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Seattle Voters To Decide On Monorail Plans — Again

Ed Ronco
Passengers ride the privately owned Seattle Monorail as it speeds along its elevated track on Monday morning. A ballot question asks city voters to fund a study for a larger, public system connecting West Seattle and Ballard.

Seattle voters have a monorail proposal on their ballots this year. The city's last public monorail effort died in 2005. Now, supporters hope to revive the idea.

The city's existing monorail is privately owned and runs about a mile, from downtown to the Space Needle. Elizabeth Campbell is among those who would like to see a longer public monorail. She says it’s better than other systems of transit.

"The cars are much lighter than a light rail train," she said. "So, therefore you don’t need the infrastructure like you would if you would elevate a light rail train.”

Campbell heads up the campaign to approve Seattle Citizens Petition No. 1. If voters say yes, a new $5 car-tab fee would fund a study on how to build a monorail from West Seattle to Ballard.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because the monorail has a long, complicated history in Seattle. After numerous votes, the project died in 2005, but not before taxpayers lost $124 million. Campbell says this time, voters are more open to the idea of a big transportation project.

"Last go-round, we hardly had any mega-projects," Campbell said. "We got conditioned after going through the tunnel exercise how a mega-project works, how much it costs, on and on.”

She’s referring to the Alaska Way viaduct project. She says monorails are used by plenty of other cities, so why not study it here?

“We already have," said Jonathan Hopkins, political director for Seattle Subway. "We’ve already spent the money on it.”

His group promotes rail transit in Seattle. Hopkins says the goal of adding rail transit is good, but this particular effort is misplaced.

“We need more. We all know that," he said. "We should be fighting to make sure we keep on doing the things that work.”

He says that would be light rail, and that we should continue looking to expand those lines into areas like West Seattle and Ballard. 

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.