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Seattle Council too lazy to stop pricey streetcar project

(File, SDOT)

Despite clear opposition and deep skepticism of the $177 million First Avenue streetcar plan, the Seattle City Council is sitting this fight out.

Back in October, we learned that the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is moving forward with a project to connect the two pre-existing streetcar lines (First Hill and South Lake Union) to create one long, better-connected route. It would go through First Avenue.

Though it makes sense to suggest more people would use a better-connected streetcar where you could get from South Lake Union to the stadiums or Capitol Hill without having to transfer to a bus, no one believed the numbers SDOT predicted. I wrote:

SDOT claims that in the first year of service they’ll get 22,000 riders a day. By 2035? 30,000 daily users, which is almost a 470 percent increase to today’s ridership.

This estimation is absolutely insane. And not everyone is buying it.

“The financial assumptions are simply unrealistic based on our history with the streetcar,” Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold said in the Times. “I don’t want a situation where we don’t meet those projections and the result is we end up seeing bus-service hours cut to pay for any shortfall.”

Kudos to Herbold for being skeptical.

Herbold wasn’t alone in her concern. Councilmembers Sally Bagshaw and Kirsten Harris-Talley joined Herbold.

RELATED: Streetcar connection questioned days before groundbreaking

So did the council become motivated enough to get in the way of the questionable financial assumptions? Nope, of course not. In The Seattle Times, David Gutman reports the project is “well underway and moves to stop the project have not materialized.” He writes:

…in the three weeks since [council members expressed concern], as the city budget process has progressed through several rounds of proposed changes, no council member has suggested changing the streetcar’s funding.

“There’s no proposal to cut funding for the streetcar,” Mafara Hobson, an SDOT spokesperson told the Times. “We respect the council process and look forward to moving ahead with this commitment to provide taxpayers with an additional transit option.”

Herbold didn’t respond to the Times request for comment. I experienced similar silence.

Whether or not this is due to a simple lack of motivation is unclear. But it sure seems that’s the case.

You have to be particularly unmotivated to say you care about a $177 million project then, when you actually have to do some work to address your concerns, you move on to something easier, like delivering more speeches and pointed questions that signal to the community you care without actually having to do anything to back up your sentiment.

But none of us should be surprised. This particular council is particularly good at talking up a big game while sitting out the fight on the sidelines.

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