Burying the long-dead monorail
In the end, all that was left of the Seattle Monorail Project were a few tabletops, some random office supplies, three hourly employees...
Seattle Times staff columnist
In the end, all that was left of the Seattle Monorail Project were a few tabletops, some random office supplies, three hourly employees and a chairwoman with a few checks to sign.
The November 2005 mandate from voters had come to fruition: Thursday night, at its last meeting, the SMP voted to shut down for good. Finally.
Its last action was, essentially, a reading of its own will. It left the $425,963.07 remaining in its account to King County, to be used for transit service between Ballard and West Seattle, the route that would have been served by the 14-mile monorail.
The end began in June 2005, when Executive Director Joel Horn presented the city with a 50-year, $11 billion funding plan. Mayor Greg Nickels balked, and vowed to deny its construction permits.
Horn cut and ran — promptly resigning by e-mail on Independence Day.
Four months later, in the last of five (count 'em, five) votes on the project, Seattleites killed the monorail for good.
It was up to Jonathan Buchter, the monorail's chief operating officer and general counsel, to shut the agency down.
"It's like trying to bury yourself, and making sure that the grave is smooth on top," he said the other day, as we stood in the SMP's ground-floor office. (There weren't enough chairs for both of us to sit.)
Buchter had to cut off the tax that was funding the monorail; sell off the land that had been purchased for station properties; and reduce staff to a precious few folks. At one point, he had to lay himself off. (He's now serving as a consultant.)
The hardest job, he said, was estimating how much money would be needed to the bitter end, and determining when to tell the Department of Licensing to cut off the monorail tax, which brought the agency about $4 million a month.
It was a delicate science, but Buchter pulled it off. He stopped the tax in June 2006; had it been cut off a month earlier, the agency would have ended more than $3 million in the red.
The last land sale closed in August 2006. In all, the agency made $72 million selling off station properties. A month later, the SMP made the last payment on the $110 million it borrowed to plan and promote the Green Line.
Since then, the agency has existed only to see the last lawsuit against it make its way through the courts. That happened last week, when the state Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal filed by a man who insisted the line be built.
That settled. It was then just a matter of calling a final meeting, cutting the last of the checks and sending the final 30 of the approximately 400 boxes of records to the state archivist.
Most of the office equipment was sold to the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. Buchter sold two monorail signs on eBay for a total of $1,900.
I asked what he wanted for a balance-ball chair I spotted against a wall: $10, he said, adding, "it belonged to Joel [Horn]."
Finally, I got something for the money I paid out for that project. I can sit and roll, too — not to West Seattle, but far enough.
Nicole Brodeur's column appears Tuesday and Friday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
It could use a little air.
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