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Seattle DOT to ask for $9 million to advance city's streetcar project

Efforts are being made to get the City of Seattle's troubled streetcar project back on track.

Editor's note: The above video follows Mayor Jenny Durkan's announcement that the streetcar project would move forward. 

Seattle's now delayed streetcar project could be moving forward once again. 

The Seattle Department of Transportation is expected to request approval to spend $9 million to "perform essential engineering and design work" for the Center City Connector project. The city council will have to approve the request. 

On July 30, SDOT management will meet with the city's Sustainability and Transportation Committee to present a report on the existing streetcar lines and request the $9 million appropriation to move forward with the work.

The $9 million will be used for station platform design, track modification on the existing lines, and structural analysis modifications to Jackson Street bridge, streetcar operations and the maintenance facility. Some of the money will also be used for a review of the National Environmental Policy Act.  

Once completed, the project will connect the city's South Lake Union line and First Hill line.

In March 2018, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan halted work on the project after ordering an independent review. 

In January, Durkan recommended the city move forward with the project. 

The Center City Connector project is now estimated at $286 million, up from the last estimate of $252 million last August and well above the original cost estimate. 

When Mayor Durkan announced the project would resume, she blamed previous management for failing to do "proper due diligence to account for all costs." She said the project was not set up for long-term success. She noted that she is confident the city understands the "true costs" of the streetcar project. 

The original budget for the project in late 2016 was estimated at $143.2 million. In late 2016, that estimate rose to $177 million. In March 2018, the estimated cost of the project grew to approximately $197 million. It continued to balloon from there.

In addition to the rising costs of the project itself, a significant difference in the estimated annual operating and maintenance costs were discovered. Depending on revenue and contributions from Sound Transit and King County Metro, operating costs will be somewhere between $18 million and $19 million; $2 million to $4 million higher than originally anticipated. 

Complicating the issue further, a review of the project released by the mayor's office found the new streetcars may be too big for the city's existing tracks. The review found the new streetcars were nine feet longer and 20,000 pounds heavier than the current streetcars, and would swing wider and have problems navigating corners.

An engineering analysis on the integration of the proposed new streetcar vehicles with existing and future rail lines found that modifications would cost up to $17.4 million.