The agencies sought clean, wire-powered trolleybuses since voters approved the Move Seattle property-tax levy in 2015 and the Sound Transit 3 ballot measure in 2016, which each provide partial funding.

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Federal money for Madison Street bus-rapid transit is on hold because Seattle and King County Metro can’t get the trailblazing electric vehicles that officials promised.

The agencies sought clean, wire-powered trolleybuses since voters approved the Move Seattle property-tax levy in 2015 and the Sound Transit 3 ballot measure in 2016, which each provide partial funding.

But the sole qualified manufacturer, New Flyer Industries, says it doesn’t have the proper kind of bus available.

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Metro will likely resort to diesel-electric hybrids that emit carbon exhaust, make more noise and feel mushy accelerating uphill. A battery-powered bus may be considered.

The $120 million RapidRide project is designed to serve an estimated 12,000 to 18,000 daily riders, earning a high cost-benefit rating and $60 million grant offer from the Federal Transit Administration. But it might take another four years to complete.

FTA is keeping the money until Seattle officials solve the crucial question of what vehicle type to order, a federal spokesman said. Meetings and a revised plan are expected next month.

Road tests are being done this summer with diesel-hybrid and battery buses, Metro spokesman Scott Gutierrez said. Managers need to confirm vehicles can climb the 10 percent grade up Spring Street near the Central Library, and the backside of Capitol Hill returning westbound.

But if federal money doesn’t arrive by springtime, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) will have to consider scaling back the project, city transit-program manager Maria Koengeter told a citizen-advisory board Thursday night.

Like other Seattle-area transportation innovations — a world-record 57-foot-wide Highway 99 tunnel, light-rail tracks on a floating bridge, streetcars that can run off-wire and complex tolling systems that charge prices differently on four highways — the quest for a tailored solution is causing higher costs or slower delivery.

Hannah McIntosh, Metro’s RapidRide director, said she’s confident that bus procurement can be resolved in time to open the route by spring 2021, as the RapidRide G Line. That’s a bit later than a September 2020 goal Seattle reported last year to the FTA.

But the city took a gloomier view last week, predicting the grand opening will be delayed until 2022, a fate shared withother levy projects where the city overpromised in the 2015 campaign.

That date is based on new FTA grant papers being filed in October, a one-year approval timeline, some months to advertise and choose a contractor, and then two years of construction beginning in early 2020, city spokeswoman Dawn Schellenberg said late Friday.

Bus-rapid transit (BRT) is a loosely defined category where long buses run in their own uncrowded lanes, stopping at large sidewalk or median stations with big shelters. Customers use timesaving features such as all-door boarding and off-bus fare payment, to mimic the performance of trains.

The world’s pioneering system serves a half-million daily riders in Curitiba, Brazil, while King County’s RapidRide, the Swift buses in Snohomish County and Vancouver B.C.’s 99-B Line provide many BRT features.

Local officials long assumed Winnipeg, Canada-based New Flyer would adapt its Xcelsior model to meet Seattle’s unique combination of needs:

• Electric power drawn through poles and overhead wires. Metro maintains 70 miles of dual-wire trolleybus corridor, the second-largest system of just six in North America. San Francisco has the largest.

• An articulated, 60-foot vehicle, as big as Metro’s red New Flyer buses on existing RapidRide lines.

• A total of two left-side doors and three on the right, so people can enter from median stations as well as curbside. These include a center station on First Avenue to be shared with a proposed streetcar.

• Able to propel up to 65,000 pounds of metal and passengers uphill.

New Flyer has provided these features for several BRT clients, but never all together in the same vehicle.

“A 60-foot trolley would require significant modifications to accommodate high grades and street side doors,” said Lindy Norris, the company’s marketing communications director. “We believe it is achievable, but there is significant additional engineering and testing time required.”

Money, too.

Metro and New Flyer won’t guess the extra cost to deliver 13 to 16 custom buses. Standard trolleybuses sell for over $1 million each.

An FTA statement, first reported by KIRO 7 News, said SDOT “is undertaking internal review of the project’s engineering and design, including potential changes to the type of vehicle to be used.”

New Flyer recently built a mixed-length fleet of 174 purple trolleybuses for Metro, ordered in 2015 in tandem with San Francisco Muni.

A red flag soon emerged at S.F. Muni, whose long trolleybuses struggled to accelerate even on hills of 5 to 10 percent incline, the San Francisco Examiner reported, though Muni operations director John Haley said they were sufficient. Metro knew of this issue and deployed its new 40-footers downtown, while keeping the 60-foot articulated coaches in gentler terrain such as Route 70 through Eastlake.

McIntosh said in a phone interview she’s unfamiliar with the Muni dilemma.

Seattle-area officials received “initial assurances” New Flyer could supply Madison BRT, before Metro’s engineering staff dived in for hundreds of hours of study, said McIntosh.

“I just know that we went through a process with our vendor, and both sides said they didn’t feel like the fleet was viable,” she said.

Diesel-hybrid buses can serve all the project’s transportation purposes, except avoiding fossil-fuel emissions, McIntosh said.

Metro’s most favorable precedent appears to be diesel-powered Route 8, which does routinely ascend Denny Way over I-5 and up Capitol Hill.

Madison BRT could begin with diesel-hybrids, then upgrade to a battery version or even some new wire trolleybus, McIntosh said. Shorter trolleybuses wouldn’t be a good option, she said, because more vehicles would be needed to carry the same number of people, and labor costs would soar.

Although firms in Europe and China firms make electric trolleybuses, only New Flyer complies with the federal Buy America law that requires at least 60 percent U.S.-built parts in transit vehicles FTA pays for.

Currently, Metro isn’t pursuing an articulated battery bus for Madison, said McIntosh. Metro does operate 11 40-foot battery-powered buses built by Proterra, and set a goal of having 120 to cover short local routes.

County Executive Dow Constantine has said Metro will phase out fossil-fuel buses by the late 2030s, to counteract global warming.