Queen Anne Port commish announces plan to save trolley: Money still an issue

Hopes were raised last week when Port Commissioner Paige Miller announced a plan to save the George Benson Waterfront Streetcar Line by extending it 1.2 miles north and by relocating the maintenance barn.

The barn has to go to make room for the planned Olympic Sculpture Park, but Miller, a Queen Anne resident, was short on details about who would pay the bill, or even exactly how much it would be.

The proposal, she explained, involves using Port-owned right-of-way for the tracks, which would extend to the Amgen campus. The proposal also includes adding two stations: one near a planned pedestrian overpass at Thomas Street and one near Amgen.

The new maintenance barn would be located on Port property near the grain terminal, according to the proposal. "Metro has to do the new barn," Miller said. "That's their part of this."

Miller touted the fact that an extended trolley line could serve approximately 8,000 people who work on Lower Queen Anne. Riders would reach the trolley by using the Thomas Street pedestrian overpass.

She added that the line also would serve around 7,000 people who work along Elliott Avenue West, among whom are 6 percent of Amgen employees who take the ferry. "I think ridership would go up significantly," Miller said. "So suddenly, the trolley is not just a tourist attraction along the waterfront."

Miller said she has the support of fellow Port commissioners Pat Davis and Bob Edwards, and Port CEO Mic Dinsmore was also on hand at the press conference announcing the proposal.

Financing the project is still up in the air, but two things are clear, according to Miller. "We're not looking for city money ... or Metro money." Instead, the idea would be to tap potential partners the Port has not yet approached, she said.

Amgen and the Seattle Art Museum come to mind, but Amgen spokeswoman Melissa Derry declined to comment about the possibility. "We really haven't explored those options yet," she explained.

But Amgen, Derry noted, is big on having its employees avoid single-occupancy vehicles when commuting to work. "We're very committed to anything that provides our staff with additional transportation options," she said.

Cara Egan, communications manager at SAM, sounded doubtful that the museum could be a source of funds for the trolley expansion. After all, Egan said, SAM will spend $85 mil-lion to build a free park for the public on the site. "We've raised about 75 percent of that," she added.

Miller wasn't sure what the tab would be for her proposal. "We have an idea, but we don't have firm numbers," she said.

King County Council transportation committee chairman Dwight Pelz said it would cost Metro approximately $2.5 million to build the new maintenance barn by the grain terminal, but he added there are other costs such site preparation and permitting.

However, Pelz estimated the 1.2 miles of extra tracks would probably pencil in at around $6 million, and Seattle City Light would probably have to build a new substation to provide the needed power for the extended line as well.

The substation would cost approximately $1.5 million, and there also would be site preparation and permitting costs involved for the entire project, he said. But the bottom line is that Miller's proposal would cost an estimated minimum of $9.7 million, according to Pelz.

"They haven't come out with the details," he said of the Port. But one question remains to be answered: "Did Paige Miller really put a $9.7 million offer on the table?" Pelz wondered.

There are many unanswered questions about Miller's proposal, according to Regina LaBelle, legal counsel for Mayor Greg Nickels. "It is our under-standing that it does include the cost of the tracks," she said.

But the Port needs to say exactly what's included with the deal, LaBelle said, adding she understands the Port will be fine-tuning its offer this week. "If it's something we can do ... we want to go forward with it," she said.

Marianne Bichsel, the mayor's spokesperson, sounded upbeat about the trolley proposal. "It's wonderful that the Port is stepping forward to provide the land to extend it," she said. Still, financing the project is an issue that has to be resolved, Bichsel conceded. "We're going to have to talk through the details," she said.

Miller also said last week that the permitting process would need to be expedited for the proposal, but that may not be much of a problem, according to Bichsel. "We're certainly going to be very open to that," she said.

SAM's plan for the sculpture park has turned into a public-relations nightmare for the museum because the trolley could be lost. "It wasn't that we were against the streetcar," Egan stressed. But Miller's proposal could take them off the hook. "Obviously, we're very enthusiastic," Egan said of the proposal. "It sounds like it could be a positive thing."

King County Council member and Magnolia resident Larry Phillips said he had been working for years with SAM to make the sculpture park a reality, and he is cautiously optimistic about Miller's proposal.

"I think going north is wonderful - if we can make it all work," Phillips said. "We've just got to make sure the partnerships come together."

On a personal level, Phillips said it would be great if the proposal works out because he'd be able to catch the trolley and take it to ballgames in-stead of driving and putting up with parking hassles.

Miller said Seattle City Council president Jan Drago supports her plan, and Miller herself is optimistic about the idea. "I think we can make it happen," Miller said.

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at rzabel@nwlink.com or 461-1309.

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