The Seattle City Council has chosen First Avenue as a future streetcar route, and agreed to seek up to $75 million in federal money, in a resolution passed Monday afternoon.
And unlike the two other streetcar routes, this one would use transit-only lanes, so the trains spend less time stuck in traffic.
Passenger service would be provided by extending the South Lake Union line and the late-2014 First Hill line so they overlap on First Avenue — allowing trains to pass Pike Place Market every five minutes.
There’s a big hurdle — the project could cost $110 million or more. Without new taxes, or juggling other transportation money, Seattle lacks the funds to cover whatever amount the feds don’t. That’s one reason City Councilmember Nick Licata voted no, in the 8-1 decision.
“There’s no plan to get $40 million, and given that there’s a plan by Metro Transit to cut back buses, there’s a large gap,” he said. Licata feared the balance would tip away from serving other neighborhood. He suggested a look at less expensive electric trolleybuses, saying the city so far hasn’t done “an in-depth analysis” of the options.
Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, chairman of the council’s Transportation Committee, replied that a streetcar’s capacity of 150 people makes it better than a trolleybus alternative.
“The carrying capacity for a dense and growing city is important to the type of vehicle we select,” Rasmussen said.
Neighborhood supporters, and Councilmember Bruce Harrell, argued that the adjacent Chinatown International District is under pressure from First Hill project construction and scarce parking, so it deserves an economic boost from a longer streetcar line. A typical visitor will not get on a bus, but would take rail, said Lisa Dixon, director of marketing at the Alliance for Pioneer Square.
Tom Gibbs, former head of King County Metro Transit, urged the city to bring back vintage Australian trains from the former George Benson Waterfront Streetcar to run on a new line, but council members didn’t address that angle Monday.