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Originally published Saturday, July 2, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Goodbye, Monorail

Monorail may remain as an idea and a dream for Seattle, but this monorail project and this monorail agency are finished. The Seattle Popular Monorail...

Monorail may remain as an idea and a dream for Seattle, but this monorail project and this monorail agency are finished. The Seattle Popular Monorail Authority should be closed.

The essence of the problem is not the financial plan. To maintain that would be saying that Jonathan Buchter, the monorail's chief financial officer, has saddled a good and sound project with 50 years of debt, paying for the project five times over, for no reason. But he did have a reason. In 2002, Seattle voters gave the Monorail Authority a 1.4-percent vehicle tax. Monorail officials said it was enough, but it wasn't. In 2003, revenue fell 30 percent short. Costs have now come in 20-percent higher than the plan. These changes are the problem. Buchter's plan called for 50 years of debt because there wasn't going to be enough money to pay back the debt sooner.

The Monorail Authority is short of money. Any continuation of the agency requires more taxes, which requires another public vote. Seattle citizens would have to be asked to raise the car-tabs tax to, say, 2.5 percent of official value, which would put the Seattle tax on a $20,000 car at $500 a year.

Or they might have to agree to raise the sales tax, now 8.8 percent. In any case, they would be asked to pay again for something they thought they had bought already.

In fact, citizens would be getting less than they thought they had bought — fewer and uglier stations, shorter platforms, heavier columns and fewer trains.

In addition to asking for more taxes, the Monorail Authority could rebid the project. Team Monorail, the group that dropped out last year, is clamoring to get back in and is making enticing promises. But this would be going back to square one. The question presents itself: Would the people of Seattle do this over with the same line, same managers and same board?


We recall the claim from Monorail Executive Director Joel Horn, made to us with earnest conviction, that if they could not build the Seattle Monorail Project in the form promised, at the cost promised and in the time promised, that they would not build it at all.

The Monorail Authority is already more than $100 million in debt. If it is not going to build a monorail, it has no reason to exist. It is time to cut our losses.

It is also time for some public officials to stick their necks out. Mike Murphy, the state treasurer, has. State Sen. Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle, has. Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels has not. Nickels has been hanging back on a decisive statement. The city needs leadership.

Now is the time to show it.

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