It’s at least 80 percent over budget, as it was supposed to cost $110 million and is now expected to cost more than $200 million. Ridership is well short of expectations. And projections of operating costs are far greater than the original claims. So Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan has halted construction on an expansion of the city’s streetcar lines.
This is certainly a brave step considering the enormous pressures to distribute tax dollars to worthy potential campaign donors. Plus streetcar advocates warn that halting and then restarting construction could add even more millions to the cost.
But those things shouldn’t matter. “The City of Seattle has a critical obligation to spend taxpayer dollars wisely and an equal obligation to transparency,” says Mayor Durkan. And at this point, the wisest thing to do would be to cancel the streetcar completely.
“Deception and delusion is the name of the game for public megaprojects,” points out Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat, and apparently even streetcars qualify as megaprojects. Yet Westneat himself offers an idiotic solution to the streetcar problem: simply ban automobiles from the area traversed by the streetcars. That’ll teach people to drive when they could use a “modern” streetcar!
The city has already spent $90 million on the new streetcar line, but $52 million of that is for streetcars that can easily be sold to some other
sucker city that wants to build or run streetcars. I hear Washington DC is in the market for some since their are already worn out after two years of operation. Seattle would also have to give $50 million back to the Federal Transit Administration, but that’s not really a cost, just money that hasn’t yet been spent.
So the real loss would be the $38 million already spent on construction and perhaps a few million more needed to undo the damage caused by that construction. On the other hand, completing the project will cost at least $110 million more than has already been spent, while operating the streetcars is now estimated to cost $24 million a year, which is 50 percent more than originally projected.
Operating increased bus service on the same route would cost a fraction of that much: in 2016, Seattle spent more than $60 per vehicle-revenue mile operating streetcars, while King County Metro spent $18 on buses it operated itself and $9 on buses on contracted out to private operators. Thus, halting streetcar construction would save around $200 million over the next five years alone. That sounds like a pretty good result to me.