- Company: Stacy and Witbeck, Inc.
- Industry: Transportation
- Location: Seattle, Washington
- Expected Completion Date: August 1, 2014
- Project Website
Seattle’s First Hill Streetcar project is a modern streetcar line that provides new urban transportation options and has spurred increased economic development along the 2.5-mile route. In conjunction with the new streetcar alignment, a 20,000 sf maintenance facility, 10 new station platforms, 2 pedestrian plazas and a 1.2-mile designated bikeway were constructed as well as curb-to-curb reconstruction of nearly all the alignment. The project also included the relocation and updating of over two miles of 100+ year old water lines, storm drain, and sewer pipe. In addition, the Maintenance Facility was able to achieve LEED Gold certification and the view from the green roof is remarkable!
The unique First Hill Streetcar line ties together five distinct neighborhoods and several Seattle landmarks including:
1. Pioneer Square – Historic District, CenturyLink Field, Safeco Field, King Street (Amtrak, Sounder) & Union Stations (Sound Transit’s Light Rail & Bus)
2. International District – Chinatown, Japantown, Little Saigon
3. Yesler Terrace – Bailey-Gatzert Elementary, Yesler Community Center
4. First Hill – Seattle University, Swedish Medical Center, Harborview Medical Center, Virginia Mason Medical Center
5. Capitol Hill – Seattle Central Community College, Pike-Pine District, Sound Transit’s Capitol Hill Station
Ultimately, the First Hill Streetcar project completely revitalized a busy but worn-down corridor that was primed for a fresh start.
What impact does this project have on America?
Transit First Design Seattle
has made a concerted effort to promote alternative forms of transportation. The First Hill Streetcar is a flagship example of this, specifically on Broadway – the same street where Sir-Mix-a-lot’s “My Posse’s on Broadway” song was based on cruising the scene in your slick ride. The iconic street was morphed from a 4-5 lane traffic thoroughfare into a single lane in each direction shared with the streetcar. It also includes a continuous protected bikeway or “Cycle Track” for the entire length of the Broadway alignment. The change was dramatic and will have lasting effects on how the street is traveled. By reducing the traffic flows on Broadway and turning it into an urban alternative transportation route, Seattle is setting the model for how dense urban streets are revitalized.
First Hill Streetcar was one of the first streetcar alignments in the United States to use off-wire technology. Hybrid streetcars use on-board battery systems to power the vehicle in locations where overhead wire is unfeasible or undesired. In the case of First Hill Streetcar, there were several factors which made the wireless technology attractive. The travel route from Pioneer Square to Capitol Hill has an elevation gain of approximately 400 ft. so it made sense for the uphill run to be energized with overhead wire and the downhill run to be self-propelled by the battery system. Another motivating factor for implementing off-wire technology was due to Seattle’s extensive Electric Trolley Bus (ETB) network which covered 80 percent of the First Hill alignment. Seattle is one of only six active ETB networks in the United States. The ETB system runs off of dual overhead wires – positive and negative, whereas the streetcar only has a single overhead positive (OCS wire). The two systems run separately and therefore are not allowed to interconnect. Overhead wire crossings between the OCS and ETB are extremely challenging and expensive. Eliminating the downhill OCS wire saved the project over a million dollars in construction costs and months of additional schedule time. Implementing off-wire technology on First Hill will allow Seattle greater opportunities to expand their modern streetcars throughout the city to areas where it may not have been feasible otherwise.
Seattle once boasted an extensive streetcar network that would rival that of San Francisco, but it was eventually retired in the 1940’s due to financial struggles and the growing competition with automobiles. First Hill Streetcar was the second modern streetcar line to be built in Seattle and was locally funded by the ST2 transit tax. Construction of First Hill Streetcar not only put tax dollars to work directly along the alignment, it also provided the opportunity for growth and development of several run-down and vacant properties adjacent to the line. It ties together an incredibly diverse and energetic community that was ready for a shot in the arm. The First Hill Streetcar brings together such a unique array of cultures and activities that the value is unparalleled.
What interesting obstacles or unusual circumstances did you overcome to complete the project?
