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Previous argument against Seattle arena now a moot point

Citing traffic concerns as a reason for not building a new Seattle arena in SoDo isn't as strong an argument as it once was. (SDOT)

The Seattle City Council’s support of the Port of Seattle, rather than an unknown future that comes with a new sports arena, is a big reason investor Chris Hansen was unable to move forward with developing a block of the SoDo district. One of the arguments was that port traffic, and traffic in general, already struggles to get through the area thanks, in large part, to the railways.

Danny O’Neil: Hansen’s latest offer shows how serious he is about bringing NBA to Seattle

One of the focuses has been South Lander Street, which is broken up by tracks used by Amtrak and Sounder train services, as well as BNSF. Approximately 100 train crossings occur on Lander and surrounding streets each day, according to the city. As a result, the city says Lander is closed for nearly five hours a day — The Seattle Times reports an average of 4.5 hours a day.

A time-lapse video from the Seattle Department of Transportation shows just how frustrating it can be to drive along the busy roadway.

The city’s answer to the railway nightmare is a bridge over the tracks between 1st Avenue South and 4th Avenue South on Lander. That would keep the train traffic from impeding the estimated 11,000 — or more — vehicles that currently cross the tracks every day.

The problem has been, of course, money. The total cost to build an overpass is an estimated $140 million. However, the Move Seattle property-tax levy approved last fall included about $20 million for the project that had already received funding. A $45 million federal government grant put the city even closer. As of July, the city had about $100 million available. King 5 reported Wednesday that the project has an approximate $27 million funding gap.

The city announced this fall that the project is moving forward and construction is expected to begin in early 2018 and should be complete by early 2020.

Related: Chris Hansen offers to forego public financing for Seattle arena

Hansen and his investment team said they would pitch in for the Lander overpass as well. In return, arena backers want the Seattle City Council to approve the Occidental Street vacation, which was previously recommended by the Seattle Design Commission. Hansen and his team also want a waiver of the city’s admissions tax and an adjustment on the city’s business tax rate on out-of-town revenue, KIRO 7 reports.

On top of that, Hansen announced a plan Wednesday that would forgo public financing for the arena.

City Council Budget Committee Chair Tim Burgess says that is game-changing.

“There was a lot of public money involved and he didn’t get the street vacation the first time around for a whole variety of reasons and I think this removes one of the potential hurdles to that,” he told KIRO 7.

But with a street vacation still required for Occidental and concern over a general increase in traffic if another arena is built, a Lander overpass isn’t enough for some critics. This is what Port Commissioner John Creighton told KIRO 7:

“One thing we’re very excited about is — we’ve always said we want the Sonics back in Seattle,” he said. “And we’ve said that we stand ready to work with the city and the county on alternative sites for a basketball arena.”

The port, a major maritime union, and the Mariners have opposed the SoDo arena plan, citing traffic concerns.

Creighton said Hansen’s offer to end his Memorandum of Understanding with the city and county “gives everyone an opportunity to hit the refresh button” to look at alternative sites.

But Creighton isn’t the person Hansen needs to convince. It’s the nine-member Seattle City Council and mayor he has his eyes on.

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