Five public votes, 11 years and more than $200 million in tax dollars later, Seattle has officially awakened from its long monorail dream-turned-nightmare. The sleek Green Line envisioned to glide over stalled traffic along 14 miles along the city's western waterfront became a plan to visually pollute the sky with heavy elevated trains costing - with fees, interests and surely overruns - as much as $1 billion a mile. Voters and City Hall balked in 2005 and yesterday, a year before the once-planned launch of America's largest monorail commuter system, a skeleton Seattle Monorail Project board wrote the last check, closed the books and went home.
SMP chair Beth Goldberg called it a "prompt wrap" of business and, for the lumbering monorail bureaucracy, it probably was: The agency has been closing down for two years, about equal to the time it took to lay out a cockeyed financing plan, starting around 2003, that literally kept the monorail from getting off the ground. Fourteen billion? Why not hybrid limos and chauffers for everyone, like the mayor has?
There was a hard-working, visionary staff, but much of the millions from license tab taxes was doled out to attorneys and consultants. The re-sale of land recaptured SMP's property costs but in the end, the leftover funds came to just $425,000 in cash and a property interest, says former director Jonathan Buchter. The assets are now being held in trust by King County, dedicated for future transportation funding in the Crown Hill to West Seattle corridor.
Four hundred thou isn't going to ease the pain much on gridlocked 15th West, Elliott or the Viaduct. Maybe, in the middle of what is laughingly called rush hour, someone could just hand out a little free coffee. After all, we did pay for it.