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Thiel: Lander Street funding could create opening for Chris Hansen

Art Thiel says federal grant could create an opportunity for Hansen’s arena project

Occidental Avenue, looking north

Yesterday, Mike Baker wrote about the city of Seattle getting a $45 million grant from the United States government as part of their FASTLANE grant program. The funds are intended to go towards building the long gestating Lander Street overpass in the SoDo neighborhood. This has been a key project for the Port of Seattle in order to enhance freight mobility in the area. Per Chris Daniels’ article Wednesday:

According to the grant application, more than 3,200 rail cars traverse Lander every day and cause delays for nearly 13,000 vehicles. It also says 1,500 people a day use South Lander on foot, or bike, on a daily basis. The application says the crossing had seven serious injuries involving cyclists and six accidents involving pedestrians between 2011-2015, including two rail-related fatalities.

The total cost of the Lander Street project is slated at $140 million. According to the Seattle Department of Transportation, the grant brings the current amount pledged to $100 million, including $5 million (3.5% of the total) from the Port of Seattle, leaving $40 million still unaccounted for.

In case you forgot, Sonics Arena investor Chris Hansen had pledged a "pro-rata monetary payment [reported to be $18-20 million] to the South Lander Street Grade Separation project." In addition, he created the $40 million “SoDo Trasportation Fund,” which would have given “first priority to projects protecting the operations of the Port of Seattle, such as those involving Terminal 46, and improving freight mobility, including projects that improve pedestrian safety, enhance transit service and connectivity and overall traffic management in the Sodo area.” Basically, he would have bridged that $40 million gap, and then some. He was ultimately denied by a vote of 5-4. Hindsight is 20-20.

In a followup article this morning, SportsPressNW’s Art Thiel says that this new windfall of cash could be a new opening for Hansen. In fact, according to Thiel, conversations are already happening between Hansen and the city of Seattle.

Privately, according to a source, conversations are going on, as Hansen’s statement implied. That the city’s application for a $45 million federal grant was accepted has to been seen as good news for renewed ambitions from Hansen. There’s lots of moving parts, but the a gap of “only” $40 million to a Lander solution looks more “bridgeable” than at any time since the problem was diagnosed.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray also issued a statement Wednesday, saying:

“We’re now one very significant step closer to building a critical overpass in Sodo that has been greatly needed for improved safety and mobility — particularly for our local maritime and industrial sector — since the 1990s.

“With the arrival of new stadiums and increased transit, rail and commercial activity over the years, the need for the project has only grown. The City will continue to work with our partners, including the state, the Port of Seattle, and those in the private sector to close the remaining gap.”

New stadiums, Ed?

As Thiel said, this could be a chance for Hansen to re-approach both the Council and the Port and give them the ol’ “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.” Hansen can close the gap and get the Lander Street overpass fully funded in exchange for the vacation of Occidental Avenue. With the new overpass complete, the Port can claim they now have the mobility to concede Occidental.

In theory, it’s good for the city, good for the Port, good for Hansen, and good for the fans. It’s a win-win-win-win. So much win.