According to several chatterbugs, the Seattle City Council is gearing up to kill a select part of Mayor Mike McGinn's transit budget proposal that would likely help extend the South Lake Union streetcar to the University District via Eastlake Avenue, despite rigorous support from the University of Washington, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and various neighborhood chambers of commerce that have lobbied hard from the extension.
Mayor Mike McGinn's 2013-2014 budget includes $2 million to study which high-capacity transit option would work best along the downtown/Eastlake Ave corridor: streetcar, bus rapid transit, or light rail. The Eastlake corridor is flagged as a high priority for transit in the city's Transit Master Plan (TMP), which the city council unanimously approved in April, because it would link downtown and South Lake Union—a bustling biotech hub—directly to the UW.
"The Hutchinson Center has a long standing partnership with the University of Washington and though this partnership many students, staff and scientists travel frequently along this corridor," writes Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center director Shelly DaRonche in an October letter to council members. "Creating a convenient and effective connection between Downtown Seattle and the University District will improve transit options not only for more than 4000 employees on our campus in South Lake Union, but also many others who live, work and recreate in South Lake Union and downtown."
In fact, the TMP estimates that extending the South Lake Union streetcar to the University District would net 10,700 new riders a day (for 25,000 riders total). The mayor's $2 million investment would pave the way for having high capacity transit studied, designed, and built within the next five years, presuming capital funding for the project could be secured.
While transportation chair Tom Rasmussen supports the budget item, City Hall sources now say that a number of council members are now skeptical that the corridor is worth the $2 million investment.
Sound Transit will link downtown to the U-District (via Capitol Hill) once its light rail station opens in 2016. And, council members point out, the city should have other high-capacity transit priorities over Eastlake—like connecting downtown to Fremont and Ballard, or extending the Capitol Hill streetcar line.
But fans of the Eastlake corridor route note that the Sound Transit line won't meet the needs of the city's South Lake Union biotech community. "High capacity transit in the area is needed," DaRonche stresses in her letter.
Tomorrow is the deadline for council members to submit their preferences for changes to the mayor's proposed budget, so we'll have a better idea then how strong the opposition is for this transit corridor—and who, exactly, opposes it.