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June 26, 2005

Monorail: Build it and pay for it -- it's still a good deal

The wires are buzzin' with talk of the monorail and its finances.  Unlike my EP co-conspirator Jeff, I think the monorail is a pretty good idea. Not that it's been implemented perfectly.  No public works project is.  At $2.1 billion, the price tag is only 10% over the initial estimates -- pretty good for a massive public works project. Sure, they cut a few corners -- again, about par for the course. Sound Transit is moving ahead strongly despite huge cost overruns and "value engineering." What is really disappointing is the fact that monorail revenues are coming in under budget, most likely because of car tab tax cheats. That's forcing us to stretch out the monorail's debt payments, ballooning the interest costs. That's not good.

But let's step back and take a long-term view. Over the next fifty years, does anyone really believe that building more roads and driving more cars is the way to go? Where will the oil come from? In the long run, the only way we're gonna keep any semblance of quality-of-life in an age of scarce, expensive oil is with fast, efficient public transit. And for large parts of the city, monorail technology is the only viable answer. It will have to be augmented with light rail, with a vastly expanded bus system (as Jeff suggests) (including bus rapid transit), and with much, much better bike and pedestrian routes. 

Bottom line? We need to build the monorail -- sooner rather than later. And if it's gonna cost $2.1 billion rather than $1.75 billion, then we should just raise the car tab tax to cover it, rather than stretch out the payments. We can afford it. We can't afford not to. I'm more than happy to invest my tax dollars in public transportation, because I know it's an investment in the long-term health and wealth of my community. The vituperation being spewed at the monorail from many directions is just short-sighted. I hope we're wise enough to "rise above it all." NWPT55

Posted by Jon Stahl on June 26, 2005 at 06:03 PM in Policy | Permalink


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Posted by: Daniel K | Jun 26, 2005 10:15:15 PM

ONLY build it if we can find a way not to pay 5.5x the initial cost in interest.
As it stands, having that tax stretch out so long will seriously jeopardize any ability we have in the future to expand the system. With the plan in place, in 2030 when we desperately need more service and more routes, we'll be unable to convince voters to add yet more to their car tabs.

The much more dangerous problem is that the tax package requires car tab revenues to increase by 6.1% per year. Unfortunately, the planners involved project less expansion than that - especially with both the light rail and monorail coming online in 2009-2010. Car sales will be depressed in several neighborhoods. The city would then have to recover funds from some other project - like, say, schools, public utilities projects, libraries...

Posted by: Ben Schiendelman | Jun 26, 2005 10:56:15 PM

By the way, part of what makes me uncomfortable about the monorail's planners is their attitude toward their system. There's really no big difference between monorail and light rail technologies - they can do the same things; however, they totally ignored the possibility of using elevated light rail north and south and sharing the bus tunnel - eliminating construction costs downtown for two miles of track and four stations, and creating a better link with our existing transit system.

Posted by: Ben Schiendelman | Jun 26, 2005 10:59:21 PM

It's good to hear your voice of reason when it comes to the monorail. Rather than attack the monorail, which is supported by the voters of Seattle, our elected officials on the Seattle City Council and in the State Legislature should be thinking of ways that they can support the ETC by giving a financial backing to get lower interest bonds, and looking for new revenue to get the bonds paid off faster.

Posted by: Ezra Basom | Jun 27, 2005 12:08:08 AM

As far as I am concerned, the monorail will be a good deal at (almost) any price. This whole controversy over $11 billion has more to do with anti-monorail people taking advantage of the public's general ignorance of the effects of compound interest on the cost of a long-term loan than it does with anything based in reality.

Posted by: Roy Smith | Jun 27, 2005 3:45:16 PM

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