Monorail proposition on fall ballot
Seattle voters will decide in November whether to fund planning for a monorail between Ballard and West Seattle — some nine years after an earlier monorail project imploded.
Seattle Times transportation reporter
Get ready for Monorail, the Sequel.
Seattle voters will decide in November whether to fund planning for an elevated line between Ballard and West Seattle — some nine years after an earlier monorail project imploded.
Magnolia activist Elizabeth Campbell and her allies collected more than the 4,582 signatures required to put the issue on the ballot, after two years of off-and-on signature gathering.
This will be the city’s fifth monorail-related vote.
And yes, it takes signatures from only 1 percent of registered voters to reach the ballot under the “city transportation districts” law from 2002, which the state Legislature passed to enable a populist monorail movement.
If voters approve Proposition 2, it would create the Century Transportation Authority, a new government entity run by an independent board of directors with the power to place taxpayers on the hook for bond debt.
The measure also imposes a $5 annual citywide car-tab fee on vehicles at least 1 year old, raising an estimated $2 million a year.
The money would be spent writing plans and environmental reports for an approximately 16-mile lineconnecting Ballard, the waterfront and West Seattle as far south as Westwood. Construction, pegged at $2.4 billion, would require a follow-up tax measure.
The proposition also envisions a separate gondola-like system to carry people along a loop between downtown and a waterfront monorail stop.
“I look forward to a vigorous debate on the merits of the proposal,” Campbell said laughing, recalling the skirmishes over the past monorail project.
Campbell has a history of filing lawsuits, watchdog public-records requests and ballot petitions. She briefly ran for mayor in 2009 and tried to halt the Highway 99 tunnel; she favored an elevated road.
The monorail signatures were filed in June and counted weeks ago, said Barbara Ramey, communications specialist for King County Elections, which certified the initiative for the November ballot.
Not even Campbell has been proclaiming the news. Word finally seeped out this week via the political website Publicola.
“This is a planning thing,” Campbell said about her measure. “But it’s setting the stage for something that will happen much sooner than anything Sound Transit is doing.”
Sound Transit and the city of Seattle issued a study in June of light-rail options joining Ballard, Fremont, Queen Anne and Interbay to downtown. There is no money for construction, which would require a voter-approved tax hike.
Monorails have enchanted Seattle residents since 1962, when Elvis rode the one-mile line built that year for the futuristic World’s Fair. It is still in use today.
An early-1960s proposed monorail extension to Shoreline was never built, but by the 1990s, activists such as Peter Sherwin and cabbie Dick Falkenbury took up the cause.
“It was a good idea. I was looking forward to riding on it,” said Campbell.
In 2000, city voters approved a $6 million monorail planning effort. Two years later they narrowly passed a car-tab tax of $140 per $10,000 vehicle value, to build the 14-mile Green Line. It turned out that Seattle Monorail Project (SMP) grossly underestimated the revenues, and by mid-2005 leaders issued a controversial 50-year funding plan, and later put a shorter line on the ballot.
Voters said no, the station properties were auctioned off, and taxpayers wound up losing $124 million.
Instead of monorails, the region is building an $11 billion, 50-mile network for Sound Transit light rail that features tunnels at Beacon Hill, downtown Bellevue, and from the Chinatown International District to Northgate.
“The voters have already decided on the issue of a monorail,” said Frank Abe, spokesman for King County Executive Dow Constantine, who chairs the Sound Transit governing board.
“This is an idea that has failed before.”
However, it’s still common to hear riders on King County Metro Transit’s C Line bus between West Seattle and downtown wish out loud that they had a monorail.
Campbell’s initiative was filed under the 2002 transportation-districts law, which sets a low bar to qualify for the ballot.
Initiatives filed to the city of Seattle require more voter signatures. For instance, petition drives aimed at blocking Seattle’s new $15-an-hour minimum-wage law failed to reach the 16,510 needed to get on the ballot.
Campbell needed only 4,582 valid signatures, and she said her team collected about 9,000 to ensure success.
Century’s team includes three alumni from the SMP: Paul Toliver, former head of Metro Transit, who served on the Green Line’s board; attorney Cleve Stockmeyer, who drafted the 2000 measure and served on the same board; and Bob Griebenow, of Berger/ABAM Engineers, who provided technical advice for the Green Line.
Campbell said she’s considering petition drives later this year to extend monorail service to Shoreline, Renton, Tukwila and Burien.