Requiem for a monorail

Well, Seattle, we've done it again. Okay, I'm a monorail advocate, and I promise this will be my last lament, at least until the next initiative.

The bottom line for me is that the only thing more buses, or trains - or anything else you put on the ground - is going to do is add to an unbear-able congestion prob-lem. Look at the num-ber of buses running empty today, and ask yourself if more buses are the answer.

In case you missed it, our state is expected to grow by another million people over the next decade, with a substantial number of them landing in the Seattle and Puget Sound region.

If you don't mind spending an hour getting from West Seattle to Ballard on the bus, then our current system is adequate. The train might be a little better when it's up and running, but it's still not going to be zipping through the city at 40 m.p.h., and it will impede other traffic as it moves.

We need a system - not just mass transit, but rapid mass transit - to move people from one spot to another in the city. Buses won't do that, and neither will the train. It has to be overhead.

OK, that's my argument for the now-defunct monorail plan. But the larger question is how it got so screwed up in the first place. The answer is: Sen. Murray, Sen. Cantwell, Mayor Nickels, Gov. Locke, Ron Sims and almost every other local, state and federally elected politician. With a few exceptions, they turned their backs on the monorail project.

Look at all the other transportation projects in our and other states: the freeways, bridges, the ferry system, Sound Transit's light rail and Metro. They all get help from various taxing agencies all the way back to Washington, D.C. We have politicians fighting for tax dollars to help all these projects.

Why didn't these folks get behind the mono-rail? Why didn't the monorail get state and federal money like other transportation systems? If the monorail had not been told to fend for itself, they might have been able to produce a financing plan that made sense, but instead, they were left to turn slowly in the wind, forcing them into drastic measures to try to pay to build the system. No transportation system in this state would have survived if it had been forced to play by the same rules as the monorail.

Now let me tell you why I think our elected officials shrank from supporting the monorail: money and politics. We have a monolithic bureaucracy in Metro, a burgeoning one in Sound Transit, and of course there's the cost to run the ferries under the Department of Transportation. Add to that the need to replace the viaduct, and the desire in some areas to build more freeways, and you have the recipe for a food fight over revenue.

King County has a budget of $3.4 billion in 2006, and if you don't think every agency in that budget has a death grip on their piece of it, you've not been paying attention to politics. The folks sitting on those bloated budgets weren't about to give up their piece of the pie for our monorail, and they let the politicians know they were playing with fire if they messed with their cash flow.

So, my friends, if you're looking for a reason why the monorail got fouled up worse than a soup sandwich, look no further than City Hall, Olympia and Washington, D.C., and all the folks who are supposedly looking out for our welfare, but who are more likely counting votes for the next election.

And, the next time you're sitting in traffic downtown, on 15th Avenue West or the West Seattle Bridge, instead of cursing the guy or gal in front of you, thank our leaders for their lack of foresight and fortitude.

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