The vintage streetcar line that ran along Seattle's waterfront, but was suspended on a temporary basis more than two years ago, will not...
The vintage streetcar line that ran along Seattle’s waterfront, but was suspended on a temporary basis more than two years ago, will not resume for at least 10 years, if at all.
Metro Transit, which ran the line, has lost patience with a much-delayed project in Pioneer Square that would include a new maintenance and operations facility for the waterfront streetcar. The facility is necessary for returning the nostalgic trolley to service.
Particularly popular with tourists, the 1.6-mile streetcar line was launched in 1982. It was pulled from service in November 2005 when its maintenance barn — where the cars were stored and serviced — was torn down to make way for the Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park.
In June 2005, city, county and Port of Seattle officials trumpeted a replacement facility in Pioneer Square. At the time, King County Executive Ron Sims said he hoped the new facility would be finished within two years and the streetcar back in service by the 2007 summer tourist season.
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Now the 2008 summer season is almost here, and there’s still no maintenance facility.
Circumstances have changed since that 2005 announcement, said Kevin Desmond, Metro general manager.
“The waterfront streetcar line is still something the county would like to see resume, but it now has larger issues weighing on it,” he said.
Construction to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct is scheduled to begin in 2012, and the streetcar would not be able to operate while work is under way. Construction is expected to last until at least 2018.
“It doesn’t make sense for us to try to move quickly to get a new facility up and built,” Desmond said. “We wouldn’t be able to do it before having to suspend service again anyway because of the viaduct.”
Also since the 2005 announcement, the city has expanded its vision for a streetcar system — a line that would run modern streetcars like those operating in South Lake Union, not the 1920s-era trolleys that ran on the waterfront. Sound Transit also wants to run a streetcar through First Hill/Capitol Hill.
Desmond said a streetcar transit system would not preclude Metro from running the historic trolleys again as a summer-only tourist attraction.
Desmond sent a letter last week to developer Greg Smith, principal of Urban Visions, to inform him that the county was tired of waiting on his project.
“Now, even under the most optimistic scenario, it does not appear that the maintenance facility can be complete before 2010,” Desmond wrote.
Smith’s project was to combine the maintenance facility with a restaurant, parking and either offices, condominiums or a mix of the two.
Smith received clearance from the city to build 30 feet above the 100-foot height limits for Pioneer Square. But delays on the project led to warnings from King County more than a year ago that it could pull the $7 million it had set aside to help pay for the building. The city and Port of Seattle committed $1 million each.
Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis said the city agrees that building a maintenance facility specifically for the vintage streetcars, and only for service on the waterfront, no longer makes sense in light of the viaduct construction schedule and the city’s plan for streetcars as transit.
“The kinds of investments we make in the streetcar need to serve that purpose,” he said.
Desmond said the vintage streetcars are shrink-wrapped and stored in a Metro warehouse south of downtown. They’ll stay under wraps until they are put back into service — or sold, should that become their fate.
Stuart Eskenazi: 206-464-2293 or firstname.lastname@example.org