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Seattle councilmember asks if money for streetcar would be better spent elsewhere

Seattle Councilmember Lisa Herbold is questioning whether the city should move forward with the troubled streetcar project.

Though the mayor is ready to move forward with the Seattle streetcar project, Lisa Herbold isn't so sure.

With the estimated cost of the Center City Connector now at $286 million, the District 1 councilmember is questioning whether the city should proceed.

Noting that she appreciates Mayor Jenny Durkan's commitment to the project, Herbold says she remains "very skeptical that building a center city streetcar would be the best use of very limited transportation funds." On her blog, Herbold asks whether the streetcar is a transportation project, or primarily to serve economic development.

Earlier in January, Durkan recommended the city move forward with the project. The announcement followed a cost analysis of the project, which was originally estimated at $143 million, but increased to $286 million. Durkan noted that it was "clear" previous Seattle Department of Transportation management failed in its due diligence to account for the full costs of the project. The analysis also found annual operations and maintenance costs would cost millions more.

If completed, the Connector, would fill in the gap between the existing South Lake Union and First Hill streetcar lines. Critics have pointed to low ridership and cost-effectiveness as reasons not to continue with construction plans. Proponents say adding the connector could significantly boost ridership, however.

Herbold notes there are a few assumptions that could impact the project, one being a $75 million FTA grant, and $45 million in bond funding that is a discretionary council decision.

Though there would be costs to stopping the streetcar project, Herbold says it would free up funding for other transportation projects that face a funding shortfall - multi-modal corridors, building out light rail, etc.