News Clips— Declaring victory

WHAT DO YOU DO if your plans are behind schedule, over budget, and wildly unpopular with your constituents?

If you’re Sound Transit, you learn to be thankful for small victories.

Victory no. 1: the approval of Sound Transit’s initial 14-mile light-rail segment; construction will now start “as soon as reasonably practicable” next year, according to the measure adopted Nov. 29. Board members had vowed to break ground on light rail no later than July (and Greg Nickels was insisting on a July start date as recently as two weeks ago), but Sound Transit staff apparently balked at setting a schedule before the agency’s federal grant comes through. Which means they should be turning that first shovel of dirt absolutely no later than midnight on Dec. 31, 2002.

Victory no. 2: On Dec. 11, “a machine will actually fit a small section of track in place” on the Tacoma light-rail line, a recent Sound Transit press release proclaimed. The event, which agency board chair Dave Earling billed as “an incredibly important moment in the evolution of Sound Transit’s regional system,” marked the first milestone in a year for the 1.6-mile Tacoma Link, which was just a wee hole in the ground as recently as last January.

Finally, while it wasn’t exactly declaring victory, the Sound Transit board was feeling punchy enough to hold a long debate over how to spend the millions of dollars it anticipates saving on the light-rail project’s first phase. (They decided to use the money to move utility lines underground along the Rainier Valley light-rail segment.) Apparently no one pointed out to board member Cynthia Sullivan, who sponsored the motion, that Sound Transit has so far been more adept at spending money than saving it. Board members also shuffled $34 million within the budget to extend light rail to the airport.

Hey, at least they’re thinking small.

Erica C. Barnett