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New Culture Connector Streetcar Project Report Informs Timelines, Costs, and Ridership Projections

Passengers enter and exit a Seattle Streetcar at a station north of downtown Seattle. Photo: SDOT


  • In late 2023, we completed the Culture Connector (formerly known as the Center City Connector) Delivery Assessment to update design assumptions, cost estimates, and the project timeline.
  • The Delivery Assessment found that design would take about 18 months and about seven years total would be needed for the project to be operational.  
  • The cost estimate for a connected streetcar network increased 43% from $286 million in 2019 to $410 million in 2023.
  • The budget was adjusted to reflect 2023 costs and considers new transportation requirements such as areaway and Jackson St Bridge upgrades due to current weight restrictions.
  • At this time, there is no change to the status of the project. The City will continue to engage stakeholders on the Delivery Assessment results and explore opportunities to support Mayor Harrell’s vision for a linear arts, culture, and entertainment district, of which the Culture Connector is an element.

The Culture Connector, formerly known as the Center City Connector, would connect South Lake Union (SLU) and First Hill Streetcar (FHS) lines. Residents and visitors would have an easy affordable way to enjoy the cultural offerings in Downtown Seattle and surrounding neighborhoods and support Mayor Harrell’s vision to create an arts, culture, and entertainment district as part of the Downtown Activation Plan.

In late 2023, we completed the Culture Connector Delivery Assessment. The goal of the assessment was to confirm and update assumptions from the 2018 design, address changing conditions and requirements, and map out a new timeline and cost estimate for the project. A ridership analysis was also conducted to provide an updated travel forecast for the Seattle Streetcar network with the inclusion of the Culture Connector line.

Map of the Culture Connector connecting the SLU and First Hill streetcar lines. The existing lines are shown in solid blue lines, with the Culture Connector route in a dashed blue line.
Map of the Culture Connector connecting the SLU and First Hill streetcar lines. Graphic: SDOT

Key findings of the Delivery Assessment

Photo of a building. A tree, other large buildings, and a pedestrian signal are visible in the image.
The Bricklayers Building received Landmark Preservation status in 2019. Photo credit: Seattle Department of Neighborhoods

Here are some key takeaways:

  • Most of the 2018 design can be used.
  • The existing South Lake Union Operations & Maintenance Facility would be redesigned to accommodate the now landmarked Bricklayers Building.
  • Reinforcement of areaways along the proposed line, primarily in Pioneer Square along 1st Avenue, would be needed to support vehicles due to an updated weight restriction put in place in 2019.
  • Deck replacement of the Jackson Street Bridge may be needed to address new streetcar vehicle designs that are expected to be heavier than the existing fleet.
  • Station and the Operations and Maintenance Facility designs need to be updated to accommodate new industry standards, retrofit existing infrastructure, and procure new vehicles.
  • Environmental documents would also need to be updated and approved by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).
  • The project schedule would be about 7 years.

Many of these investments could have broader benefits to the transportation network and could be completed as separate projects from the streetcar expansion.

Breakdown of project costs

The Delivery Assessment estimated costs for major program elements using a cost model that incorporated cost information from the 2018 project as previously designed, escalation assumptions, and additional elements that are necessary to address identified risks, opportunities, and changed conditions. The project cost estimate has increased 43% from $286 million in 2019 to $410 million in 2023. The Delivery Assessment used a detailed methodology that is comprehensive and consistent between all elements of the project. Of the $410 million, $10 million would be necessary for additional design, $52 million for areaways, $38 million for work to the Jackson St Bridge, $74 million for utility work, and the remainder ($236 million) for core project construction and vehicle procurement.

Connecting the full streetcar network could increase ridership and transit system resiliency

A ridership forecast for the streetcar system was completed along with the Delivery Assessment to determine how ridership assumptions have changed since 2018. The analysis shows potential for an increase in ridership along the entire Seattle Streetcar line from South Lake Union to Capitol Hill. With the Culture Connector built, systemwide ridership is expected to be nearly 28,000 daily riders, compared to staff estimates without the connection of about 14,000. We are seeing a steady rebound of ridership on the First Hill Streetcar, while the South Lake Union ridership is increasing at a slower pace.

The forecast looked at the impacts to ridership around special events in downtown Seattle. Based on the evaluation of observed ridership associated with major events at the stadiums, along the existing First Hill Streetcar line and nearby transit services, the analysis concluded that Culture Connector could draw an additional 7% to 15% of its average daily ridership during these events.

What’s next

At this time, there is no change to the status of the project. Throughout 2023, we engaged with downtown stakeholders and confirmed there is a strong desire to improve connections and access to the many cultural, dining, and shopping destinations along the existing First Hill and South Lake Union lines and those along First Avenue as outlined in the Mayor’s Downtown Activation Plan. We will continue to engage with stakeholders and the traveling public on the results of the Delivery Assessment as we plan a path forward together.

Graphic showing where the Culture Connector line would travel, and key places and destinations along the route.
Stops and destinations along the Culture Connector line. Graphic: SDOT