This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Thanks to PubliCola for allowing Mayor McGinn and Councilwoman Julia Patterson to square off on the issue of Westside light rail.  I tend to agree with Ben @ STB that the Mayor should work with Sound Transit and not try to go it alone.  ST is planning for this corridor, let them do their thing.  Plus, Seattle voters are — rightfully — ticked off about flushing $200M+ in taxpayer money down the hole called “monorail.”  I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re hesitant to spend another $8M to plan for yet another go-it-alone transit option in that corridor.

On the other hand, Patterson’s response really ticks me off.  Her argument boils down to, “listen Seattle, there’s a whole region outside your borders, so just sit down and shut up, you’ll get your transit when we say so.”  Sentiments like that make the Council — and Sound Transit, where Patterson serves on the board — sound clueless and out of touch. It’s almost enough to make me change my mind.

Patterson, however, has been a strong advocate for transit in the past, so let me give her the benefit of the doubt. Instead, let me offer what I think might have been a more constructive response to McGinn’s proposal:

“Many of us on the Sound Transit board and King County Council applaud Mayor McGinn’s desire to expand the transit options for Seattle’s West side.  Since the demise of the Monorail project, this corridor has been without a long-term rapid transit plan, and it’s sorely needed.  Buses on the Ballard-West Seattle routes are currently over 100% capacity.   I recognize that an urbanizing city like Seattle might have different transit needs than, say, Federal Way or Redmond, so it’s perfectly natural to want more transit options beyond a single light rail line for the whole city.

“Sound Transit is planning to study the west side corridor in 4 years.  But since we have such an eager partner in the Mayor, we’ll see if we can’t speed that up a bit if Seattle can come up with the funds.

“Finally, since any light rail solution is still years away, we need to do more in the short term.  Since I’m conveniently on the King County Council, I’ll find ways in which Metro and SDOT can work together to make bus service faster and more reliable within the city limits.  I look forward to working with the Mayor’s staff on these issues.”

None of this would require Patterson to make any specific policy commitments (though she could, if she was feeling ambitious, come out in favor of repealing the 40-40-20 rule), but it would at least make it sound like she gets where Seattle’s coming from.

The Seattle Monorail Project, however flawed, was borne out of a legitimate sense among Seattle transit advocates that Sound Transit was moving too slow, too far behind schedule, grossly overbudget, and too focused on the region as a whole to deliver true in-city rapid transit.  10 years later, it seems like everyone is reverting to their same roles, which I’m afraid will lead to the same result.

Instead, let’s talk about expediting the Sound Transit study and, in the meantime, let’s get some more cooperation between Metro and SDOT on prioritizing buses and making the RapidRide experience as good as it can be.

3 Replies to “Seattle’s Light Rail Dreams”

  1. Seattle’s voters have every reason to feel sad, defeated, etc. about the demise of the Seattle Monorail Project, but I don’t know that I’d agree with “ticked off.”

    After all, Seattle voters weighed in — more than once — on establishing the project. They voted in favor of a plan with a terrible governance structure, but that was complained about publicly by a number of folks at the time. And, ultimately, Seattle voters made the decision to defund the project and not to move forward with any further scenarios.

    Considering it was grassroots volunteers who came up with the idea in the first place, I’d say it’s pretty remarkable that Seattle voters had 100% control over virtually every aspect of the process from the highs to the lows.

    We can’t say that for virtually any other major project or levy in recent city history.

  2. I think HizHonor is correct to push for more transit NOW, being able to read the ST tea leaves for the next 20-30 years. After Northgate and E-Link are built and running, there really isn’t much for Seattle to push an ST3 vote over the top for Pierce, Snohomish, and Redmond projects and higher taxing levels.

    Those counties can’t do it alone without Seattle.

    Here’s where the Mayor is probably coming from, and it’s a conclusion I was ‘pushed’ into discovering for myself over at STB on Federal contributions for ST.

    https://seattletransitblog.com/2011/04/13/news-round-up-hsr-already-on-the-decline/

    The exchange was between Anandakos and Bruce (about half way down), discussed how all this talk in DC about cutting transit funding and rail projects to the bone would affect ST2 projects. The point being, that ST2 relied very little on the Feds and the teabaggers weren’t going to derail Link progress. So I began to look through the financials.

    Well, I eventually came up with about a 6 Billion shortfall in funding, counting the local tax shortages and potential loss of over 2 Bil. in fed money through 2023, and that’s assuming a speedy recovery of local funding sources, which I really think is problematic.

    If the Mayor and I see the same outcome, it would be 2030 before any W-Link line is built, without a huge ass local tax initiative.

    So, if that’s what it takes, he might as well get to now, rather than wait till he’s in the retirement home lamenting about ‘could have’s and should have’s.

  3. He’s absolutely right to push for it now, but he can’t go it alone. Infrastructure needs allies and establishment support. It can’t be run as an insurgency.

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