Last week, Mayor McGinn announced that he intends to ask for $10 million to get to 15% design for 8 miles of westside light rail.
This sounds great in theory. But Sound Transit plans to do basically the same work in a few years – they have $12 million set aside around 2015 to study the same corridor.
Stepping back outside the political arena, what makes the most sense here is for McGinn to ask voters for money to accelerate Sound Transit’s work. Having study work done a few years sooner gives us more time to build public support and look for grants.
It makes sense for several reasons to have Sound Transit as lead on a West Link project: they have experience in planning and building light rail, and they’re experienced in winning federal funds. A partnership here would save millions – if not tens of millions – and could result in a line built with both Sound Transit and city of Seattle funds, rather than a low capacity option likely to be the result of city funding alone.
The Mayor has said before that he doesn’t want “Cadillac” light rail, but we already know from previous study work that the West Seattle and Ballard corridor would develop more ridership than any of Portland’s lines, and these neighborhoods will only become more dense with time. The monorail project was right to want grade separation, at least in the city center.
We can’t afford to be in the position Portland is today. Their light rail is already running into serious limitations, only twenty-five years into a hundred year system. Trains are packed at peak times on the older lines, and there isn’t room to run them with more cars or more often.
While I applaud the Mayor’s initiative in pushing to build more mass transit, I’d like to see him work together with Sound Transit on this issue, rather than going it alone.