Was last week's primary election a referendum on Seattle's tolerance for taxes? More than 55 percent of the city's voters said "yes" to taxing themselves, on average, $49 a year to help pay for low- income housing, a victory some said foreshadowed a November vote on the monorail and a $7.7 billion statewide gas-tax package.
But opponents of the gas tax, Referendum 51 (R-51), say Seattle voters aren't just generous—they're insightful. That's why the environmental coalition Citizens for Real Transportation Solutions released an alternative to R-51 on Tuesday that would cut or eliminate entirely the referendum's funding for road projects like I-405, SR-167 through Tacoma, and SR-509 from 99 to Sea-Tac Airport; add millions for safety and maintenance projects; double R-51's allocation for the damaged Alaskan Way Viaduct; and give more to trip reduction, ferries, vanpools, and other alternatives to single-passenger commuting. "Voters need to understand that you have to make hard decisions when you don't have the resources," says John Healy, project director for coalition member 1000 Friends of Washington. The total cost at the pump? About 8.2 cents per gallon, nearly 1 cent less than the proposal on the ballot in November. . . .
The campaign for R-51, meanwhile, is on track to rake in another million bucks in contributions this month, with nearly $800,000 raised by the third week of September, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission. That's a grand total of around $3 million in the pro-51 campaign's bank account, or about $2,996,000 more than Citizens for Real Transportation Solutions. Credit much of that fund-raising clout to Woodward & McDowell, a high-powered California consulting firm whose clients have included Philip Morris, the Western States Petroleum Association, Dow Chemical, DuPont, and Chevron, according to the Montana Public Interest Research Group. The firm, which claims a 95 percent success rate on state and local ballot measures, is earning $17,500 a month for its R-51 consulting work. . . .
It doesn't happen often, but as this week's elevated rescue proved, monorails sometimes get stuck. When that happens, if a second train isn't available to evacuate the first, the fire department has to come out and pluck people out.
That's far from an ideal situation, as far as the Seattle Fire Department is concerned; they'd like the new monorail, if the initiative is passed in November, to have a 3-foot-wide, elevated walkway that stretches along the entire length of the 14-mile line. The Elevated Transportation Company (ETC) has opposed including such a catwalk in its plans, in part because "it adds more to the visual impacts," according to ETC spokesperson Michael Taylor. Deputy Fire Chief John Nelsen, who has worked with the ETC on their fire and safety plans, says he thinks the ETC's board "is hoping to be able to negotiate it away, but at this point it is the fire department's decision" to require the walkway. ETC technical program manager Joel Horn says the agency just wants what's safest for the public, and notes that the ETC included funding for an elevated walkway in its budget. "We've agreed that if this wins we will all sit down and figure out what's the best thing for fire and life safety," Horn says. But SFD's Nelsen says as far as the fire department is concerned, the law requires a walkway. "It's a code requirement," Nelsen says, "so I don't know if there's anything to negotiate."
Erica C. Barnett