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Rail to Ballard: Nice idea, but didn't somebody already think of that?

Sound Transit and the city boldly go where the monorail tried to go 14 years ago.

There’s no surer way to be forgotten than to be a prophet before your time. The backers of the (pardon my recalling a painful memory) Seattle monorail initiative of the late ’90s and early ’00s, starting with its original instigator, the cab/tour bus driver Dick Falkenbury, may be excused if they’re feeling that way this week. On Thursday the Sound Transit Board voted to spend $2 million to begin planning a light-rail route from downtown to Ballard, as approved by voters in the 2008 Sound Transit 2 package. The feds and City of Seattle will also kick in funds, and the city and Sound Transit will draft an interlocal agreement to get the effort started.

A press release from the mayor’s office announcing this kickoff study all but claims credit for the brilliant idea of sending light rail to Ballard. It concludes by noting that “the Downtown to Ballard corridor was highlighted in both the Seattle Streetcar Study in 2008 and the Sound Transit Long Range Plan in 2005. The corridor also ranked highly in the City's recently completed Transit Master Plan.”

No mention of the fact that, together with an extension to West Seattle, it was the route for the initial monorail plan that voters approved four times beginning in 1997 (partly in reaction against the less populated I-5 corridor/Duwamish route originally proposed for light rail). Nor did the release mention that City Hall and Sound Transit — aided by NIMBY resistance in Belltown, ineptitude in the monorail project, and meager financing leftovers — piled on to help kill that plan.

Eric Scigliano's reporting on social and environmental issues for The Weekly (later Seattle Weekly) won Livingston, Kennedy, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and other honors. He has also written for Harper's, New Scientist, and many other publications. One of his books, Michelangelo's Mountain, was a finalist for the Washington Book Award. His other books include Puget Sound; Love, War, and Circuses (aka Seeing the Elephant); and, with Curtis E. Ebbesmeyer, Flotsametrics. Scigliano also works as a science writer at Washington Sea Grant, a marine science and environmental program based at the University of Washington. He can be reached at eric.scigliano@crosscut.com.


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