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Seattle Mayor Durkan halts streetcar expansion as costs surge

(SDOT)

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan “put the brakes” on the Center City Connector project that would connect the city’s two streetcar lines. Costs for the project appear to have grown beyond estimates, again.

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“The City of Seattle has a critical obligation to spend taxpayer dollars wisely and an equal obligation to transparency,” Mayor Durkan said. “There are too many questions about the true costs of this project and the risks to taxpayers, which is why we must put the brakes on this project. As your new mayor, I will continue to scrub our budgets and act to protect taxpayers.”

Seattle has worked to connect two separate stretches of streetcar tracks through its downtown. One line moves through South Lake Union, and another serves First Hill and Capitol Hill. Officials have long aimed to tie these two lines together to make one streetcar route through Seattle’s core.

But costs may be higher than expected, prompting the mayor to issue an executive order Friday. All work on the project will cease, except for projects involving seismically vulnerable water mains.

The Seattle Times reports that the project initially was estimated to cost $150 million. That was updated to $177 million. The latest estimate came in at more than $200 million — a $23 million shortfall.

The news comes shortly after King County Metro claimed that the Seattle Department of Transportation low-balled the costs to operate the streetcar.

Streetcar project

Durkan ordered an independent technical review of the connector project’s costs last week. According to the mayor’s office, “it was discovered that the proposed project also could face a significant capital shortfall. As a result, the city also has initiated an independent investigation with the city attorney of the project’s management to date. The city also continues to communicate closely with federal partners on the project.”

“I have serious concerns about the recent revelations regarding anticipated operating and capital costs for the Center City Connector, and I agree with Mayor Durkan that work on this project should be halted immediately,” said Councilmember and Transportation Committee Chair Mike O’Brien.

Councilmember Sally Bagshaw also commented Friday, saying that the city should have transparency in how it spends money on public projects.

“I remain concerned about potential unsustainable operations shortfalls, which could be millions annually, even under the most optimistic ridership and farebox recovery scenarios,” Councilmember Lisa Herbold said.

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