Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn plans to bring a light rail measure to the ballot next year, but can the city afford it? According to the the city’s analysis, perhaps not. The PI reports that the city may be unable to create enough debt to finance an expensive light rail expansion:
The city has about $1 billion in unfunded capital needs outside the viaduct project. The city’s central staff analysts told the city council Monday that a large transit project such as light rail that costs between $1.5 and $2 billion would blow the debt limit, or at least wipe out room for anything else.
Noble said a Seattle light rail line possibly could be paid for through Sound Transit’s taxing authority or a Transportation Benefits District, under which the city could impose a sales tax increase or vehicle licensing fee. It would require voter approval and have to generate about $200 million per year, he said after Monday’s meeting.
Another potential problem is that the City Council is considering a Transportation Benefits District to help pay for viaduct-related costs.
Of course, if the light rail plan McGinn proposes is on the cheap (as McGinn hinted in the campaign, with allusions to Portland’s at-grade Max light rail) or if the city raises its relatively conservative debt limit, things could be different. It’s important to note that McGinn may need state legislation to help with this process, another risk toward passing a plan. But what kind of plan will McGinn be offering? From the report:
“He hasn’t gotten to the point of studying how that might happen, and whether it would go to a vote, or what the funding source would be,” McGinn spokesman Mark Matassa said. “At this point, it’s just something to be discussed.”
Which, if true, is a discouraging sign. A rail plan being presented to voters in November 2011 should be in planning stages right now as to have the details by this time next year. We hope the Mayor’s office is playing coy here. For what it’s worth, the basic structure floating around town is Link-style light rail to West Seattle that connects at SoDo and a SLUT extension to Fremont and Ballard.