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As campaign promises go, this is a huge one: At a press coneference across the street from the Columbia City Link station today,

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Westside! McGinn Promises Vote on New Light Rail Line Within First Two Years in Office

mcginnlightrail.jpg
Updated below

As campaign promises go, this is a huge one: At a press coneference across the street from the Columbia City Link station today, Mike McGinn announced today that, if elected, he'd submit to Seattle voters a Westside light rail proposal within his first two years in office. Neighborhoods like Ballard, Belltown, Queen Anne, Fremont, and West Seattle "have taken on growth," he said, and with it congestion problems. And Sound Transit doesn't have any immediate plans to serve those neighborhoods with light rail, meaning a Westside line could be decades off. So McGinn says he'll put together a package for voters.

The idea was explored on these pages in June, when then-candidate Norman Sigler was pushing it. Local transit expert Ben Schiendelman of Seattle Transit Blog liked the idea but doubted the availability of sufficient funding. But McGinn says he thinks the money will be available through transportation improvement districts, and says the city can keep costs down by using existing rights of way--i.e. streets--rather than paying to acquire new ones.

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The vote would be city-only, he says, and the city would contract with Sound Transit to build it (read his lips: no new agencies). McGinn said it was too early to put a price tag on the plan, or to talk about a specific route, but he sounded confident of a measure's chances and viability, repeatedly noting that Seattle voters have a history of approving transit measures, and Portland has been able to build light rail rapidly. It'll be interesting to see if his promise of a multi-billion dollar tax proposal loses him any support from the anti-tax contingent that liked his tunnel position. But it certainly seems likely to excite transit advocates and Westsiders, who have had a hard time riding Sound Transit's wave.

Update: In a release, Joe Mallahan says "think of the children:"

"Light rail is a critical service that not only gets people out of their cars and off the roads, moving more quickly, but also promotes economic development along its lines. We need more mass transit investments but light rail is a regional transportation system and all additions need to be integrated into our existing transit network.

"When someone proposes a plan of this size, the responsible thing to do is let voters know how much it will cost and how he's going to pay for it. Mike McGinn won't be honest with voters about how much his proposal will cost and suggests putting this haphazard measure on the ballot the same year Seattle's Family and Education Levy is up for renewal. I think the last thing we should do is pit kids against mass transit solutions.

"Voters approved a Sound Transit package last year that included studies for expanding mass transit options in other parts of the city. I will advocate for expediting those plans and work with Sound Transit to move forward in a responsible manner."

It's kind of difficult to call a measure haphazard before it's been proposed for the ballot, and McGinn did specifically say that anything he'd propose would integrate with the current lines. And Seattle voters haven't been shy about passing multiple measures in the same ballot lately--they approved the Pike Place Market levy, the Parks and Green Spaces levy, and Sound Transit 2 last fall.

Still, whether McGinn can find a way to scrap together the potential funding, and whether the roads-happy folks in the Olympia will approve new funding measures, if necessary (remember, Gregoire vetoed one such bill this year), are good questions.

 
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