Larry Phillips: “would require new funding”

Thank you for contacting me regarding the historic George Benson Waterfront Streetcar. I appreciate your advocacy for restarting or expanding service along this line, and sincerely apologize for my delay in following up.

As you may know, for several years after 2005 when the streetcar maintenance barn was removed to make way for the Olympic Sculpture Park, I steadfastly advocated for re-opening waterfront streetcar service, first by advocating to appropriate $7.5 million toward construction of a new maintenance facility, and then working for several years to keep that funding in reserve until a permanent home for the streetcar could be found.

Unfortunately, there have been successive barriers to realizing this goal. First, the City of Seattle was unable to permit and the developer was unwilling to construct a planned new mixed-use maintenance facility in Pioneer Square. Another barrier was the longtime lack of certainty about the future of the central portion of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, hampering efforts to invest significant public funds in any project in the viaduct’s immediate vicinity. In 2008, an unforeseen spike in diesel prices and nationwide economic decline began causing Metro funding shortfalls. Several steps were taken to continue current levels of Metro service; one involved cuts to capital programs including the $7.5 million that had been held in reserve to construct a new waterfront streetcar maintenance facility. In recent years, the streetcar tracks have been removed along much of the waterfront to accommodate construction and street re-routes as part of viaduct construction.

I share your interest in exploring ways to utilize the iconic streetcars, but there are continuing barriers to reviving the line. First and foremost is an ongoing lack of funding for capital projects, and a streetcar rail line is a particularly costly project. King County government faces ongoing shortfalls in revenues needed to provide current levels of Metro Transit service. In recent years, Metro Transit has transformed its operations to hold off service cuts including implementing scheduling efficiencies; deferring planned service expansion and reducing the capital program; reducing operating reserves; eliminating more than 100 staff positions and asking employees for wage freezes and other concessions; raising fares by 80%; and finally, last year, implementing a temporary Congestion Reduction Charge, a $20 charge on each vehicle license in King County for this year and next. With this budgetary reality, reviving the Waterfront Streetcar would require a significant amount of new funding or cuts to existing transit service.

I will keep your comments on file and will let you know if there is any further news to report on the Waterfront Streetcar. I sincerely appreciate your advocacy and involvement on behalf of this special transit service.

Sincerely,

Larry Phillips, Councilmember
Metropolitan King County Council, District Four