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Friday, November 18, 2005

The Monorail: What Next?

Posted by on November 18 at 12:54 PM

Earlier this week, I participated in a forum sponsored by the Sierra Club. At issue: What will happen to the monorail’s taxing authority now that the Seattle Monorail Project is dead? (The forum airs on the Seattle Channel tonight at 9, right after a show on natural disasters.) State Sen. Ken Jacobsen wants to put the money toward road projects like the viaduct and SR 520; City Council member Richard Conlin and Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis want the tax to be part of the soon-to-be-resurrected Regional Transportation Investment District, which would help pay for “megaprojects” like the viaduct.

The fact that these government officials are already salivating over the monorail’s taxing authority shows that monorail agency officials were right all along: the battle over the monorail was never really about the cost or the route or even the technology. It was about the monorail’s 1.4-percent motor-vehicle excise tax (MVET), which other transportation agencies like RTID wanted for themselves. Now that the monorail is dead, the agencies that spent the last three years eyeing its rich tax base - a phenomenon former SMP director Joel Horn called “MVET envy” - are figuring out how to split it up.

I don’t think a lack of support from Seattle’s political establishment is the only reason the monorail died. But I do think that if Greg Nickels and the City Council had ever really supported the project, they would have done everything in their power to get it built. Sound Transit got nine months to sort out its financial snafus (cutting their initial line by seven miles without a public vote); the monorail got four weeks. The real loser here may be the initiative process itself, which Seattle’s political leadership has done everything in its power to undermine.