Long-awaited trolley gets a clear track
December 8, 2008
By Jon Savelle
Could be up and running by summer
At long last, the final obstacle to restoring trolley service in Issaquah was removed Dec. 1 by the City Council. A vintage streetcar could be operating downtown by summer 2009.The council voted unanimously to designate the city as the certified acceptance agency for the Issaquah Valley Trolley Project, an offshoot of the History Museums, and will administer $500,000 in federal grants the project has in hand.
With the city taking that role, the trolley group can move forward in restoring one trolley car, repairing tracks between the train depot and Gilman Boulevard and installing signals at the crossing of Front Street North. Contractors will do all of the work.
Aside from paperwork, the project will require little staff time from the city. Councilman Joshua Schaer, chair of the Transportation Committee, said an estimate in Agenda Bill 5911 of 1,200 to 2,000 hours of engineers’ time was far off the mark and represents the worst possible scenario. The actual amount of time required is likely to be much less.
“There is pretty low risk to the city that we would have to expend any additional money on the project,” Schaer said.
Getting to this point has been a long haul for the project. Backers have pursued it for a decade, including a request to the city four years ago to be the acceptance agency for grants. The city turned them down then.
“This agenda bill allows us to continue the partnership the city has had with the Historical Society and the Issaquah Valley Trolley Project over many years,” Councilman Fred Butler said.
He added that the council’s action is the first step in a two-step process; the second step is to draft an agreement between the city and the trolley project stipulating their responsibilities.
While the political fortunes of the trolley have gone up and down, the public’s fondness for the service has continued unabated even though the cars haven’t run since 2000. That year, the trolley project borrowed a car from the Yakima Valley Trolleys, another historic line, and people flocked to Issaquah to ride it.
They continue to ask when service will return, said Jean Cerar, president of the Issaquah Valley Trolley Project. And Craig Thorpe, an artist who specializes in rail subjects, said the enthusiasm is not limited to Issaquah.
“What’s going on here is part of a much larger trend around the country,” he said.
Some 50 cities nationwide have restored trolley lines, with 10 of them working on the second or third extensions of the tracks.
“Streetcars are place makers, and become icons of their cities,” Thorpe said.
This view was echoed by Michael Johnson, of the DownTown Issaquah Association, who reminded the council that recent public workshops on a new Central Issaquah Plan stressed the importance of connectivity between places on the valley floor. A trolley would be an important connection between the old downtown and Gilman Village.
“We think this is another one of those components that will bring people to Issaquah to spend their money,” Johnson said.
He added that the trolley could ease parking woes during busy events, like ArtWalk; visitors could park at Gilman Village, take the trolley downtown and then ride it back to their cars, restaurants or shopping.
Councilman John Rittenhouse was already onboard. He confessed to having a “soft spot” for the trolley and the historical society, and said he dreams of running trolley tracks in a loop around the central business district.
For now, trolley project leader Barb Justice is elated that work can begin on the restoration. She summed up her reaction in one word.
“Hallelujah,” she said.
Reach Reporter Jon Savelle at 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.