The diverse and vibrant community that was tied together by First Hill Streetcar also represented some of the biggest challenges during construction. In addition to the Seahawks, Sounders, and Mariners games that had to be accommodated, there were dozens of annual events that we were required to plan around. A few of these included the Holiday Moratorium, Rock n’ Roll Marathon, Capitol Hill Pride Fest, Seattle Dyke March, Dragon Fest, Capitol Hill Block Party, the Torchlight Parade, SeaFair festivities, Seattle AIDs Walk, Lunar New Years, Farmer’s Market, numerous concerts, and one Super Bowl parade. Daily scheduling and coordination meetings were required to keep all parties and the public updated with the project.
One of the highlights of Stacy and Witbeck’s public coordination efforts came out of the challenges involving the Capitol Hill Farmer’s Market. The Market is held at the Seattle Central Community College campus every Sunday from March through November. SDOT and Stacy and Witbeck had made a commitment to the community college to construct the tracks adjacent the college during the summer, when classes and enrollment are at their lowest level. Summer construction required the parking to be eliminated at the worst possible time for the market vendors who would have to transport their fresh produce from blocks away. The Stacy and Witbeck project staff stepped up and volunteered every weekend to help pack the tons (literally, tons) of produce and equipment down the street so that the farmers wouldn’t suffer the impacts of a major construction project. What could have been a contentious situation involving multiple stakeholders turned into a positive impact on the community and help set the tone for the First Hill Streetcar project. Now the Capitol Hill Market is one of the most popular in Seattle and has been expanded to year-round operations.
Traffic and pedestrian coordination also played a central part in the scheduling and constructing of the First Hill Streetcar. The project alignment crossed through 20 arterial intersections and some of the busiest streets in Seattle. Arterial streets were only allowed to be closed over the weekends which meant that time was of the essence and every shutdown was detailed down to an hourly schedule. Stacy and Witbeck successfully completed every shutdown and made a habit of opening intersections ahead of schedule. A typical intersection closure is shown in the time-lapse video at Madison Intersection.
What dangers and risks did you encounter, and describe any extraordinary methods used to keep workers safe?
The overhead trolley wires which power Seattle Electric Trolley buses represented the biggest safety risk on the project. ETB wires covered approximately 80 percent of the alignment and run at an 18 ft. nominal height. Washington Labor & Industries does not allow work within 10 ft. of overhead wires without an operating variance. Stacy and Witbeck was able to gain an operating variance to 4 ft. clearance, however this still had restrictions of equipment limiters to keep the maximum height under 14 ft. and dedicated electrical spotter for any operations within the 10 ft. window. It was quickly determined that 14 ft. does not allow enough operating range to be efficient. Smaller excavators had to be used, but even with PC138 sized excavators, 14 ft. is not enough height to load a dump truck.
The only feasible solution to working safely around the ETB wires and maintain the schedule was to de-energize them. Sections of the overhead wires on Broadway were able to be taken out of operations for extended periods of time by re-routing the electric buses, however this was limited as none of the active service routes could be re-routed. Jackson Street was a different story because every Electric Trolley Bus in Metro’s system drives down or across Jackson Street. The only time that we were allowed to de-energize wires was on the weekends.
The result of weekend de-energizations meant that even more weekend work was crunched into the schedule to go along with the 20 arterial intersection shutdowns and all of the community events. The intense weekend coordination became critical for a safe project construction – safe for employees and safe for the public traffic and pedestrians. We can proudly say that we were able to manage these factors without significant incident.
How did you leverage new technologies to work faster and reduce waste?
During the course of the First Hill Streetcar project, the project team transitioned our engineers and field crews from the use of traditional paper plans and documentation into the use of iPads and Box.com cloud storage of project documents. The change was remarkably easy and the benefits were immediately clear. The printing budget was greatly reduced, however the bigger impact was on the efficiency of keeping plans and information up-to-date. Implementing 543 requests for information, 390 field memos, and 99 design changes could have led to countless issues if it was not for everyone working off of the same updated documents which could be updated in real time. The technologies put in place on First Hill Streetcar are now standard practice for Stacy and Witbeck, but it was remarkable to see the transition put into place mid-project.