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Wednesday, November 15, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Council mulls using streetcar money for suburban bus shelters

Seattle Times staff reporter

One year after the Metropolitan King County Council agreed to spend $7 million on a new maintenance barn in Seattle for Metro's waterfront streetcars, some council members are expressing interest in spending that money instead on bus shelters in the suburbs.

Councilman Dow Constantine has written a letter to the Seattle City Council asking for a status report on the barn project — a clear warning that the county's financial commitment to the project could be in jeopardy if the city doesn't move on it soon.

Developer Greg Smith was set to build the barn as part of a larger condominium project in Pioneer Square, across from Occidental Square park. But he pulled out of the deal in June, citing city delays in granting him a zoning change that would allow him to erect a taller building.

The deal was struck last November. Along with the county's $7 million commitment, the city and Port of Seattle each pledged $1 million.

At the time, there was urgency to find a replacement for the streetcar barn near Pier 70 so the Seattle Art Museum could tear it down and move forward with its Olympic Sculpture Garden as designed.

The old barn has been torn down, and service on the streetcar line was suspended a year ago with the intent to bring it back — using the new maintenance facility — by the 2007 tourist season. Meeting that target date is no longer possible.

The waterfront streetcar would have to be taken offline again — perhaps for as long as a decade — during construction on the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

Now, given that the barn project has not broken ground, Councilwoman Julia Patterson is wondering whether it could be finished before viaduct construction begins.

If it can't, the $7 million essentially would be paying for a trolley garage, said Jon Scholes, Patterson's chief of staff. Patterson, who opposed the $7 million expenditure last year, was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

"The case was made last year when the council took action that we could have this thing built in 18 months, and therefore have a window of opportunity of one or two years where we could run the trolley along the waterfront," Scholes said. "That window is now closed."

Three City Council members — Peter Steinbrueck, Nick Licata and Jan Drago — responded to Constantine's letter, asking the county to keep its $7 million earmarked for the trolley barn.

"We plan to move forward with this project in 2007," their letter says.

Stuart Eskenazi: 206-464-2293

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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