"The monorail decided they want to remake this thing." Bill Bloxom is in the offices over his produce warehouse in SoDo, where he was forced to move a few years ago to make way for the Safeco Field parking garage distantly visible through his windows. "And we and the other businesses here are taking the brunt of it. The monorail's going to tear the others down. Here, they'll just go past our window 375 times a day."
Last year's narrow vote approving the project was the fun part. Now comes the destruction, construction, and reality of the $1.75 billion Seattle Monorail Project. Up to 98 residences and 86 businesses stand in its path, according to early estimates, though the numbers may be scaled down. "The impacts are small compared to the significant benefits of moving 69,000 trips a day through Seattle without cars," says Seattle Popular Monorail Authority spokesperson Paul Bergman. Some businesses will be relocated nearby, while others might close or move away, suffering potentially steep losses. They're subject to governmental eminent domain, the monorail's legal right to take land by force. Additionally, hundreds of other property owners next to the line, like Bloxom, wonder if they can endure the mess and clamor of a five-year construction schedule. They also worry about the ambient noise and view- blocking guideways they'll be left with if the newly rejiggered 14-mile Green Line is given final approval, as expected, in January.
"Not everybody is going to be satisfied, wherever the route goes," says Lee Keller, another monorail spokesperson, but many are "pleased as punch."
THE SEATTLE MARINERS, for example. The monorail proposed eliminating a planned Safeco Field station since another stop is planned a few blocks away. A little M's arm-twisting and the stop was back in the plan. Likewise, Westlake Center will get its skybridge. Fifth Avenue developers will get their stations. Billionaire Paul Allen will get his stops at Seahawks Stadium and near his Experience Music Project at Seattle Centerthe latter the single most costly, contorted, and disputed section of the Ballard-to-West Seattle line. Critics still ask why. A line that followed a more natural route along Elliott Avenue West to Denny Way, and then a straight shot down Second Avenue, would not only save hundreds of millions of dollars in cost and the physical integrity of Seattle Center, it could stop at the Center's front door on Denny.
The Seattle School District got its wish, too. It wanted nothing to do with the monorail. And since one governmental agency's eminent domain trumps another's, the district won't be participating. The monorail's preferred SoDo route was along Third Avenue South to South Lander Street, and then west around the front of the district's Stanford Center headquarters at Third and Lander, gliding into a station at First and Lander. No deal, said the district. According to a monorail summation of the district's complaint, the district said that "the offices immediately adjacent to the proposed alignment are assigned to the superintendent and senior administrators. Considerable effort and dollars were spent on the aesthetics of the building; the monorail in such close proximity would be detrimental to the occupants of this building and will not be accepted by Seattle Public Schools." The districtwhich had promised to seamlessly integrate its $104 million headquarters into the industrial neighborhood as part of its 1999 zoning variancewould not even allow monorail engineers on the property for site inspection and testing. In August, district lawyer Ron English told the monorail by mail: "We will not agree to such activities" and noted, again, that "we will not agree to location of the line on our property. . . . " Last week, English reiterated, "the district's position is, and has been for some time, that placing the monorail through the Lander side of our property was unworkable."
THE LINE NOW will turn diagonally at the rear of the school building. The monorail's optimistic spin is that the change will cut up to 26 seconds off travel time. But it will add up to $5 million in cost. The change also turns the train directly into five small businessesseveral retail outlets, a tile store, and a teriyaki cafe along First near South Lander. All will be bought out and relocated, if possible, says the monorail authority. Said one owner, who asked not to be named: "They told us first the monorail was going overhead and we could stay. Now they say the station is going here because of the new diagonal alignment. We're screwed." Richard Borkowski, head of People for Modern Transit, thinks the school district and monorail kept the dispute low-key until it was too late. (The monorail says the turn was always planned for "on or near" South Lander.) "Property owners in SoDo and elsewhere," Borkowski says, some of whom are going to lose major investments, "are having their businesses impacted and taken on very short notice."
That's certainly Bill Bloxom's feeling. The monorail knew months ago of the school district's refusals and the line revision that will bring the monorail right up to Bloxom's SoDo office windows. But nobody told Bloxom until just before the monorail's draft environmental impact statement was completed, giving him little time to respond. "That was our error," says monorail representative Jonathan Dong. "We're very sorry that happened. But we're working with the company now." He says he thought the produce warehouse was an extension of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad offices next door, and overlooked it. BNSF officials and the monorail are negotiating air rights over that building and the adjoining BNSF rail corridor, which will be spanned by a massive guideway girderalso right outside Bill Bloxom's window.
Bloxom is thus feeling more punched than pleased. "The school district uses its muscle to turn the train towards us so the superintendent can retain his view of the gas station across the street. Then the monorail forgets to tell us. The district won't let the monorail on its propertythen monorail surveyors trespass on our property and spray paint markers on the grass out back. That was our first clue that the train's coming our way, when we saw the markers. So much for 'community outreach.'"
STILL, THIS IS an industrial area. Freight trains go by. People are going to ask, What's the problem? Right? Bloxom points to his surroundings. Two large black dogs are sleeping at his feet. At the desks scattered around the airy room with a view of downtown and Beacon Hill, 10 fruit and vegetable traders and eight support staff are working 40 telephone lines, buying and selling produce. "Give me 63 spinach," one says into the receiver. "The green cabbage, is it decent? OK, give me 175." The half-century-old F.C. Bloxom Co. family business, run by Bill, his brother, and cousin, makes its living on the phone. Traders work with suppliers to get the freshest fruit and veggies brought in for supermarkets and Pike Place Market vendors to sell the next day. All light, view, and sound in the upstairs office will change with the monorail. But how much?
"WHAT WILL BE the effects of a [monorail] train going past every four minutes?" conversationally and atmospherically, asks Bloxom. "With a girder going up that is 30 feet long and 34 feet high, will there be daylight? Will our trucks be able to get in and out 24 hours a day during construction and after the station is built? No one knows." Thing is, adds Bloxom, "I voted for the monorail. But I didn't think I was voting for this."