One-Track Mind

Maybe it's my Jetson-era upbringing, but I've always had a weakness for the Seattle monorail project. Some of it was just my own contrarianism, I ...
by | June 28, 2005

Maybe it's my Jetson-era upbringing, but I've always had a weakness for the Seattle monorail project. Some of it was just my own contrarianism, I suppose, but it made sense to me that locals and tourists would come out to ride the 14-mile contraption, just as they have long been fascinated by the much shorter version that has been operating in the city since the World's Fair in 1962. There's no way the Monorail could solve all of Puget Sound's horrific transportation problems -- nowhere close -- but one thing I do believe is that mass transit succeeds best when it''s a got a little bit of glitz, and Monorail remains glitzy even if the technology is 50 years old by now.

   And besides -- the backers of the project had plans on the board to build it for $2 billion  -- while the local government dithered for years about a light rail system that would cost several times that much, and never seemed to move any closer to fruition.

   Unfortunately, there was some bad news last week. When you add in the debt service on the bonds that would fund the Monorail, the total cost could go as high as $11 billion by the time it was fully paid for, sometime in the futuristic 2050s. A couple of billion is an amount you can justify for a transportation toy with some serious economic development potential. $11 billion is another story.

     So now it looks like the city council might change its mind and refuse to give the Monorail its ultimate approval. If that happens, a lot of people in Seattle will be disappointed: They've voted for it four different times. I'll be disappointed too. So will George Jetson. 

Alan Ehrenhalt
Alan Ehrenhalt  |  Contributing Editor
aehrenhalt@governing.com  | 

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