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Seattle streetcar costs have city hall poised for another showdown

The cost of the Seattle streetcar continues to balloon. (SDOT)

The saga of the Seattle streetcar project has been a contentious one over its continued lifespan. Now, the Seattle Department of Transportation and Mayor Jenny Durkan are asking for a $9 million appropriation “to perform essential engineering and design work for the Center City Connector project.”

Seattle’s halted streetcar project will resume, at higher cost

“We are now prepared to move forward with necessary project activities including everything from platform and maintenance facility modifications, to roadway structure analysis, and essential design work,” SDOT said in a news release Friday.

The total estimate for the cost of the streetcar project is $286 million. That was double the original estimate from when the line was proposed in 2015, and $88 million more than what was budgeted in 2017. That estimate also included nearly $17 million dollars to retrofit the existing tracks to fit the larger train cars ordered for the expansion.

SDOT’s $9 million appropriation request now could prove interesting. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan hopes to borrow that money from the city’s Information Technology Department, and then repay it through the sale of the South Lake Union Mercer Mega Block property.

But as SCC Insight‘s Kevin Schofield pointed out, the city council has stated it wants money taken from the Mega Block sale to go toward affordable housing. If Durkan hopes to use a portion of that money on the streetcar, it could set up yet another showdown at City Hall.

“The politics will be complicated,” Schofield said on Twitter. “The Council is not of one mind on the streetcar project … And they are not even close to figuring out how to cover the gap as the project’s costs have risen.”

The argument to complete Seattle’s streetcar line

Durkan has already clashed with the council this year over the appointment of interim Human Services Director Jason Johnson and a recent vote regarding funds from the city’s soda tax. As for the latter, Schofield outlined how the council has long been at odds with the mayor over revenue spending. For the streetcar project, that’s not likely to change.

“It won’t be pretty,” he noted.

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