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Thursday, June 10, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Time to make rail fully accountable

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On Tuesday, Sound Transit broke ground on its light-rail project in the Rainier Valley, eight years after voters approved the agency's project. Unfortunately, the project being started is different from the one they approved. It is one-third shorter and its projected ridership is two-thirds less.

Those are among reasons why a citizens' initiative aimed at requiring Sound Transit to resubmit its plans to voters is worth consideration and support in the current signature drive.

When a voter-approved project changes as much as Sound Transit's light rail, normally it is resubmitted to the people. That is common sense and also the common law of Washington going back to the time of streetcar companies. It is the way the people can control their government, and hold it accountable to its promises.

But when citizens took Sound Transit to court to enforce the common law, the agency pulled out Resolution 75. Passed by its governing board in August 1996, Resolution 75 included a grant of power to change the project at will, removing the people's right to keep it accountable.

Sound Transit could not grant itself such a power, but the people might through a vote. Had they? Sound Transit had not mailed Resolution 75 to voters. It had mailed other things but not that. The ballot title for the measure authorizing the Sound Transit taxes, however, had ended with the rhetorical asterisk, "as provided in Resolution No. 75."

The press had not noticed, but a sharp voter might have called Sound Transit, asked what Resolution 75 was and gone to the county auditor's office to read it. Probably not one voter had done that, but they could have done it.

In March, the Washington Supreme Court swallowed that argument, and proclaimed that the people had voted immunity for Sound Transit on that point.

I-894, sponsored in part by Shoreline Democrat Maggie Fimia, aims to reverse that ridiculous decision. Because the people in the Sound Transit district as such have no right of initiative, I-894 is statewide. It recreates the right of initiative that the designers of Sound Transit purposefully left out.

This is the people's last chance to make this agency accountable. They should take it.

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