The Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal

Informed but opinionated commentary and analysis on urban transportation topics from the Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal. Names have been omitted to protect the guilty.

Our Mission: Monkeywrench the Anti-Transit Forces

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Tuesday, October 29, 2002


"It is the unfortunate destiny of the ridiculous to be subject to ridicule."
James Howard Kunstler

From the Cabalmaster:

(or: Where is Jonathan Richmond when we need him?)
The Historical Context

We continue our coverage of Seattle's monorail plan:


Late in 1990, a federal court ruled that the 44-member Metro Council, a mix of elected and appointed officials, violated the "one person, one vote" principle and ordered reorganization. King County Voters eventually approved consolidation of Metro and the King County government, supervised by an expanded "Metropolitan King County" council. This took effect from the beginning of 1994.

Meanwhile, the legislature created the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority, responsible for planning, building and operating regional transit. RTA adopted a 16-year "Phase 1" program in 1994, including a three-route, 69-mile LRT network, express bus services and commuter rail between Everett, Seattle and Tacoma. Price tags: $574 million for commuter rail, $4 billion for light rail, $6.7 billion total. A 0.4-percent sales-tax increase and a 0.3 percent Motor Vehicle Excise Tax within the RTA district would generate an estimated $200 million per year. RTA assumed $40 million per year from state and $85 million per year from federal sources, and up to $800 million in bonds.

This plan was rejected by voters on March 14, 1995, attracting a 47 percent "yes" vote. However, 51 percent of King County and 62 percent of Seattle voters approved. The plan did not fare well in suburban areas, nor with Republicans: registered Democrats voted 3 to 1 in favor; registered Republicans voted 2 to 1 against. Rejection was attributed to opposition to increased taxes, a belief that the plan was too big, and RTA's acknowledgement that the plan would do little to reduce traffic congestion.

Rail plans in Seattle have long attracted tenacious opposition. Shortly before the vote, supporters had raised $272,000 while opponents had raised $106,000 for their campaigns. The latter amount is the largest known to have been spent to oppose a rail transit ballot measure up to that time.

The state law that created RTA mandated a second vote after an unsuccessful first vote -- and dissolution of the agency following a second failure at the polls. RTA revised the plan, trimming the light rail component to a single 24-mile line between the University District, downtown Seattle and Sea-Tac Airport, with a short (1.6-mile) line between downtown Tacoma and a new transit center and commuter-rail station near the Tacoma Dome. The plan, marketed as "Sound Move," also included a regional express-bus network, and an Everett-Seattle-Tacoma-Lakewood commuter-rail service. The total price tag was $3.9 billion.

As the election date approached, and forecasts of another defeat were bandied about by various pundits, RTA issued staff layoff notices and began preparing to shut itself down. But voters had other ideas: on November 5, 1996, the plan attracted a 57 percent "yes" vote. RTA, now known as Sound Transit, began "ST Express" bus services began operation in September 1999 The first stage of "Sounder" commuter rail service, between Seattle and Tacoma, opened on September 9, 1999 The "Tacoma Link" LRT line (using Czech-built cars like the Portland Streetcar) is planned for opening in 2003 The "Central Link" LRT project hit a major snag late in 2000, when bids for the planned tunnel between downtown Seattle and the "U District" came in far over the amount budgeted The agency revised its cost estimates, extended the construction schedule and deferred the northward line, outlining a 14-mile starter segment between downtown Seattle and the airport. This generated a great deal of criticism and negative publicity. Rail opponents filed suit, hoping to force a second vote. At the end of September, a King County Superior Court judge announced that he would issue a ruling within 30 days


During the final waning days of the 1950s, Seattle business and political leaders hatched a scheme to hold the first U.S. World's Fair since 1939-1940. "Century 21," as they called it, ran from April to October 1962 and attracted 10 million visitors The former World's Fair site is now Seattle Center, a popular venue for a large variety of events. The most visible symbol of the Fair, and Seattle Center, is the 605-foot Space Needle Then there's the monorail, which was built to link the fairgrounds with downtown

Alweg beat out another supplier when it offered to build the line at its own expense. The 0.9-mile line cost $3.5 million

Monorail foa . . . er, enthusiasts (maybe we'll get it right one of these days) love to debate about the nefarious forces that blocked monorail expansion. They might consider the one spelled "e-c-o-n-o-m-i-c-s." Alweg recovered its investment, then turned a profit while the fair was open. Thereafter, it turned the line over to the Century 21 Corporation at no cost.

In other words, they knew the profits would disappear after the fair closed, and decided to get out while the getting was good.

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