An Update on the Center City Connector

As an independent review of the Center City Connector (C3) continues to move forward, the City wanted to provide you an update on where we are in the review process.

2017 was a critical year for the final design, permitting and vehicle contracting for the C3 project. The Seattle City Council voted to proceed with the Center City Connector in November 2017. In January 2018, the construction for City Light, Puget Sound Energy and Seattle Public Utilities relocations on South Jackson Street and First Avenue began.  This included replacement of a century-old water main.

In early March, the Mayor was notified that there were concerns about increases in capital and possible operating costs.  As part of an initial review, SDOT found that there was a capital shortfall of $23 million, which would have brought the C3 costs to more than $200 million. There were additional questions raised regarding the operating and maintenance (O&M) costs of the future project as well.

Following this preliminary review, Mayor Durkan directed an independent financial analysis (KPMG) to ensure the City and taxpayers know the full costs of both building and operating this large capital project and the overall streetcar system. While making no decisions about the future of the project, she paused on the C3 streetcar in order for the City and taxpayers to know the facts and financial costs of the streetcar before moving forward with the track work. However, the work to replace the water main in the southern portion of First Avenue will be completed. Because of the planned project phasing, this underground utility work needed to be done prior to any work on the streetcar tracks. The plan was to accomplish this work in the southern portion of the corridor prior to the Viaduct demolition and return during a later phase to begin construction of the streetcar tracks.  Thus, multiple disruptions were unfortunately anticipated.

Concurrently with KPMG’s review, the Durkan Administration has also learned that:

  • The streetcar vehicles procured for the C3 are heavier, longer and wider (in context to the vehicles lateral movement along the system or dynamic envelope) than the existing SLU and First Hill streetcars;
  • There may be additional capital shortfall to complete building the C3 line; and
  • There needs to be an updated assessment of the O&M costs for the existing SLU and First Hill streetcar lines.

In August, it is hoped that KPMG will finalize their report to provide their independent analysis of the project.  The KPMG analysis was much more complex than initially expected – including the review of thousands of estimates, design materials and correspondence.  The report will provide a fact-based review of costs, ridership, opportunities and challenges with building and operating the C3 streetcar.

The report has raised a series of questions including:

  • What are the capital costs of building the C3 streetcar?
  • What are the capital costs of utility relocations?
  • What are the costs of delaying construction until future years?
  • What are current and forecasted O&M costs of the SLU, First Hill and C3 streetcar lines?
  • What are the current ridership numbers and future ridership assumptions on the current lines as well as C3?
  • Given actual and projected ridership and farebox collections, and projected O&M costs, will there likely be ongoing budget shortfalls and if so, how much?
  • What are the ongoing O&M subsidies from partner agencies and businesses?

In addition, further questions not initially anticipated were raised regarding the entire streetcar system:

  • Are there ways to reduce O&M costs while optimizing ridership on the C3 line?
  • What are the long-term financial projections, including subsidies, for the streetcar?
  • If O&M subsidies decrease or cease, what are the expected budget implications for current lines as well as the C3 line?

We are hopeful that the KPMG report will address nearly all of these questions.

As a result of uncovering the challenges with the vehicle contract, a series of complex technical and engineering questions have been raised.  While these challenges became a general factor as part of KPMG’s review, a more detailed engineering review is critical to understanding the cost and feasibility of the project. Many of these additional questions could have further impacts on the capital costs of this project:

  • How does the increased weight of the new cars impact the current system? Can the full streetcar route handle the additional weight of the cars?
  • How does the length of the new cars interact with the current system?
  • How does the width and length of the new cars impact the maintenance barn?
  • Does the width of the new cars impact the current system?
  • How does the size of the cars impact the design of the proposed stations as well as current stations?
  • Are the new vehicles compatible with the current track gauge? If not, what options, costs and disruptions to service would there be for retrofitting the tracks?

Mayor Durkan believes we need better transit options along First Avenue and is committed to transit mobility and connectivity in this critical corridor. She has also asked SDOT to evaluate additional mobility alternatives in order to understand the transportation benefits that would accrue from either a streetcar or an alternative mode of transit.

To ensure full transparency and accountability in this project, the City will be releasing the KPMG report to the public once finalized. The Mayor has heard a range of opinions and questions on the project including from many businesses in downtown Seattle. She wants to continue to hear from the public and stakeholders as the KPMG report and engineering updates are released, so all stakeholders have the full details and facts regarding the project. No final decision will be made until budget, feasibility, and community impacts are understood.  The Mayor will continue to welcome the input of businesses, stakeholders and community members.