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Tuesday, June 15, 2004 - Page updated at 05:50 P.M.

City council approves monorail's west route

By Mike Lindblom
Seattle Times staff reporter

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Plans for a new Seattle monorail gained additional momentum yesterday when the City Council voted 8-1 to approve the route through the western half of the city.

Costs and design are still unknown, but the vote showed that politically, at least, the project is viable. Several council members said they are committed to building the line.

"Every major transportation project kicks up some dust. Some would call this a Saharan sandstorm," said Councilman Nick Licata. "But once the winds die down the monorail will be a winner."

The voter-approved monorail tax passed in 2002 by just a few hundred votes, but the council is treating it as a mandate: "We're living in an era of close margin when it comes to votes," Councilman Peter Steinbrueck said.

Yesterday's vote locks in the same 14-mile alignment from Ballard to West Seattle that monorail board members approved in March.

The council's only major change was to require more separation between trains and buildings — at least 14 feet along Second Avenue, 10 feet on West Harrison Street near Seattle Center, 10 feet on California Avenue Southwest in West Seattle, and 20 feet from the new Merrill Gardens retirement high-rise in West Seattle, along 35th Avenue Southwest.

Councilman Richard Conlin cast the dissenting vote, objecting to the stretch through Seattle Center. Transportation systems should be kept on the streets, he said, "not foisted off on a public commons, so it runs through the heart of what we advertised as the world's premier gathering place."

The council's next step is a June 28 vote on the monorail's "transitway agreement," which sets out the requirements for insurance liability, skybridges, and proof the monorail agency can afford to finish the line.

"Have no illusions, the hardest part is ahead," Councilman Jim Compton said. "The numbers have to work. They have to be scrutinized by this council."

Henry Aronson, of the group OnTrack, which is critical of the project, said the transitway agreement should contain specific station designs and ensure that the city's review is done by independent experts.

A separate group, Monorail Recall, is behind an initiative campaign that would prevent the city from issuing construction permits for the project. The group has recently hired paid signature gatherers in its effort to qualify the measure for the November ballot.
 
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Treasurer Liv Finne likened her group to the biblical hero David battling the giant Goliath. "We need help. We need people to give us money. We need people to give us attorneys," she said.

Initiative 83 has collected 8,283 signatures, she said, with hopes of gathering 8,000 more from volunteers by mid-July. A private company has been paid $16,500 to collect 5,000 more, she said. To put the measure on the ballot, monorail opponents must collect 17,229 valid signatures, Finne said.

However, the monorail agency has filed two lawsuits to block the initiative. One suit is challenging the ballot title, saying it is too vague; the other suit argues that the monorail permits are a land-use matter that is not subject to an initiative.

A hearing on the ballot-title suit is scheduled Friday. Judge Steven Gonzalez said last week that if the ballot title were thrown out, there is some chance that the signatures collected so far could be thrown out.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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