Trolley group faces another obstacle

November 11, 2008

By Jon Savelle

Imagine having a pile of money, and no way to spend it.

There are worse problems to have. But this one is frustrating for the Issaquah Valley Trolley Project, which has secured $500,000 in federal grants to restore trolley service downtown yet still needs an agency to administer the funds.

The city of Issaquah fills the bill. Accordingly, the trolley group, an offshoot of the Issaquah History Museums, has filed a formal request for the city to serve as its “certified acceptance agency” and thereby satisfy state and federal requirements for grant management.

This request is spelled out in Agenda Bill 5911, introduced Nov. 3 to the City Council and referred to the Nov. 13 meeting of the Transportation Committee.  But there is more to consider than a simple yes or no.

As stated in the bill, if the city agrees to be the certified acceptance agency it must then enter into a contract with the trolley group for specific services. The group’s payment for such services must be stipulated, including for design costs, environmental processing and documentation, permitting, payment of local matching funds and billing.

These tasks would consume an estimated 1,200 to 2,000 staff hours in the Public Works Engineering Department.

“A reprioritization of existing work plan items would need to occur should the request be granted to rebalance available resources,” the bill says.

Barb Justice, a trolley volunteer and grant writer who has worked on reviving trolley service for a decade, said this statement is erroneous. Grant administration is the only thing they need the city to do — not engineering, track work, car refurbishment or anything else.

“They must have added up all the hours it would take to do the refurbishment, which will be bid out,” Justice said.

To get the trolley rolling requires the overhaul of one trolley car, restoration of the tracks and repair of the rail bridge over the east fork of Issaquah Creek. Contrary to the agenda bill, it would not be necessary to replace the bridge right behind the Darigold plant on Rainier Boulevard Northwest.

The tracks also are in good condition, Justice said, despite their less-than-straight alignment. The state Department of Transportation has inspected them, identified things to fix or replace, and otherwise given them a clean bill of health.

After that the only other improvement needed is to modify the traffic signal at Front Street North and Northwest Dogwood Street so the trolley can cross safely.

“We are ready to go,” Justice said.

But the group is not going to just sit and wait for the City Council to act on their behalf. Justice said several council members have been elected who may not be familiar with the group’s efforts, so she is putting together a packet of educational materials for them.

That packet will be in the hands of the Council Transportation Committee at its Nov. 13 meeting. Committee members will discuss Agenda Bill 5911 and make a recommendation to the full council Dec. 1.

If it is approved, and the city agrees to handle the grant paperwork, Justice said car and track refurbishment could commence. If all of that falls into line it’s possible the trolley could be running by late summer 2009.

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