hard to protect for years now. Should our city choose to change strategies at this point, the $75 million would get returned.”
The federal money couldn’t just be repurposed to a bus connector service and could result in the federal government penalizing the city by denying future grants, both queued up now like Madison and Roosevelt Rapidride lines and future projects. The city’s D.C. lobbyist has advised against canceling the streetcar for just that reason, even as the mayor seems to play dumb. Future Link light rail projects in Seattle could be among projects that get extra federal scrutiny down the line, too.