28 Days Left

The monorail still faces hurdles to reach the ballot.

Four weeks.

That’s how long the Elevated Transportation Company (ETC), the group set up to bring a monorail plan to voters, has left to pick a route, figure out how the monorail board will be governed, placate various property owners and interest groups, and come up with a final plan for the 14-mile “Green Line” from Ballard to West Seattle.

And a few new roadblocks may slow the ETC’s sprint to the election deadline. Among them:

  • The old monorail.

In response to complaints about the probable demolition of the 40-year-old downtown monorail, the ETC concocted what seems to some a wacky plan: Stack the monorails, leaving the old one along Fifth Avenue and placing the new one above it. The idea is drawing both condemnation and praise. Businesses like those at Westlake Center want to keep the monorail, which drops 2.5 million visitors at their doors each year; others worry the stacked structure will be obtrusive, block views, and cast an overwhelming shadow onto Fifth. “I think it’s going to be a design challenge to make it not visually obtrusive,” says Peter Sherwin, co-author of the initiative that set up the ETC. The plan could also mean the end for RailSafe, the company that operates the current monorail, if the old monorail became part of an expanded system, which would put the monorail’s operations up for grabs. But stacking the monorails may look like the path of least resistance to some monorail supporters, who fear that an attempt at historical preservation for the old monorail may derail plans to run the new system up Fifth.

  • Questions about the ubiquitous monorail ad campaign are starting to nip at the ETC’s heels.

ETC communications director Ed Stone says the ETC has started hearing “serious questions” about its “media outreach effort,” including accusations that the agency is using taxpayer dollars to fund a monorail campaign. Stone points out that the ads are largely factual, providing information like probable routes and cost estimates. But whether statements like “Traffic sucks. Get over it” and “Monorails never get stuck in traffic” are informational or promotional isn’t so clear-cut. According to Steve Gross, the acting executive director of the city’s Ethics and Elections Commission, “One could argue whether or not any particular language is promotional or a statement of fact” under state ethics laws, which the ETC has to follow.

  • Whether the monorail will be on the ballot in November remains an open question.

Despite protests from Heidi Wills and other monorail backers on the City Council, council member Richard Conlin hasn’t laid to rest the idea of prolonging the public debate over the monorail. Conlin, who has suggested the monorail vote could be delayed until as late as 2003, recently raised the possibility that a council vote on the monorail could take place in September, which could push the proposal past a Sept. 20 deadline for getting measures onto the November ballot. Although Stone says he’d be “stunned” if the council didn’t put the measure on the ballot, the ETC has a backup plan: “At the discretion of the chair of the ETC, we may move to place this on the ballot through a citizen initiative.” If the City Council refused put the monorail on the ballot, the ETC could take the monorail plan to the people—again.

Erica C. Barnett