by Rod Lotter
– The Capitol Hill Times –
When the planning for the First Hill Streetcar was announced by the city in 2010, visions of a new-and-improved retail core on Capitol Hill looked like a sure thing.
Considering the economic climate of that era, the announcement was a breath of fresh air for a neighborhood – while always bustling – that has suffered through years of closed doors and boarded-up windows. This is especially true for Broadway, which is arguably at the heart of the Capitol Hill business district, and also one of the toughest places for a business to set-up shop and sustain itself. While the Pike/ Pine Corridor has held steady with its plethora of restaurants and bars, Broadway has not fared as well in recent years.
On Oct. 30, Mayor Mike McGinn announced an extension of the streetcar, which he said he hoped would revitalize the areas of Broadway that needed it the most. Originally, the terminus of the streetcar was planned to be at the new Capitol Hill light rail station, on Denny Way.
The plans for the new extension call for it to span further down Broadway, perhaps to the edge of Volunteer Park. The final plan depends on the outcomes of studies that will be conducted over the next 6 months, according to a timeline released by the city.
The initial plan calls for an extension of about a half-mile, according to a press release from the Mayor’s Office.
“The extension of the streetcar was something we had been interested in from the beginning, but funding was an issue,” McGinn said. “So, over time, we looked at funding options and have been trying to push the process along since.”
Funding is still an issue. On Tuesday, McGinn announced that $3 million had been secured for the extension plans. That funding will go towards environmental and engineering analysis, he said. In total, the cost for the extension will be $25 million.
“The whole reason why we do the environmental and engineering analysis is to identify the potential impacts the construction will bring to the area, and mitigate them,” McGinn said.
In October, the city secured $800,000 for research through federal funding, as well as an additional federal grant of $900,000, pending final approval in December, and $1.25 million in funds from the city’s coffers.
The initial $800,000 in federal funds was secured when the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) adopted a Regional Transportation Improvement Program on Oct. 25. The $900,000 in federal funds was also adopted by the PSRC, which recommended that Seattle receive the money as part of a federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program.
While the PRSC played a big role in acquiring the funding, McGinn said the true inspiration for the extension came from various community groups and members who pushed for the plan.
In a press release, McGinn stated: “The community did a great job detailing why this extension helps better support the neighborhood. I want to thank community stakeholders and city staff for working to make this possible.”
Because of the additional funding needed, there is no set deadline for the extension of the streetcar line on Broadway. The current timeline states that the extension would not be finished until 2016, barring any setbacks.
But, the timeline is flexible, and if there is a sudden influx of funds, the extension could be finished ahead of schedule, but it is unlikely the extension would be finished in conjunction with the completion of the main route. The Capitol Hill Station, which will serve as the new light rail terminal, is scheduled to open in 2016.
When all is said and done, the First Hill streetcar is expected to serve around 3,500 riders a day, according to studies conducted by Sound Transit. Those riders would be able to travel through Capitol Hill, First Hill, the Yesler Terrace area, the International District and end in Pioneer Square.
In addition to the streetcar line extension, the bike track will also be extended to accompany the line along Broadway.