I think a lot of the Ballard-to-West Seattle light rail speculation is getting bogged down in routing arguments. It’s fun but ultimately colored by our experience of those neighborhoods, and really needs some study data to capture the tradeoffs.
One line of opposition is that some sort of grade decision (e.g., at-grade through downtown) is grounds for opposing the package. As I’ve mentioned before, despite loose talk of 2012 or 2016 ST3 votes, ST3 is not necessarily close at hand and a regional package faces much higher barriers to passage. Moreover, no matter how soon ST3 comes, the more the city gets done in the meantime the larger the system will be at any particular point in the future. Indeed, there is no concrete idea of how big the funding package for ST3 will be, so it’s unclear that it would unlock huge amounts of funding to allow more tunneling. Lastly, the political takeaway from the defeat of a measure will not be “the package was not massive enough” but instead “even Seattle isn’t willing to support more light rail in the current climate.”
All that said, I’m not really worried about the measure passing in Seattle. I’m not a magnificent political prognosticator but there’s a solid record that suggests that whether this measure goes to the ballot in 2010 or 2011 or 2015 it’s going to pass. The real danger is that this plan, due to insufficient preparation, will overpromise and under-deliver. As project engineering progresses, costs (mitigation and otherwise) go up. That sets up the traditional Puget Sound funding crisis (see: Sound Transit circa 2000, Monorail circa 2004) where the entire enterprise has a near-death experience or worse. That’s the real political risk.
It may very well be that the city can put together a reasonably high-fidelity plan for the 2010 ballot. And of course, at some point before 100% engineering you have to take the planning you’ve got and go to the voters. However, I hope the McGinn administration heavily weights the maturity of the plan. For the comments: can anyone articulate what the benefit of going to the ballot in 2010 vice 2011 is, beyond everything potentially opening a year earlier?