Seattle streetcar project price tag jumps 43% to more than $400M

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(The Center Square) – Following a recent assessment of Seattle’s Culture Connector streetcar project, the cost estimates related to the project have increased to over $400 million.

The Culture Connector streetcar project intends to connect the South Lake Union and First Hill Streetcar lines. By connecting these streetcar routes, the Seattle Department of Transportation expects city residents and visitors to have an easy and affordable way of traveling in the downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods.

The project cost estimate is increasing 43% from an original estimate of $286 million in 2019 to $410 million in December, following the project assessment. Out of the $410 million, $10 million would go toward additional design, $52 million for areaways, $38 million for work to the Jackson Street Bridge, $74 million for utility work, and the remaining $236 million would go towards core project construction and vehicle procurement.

According to a ridership forecast for the streetcar system, there is potential for an increase in ridership along the entire Seattle Streetcar line from South Lake Union to Capitol Hill. With the inclusion of the Culture Connector, systemwide ridership is anticipated to double from 14,000 to nearly 28,000 daily riders.

The Seattle Department of Transportation is currently seeing a steady rebound of ridership on the First Hill Streetcar, while the $56.4 million South Lake Union Streetcar’s ridership is increasing at a slower pace. In comparison, the First Hill Streetcar’s ridership was up to a little over 1.1 million riders in 2022, whereas the South Lake Union Streetcar’s ridership saw a little less than 200,000 riders in 2022.

“Based on the evaluation of observed ridership associated with major events at the stadiums, along the existing First Hill Streetcar line and nearby transit services, the analysis concluded that Culture Connector could draw an additional 7% to 15% of its average daily ridership during these events,” the transportation department stated in a press release.

The Culture Connector project supports Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell’s Downtown Activation Plan to transition the district into a more residential neighborhood. The proposed streetcar line would run through the Pike Place Market and into the Pioneer Square District.

There is no change to the status of the project despite the increase in cost estimates, according to the department. The project schedule would be about 7 years.

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