Rethink Eastside rail-corridor deal
King County should start over with a new strategy to preserve Burlington Northern Santa Fe's rail corridor paralleling Interstate 405 on...
Special to The Times
King County should start over with a new strategy to preserve Burlington Northern Santa Fe's rail corridor paralleling Interstate 405 on the Eastside.
On Feb. 26, King County Executive Ron Sims and retiring Port of Seattle CEO Mic Dinsmore announced a memorandum of understanding to trade King County's Boeing Field to the Port of Seattle in exchange for conversion of the Eastside rail line to a trail. This trade is a bad deal for the citizens of King County.
The decision to offload a major regional asset is huge. It would forever alter King County, the Port of Seattle, Boeing Field and the neighborhoods impacted by Boeing Field. It's not a decision to be made lightly, or an asset to trade away for less than it's worth.
Analysis suggests that the land value of Boeing Field is more than $400 million, yet the Port is planning to pay only $169 million for purchase and development of a trail on the Eastside rail line. Why are we throwing away valuable property so far below market value?
Furthermore, Boeing Field's value goes beyond just its property value. As a significant line of business for King County, it's a workhorse for the region — a blue-collar airport that serves the region's needs for moving freight and accommodating general aviation, such as chartered planes and flight schools. User fees and rents offset the cost of operating and maintaining Boeing Field. Trails require annual taxpayer subsidies to operate and maintain. How will those costs be paid for? Are we going to charge tolls on bicyclists using the trail?
The greatest professed benefit of the swap is the opportunity to gain a new regional asset for the citizens of King County without using taxes. However, the citizens of King County pay substantial taxes to the Port of Seattle. How will the Port of Seattle afford such a major purchase without using significant tax revenue?
Another troubling aspect of this concept is that a sizable portion of the Eastside rail line is located in Snohomish County. Both King County and the Port of Seattle collect taxes only within the boundaries of King County. Is it fair for King County citizens to shoulder the entire tax burden of buying a trail in part for their neighbors to the north?
For these reasons, the swap doesn't pencil out as a good business decision. As a legislator and the representative of a district impacted by Boeing Field, I'm also concerned about the potential negative community impacts of giving Boeing Field to the Port.
From undertaking noise studies, to convening stakeholder groups and studying alternative flight paths, King County has invested millions of dollars and established a long track record of working hard to ensure Boeing Field is a good neighbor. Turning over ownership of Boeing Field means turning our back on that commitment.
Unlike King County, the Port's governance structure is not geared toward constituent responsiveness, and Sea-Tac Airport does not have a reputation for being a good neighbor.
Port leadership has suggested that, under its current management, operations at Boeing Field would remain the same for the present. But what will happen in 15 years when Sea-Tac runs out of capacity? Is this an end run around an open and collaborative public process to site a second regional commercial airport? Unlike Sea-Tac, Boeing Field has no land buffer to protect surrounding residential neighborhoods.
Preserving the rail corridor that Burlington Northern Santa Fe wants to abandon is imperative. The corridor is a regional transportation connection that crosses two counties and eight cities, and is of statewide and federal significance. A study undertaken by the Puget Sound Regional Council envisions the ultimate configuration of the corridor as a recreational trail alongside a high-capacity transit corridor.
I wholeheartedly support co-location of rail and a trail in this corridor, yet the current proposal leaves that vision uncertain and unfunded. What asset will King County need to give away to pay for rail transit in the corridor? Harborview Hospital? Marymoor Park?
The responsibility for this corridor should not fall solely on King County nor should it come at the expense of the neighbors of Boeing Field. Let's start with local, regional, state and federal governments working together to develop a fundamentally sound and fair strategy to preserve this valuable corridor. Let's start over.
Larry Phillips represents Magnolia, Queen Anne, Ballard and portions of Capitol Hill and downtown Seattle on the Metropolitan King County Council.
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