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The Monorail Wars: Dick Falkenbury's new book Rise Above It All

Councilmember Nick Licata reviews the cabbie-turned-activist's tart account of his efforts to expand the monorail.
Author/activist Fick Falkenbury

Author/activist Fick Falkenbury Seattle Town Hall

The Seattle Monorail project: laid to rest by the Seattle process

The Seattle Monorail project: laid to rest by the Seattle process

Dick Falkenbury’s Rise Above It All is a book like no other on Seattle politics. It is a painfully raw ode to the rise and fall of the Monorail Movement; one that almost permanently altered our physical and political landscape.

The book can be read on two levels: a quirky and hilarious catalogue of Seattle politicians and civic leaders, skewering the mega projects they promoted; and, a thoughtful and self-admittedly biased analysis of how the Monorail Project developed and failed, with blame squarely placed on the shoulders of those, including Falkenbury, responsible for its success.

A number of books have covered Seattle politics, but none slices and dices politicians and activists alike to such a degree—not because of their political leanings so much as their character flaws. A popular US senator is called stupid, yours truly is compared to Nixon, a prominent monorail supporter is described as “a dissipated leprechaun without charm.” But the descriptions are keenly funny if not true. Someone who intends to run for public office or apply for a city government job would not write this book. 

Falkenbury does not conform to Seattle’s culture of niceness; he is not nice. Considerate, yes, to the elderly and children. However he is prone to creating waves of anxiety in the halls of power as he heaves around his 280-pound frame, bellowing out his observations. When then City Council President Sue Donaldson appoints Falkenbury to the Monorail Board, she advises him “not to throw chairs out the window.”

A transportation iconoclast

Often it takes someone who sees things differently and who is willing to speak out to break the mold of conformity and stamp out a new direction. Falkenbury did that when he single-handedly launched the effort to build the nation’s first and only monorail transportation system. However, even though Falkenbury dared to buck the norms, he was also a loner, like many nonconformists tend to be. Refusing to involve the many he would've needed to be successful he admits, “I was not good at asking people for help. I thought I could do it all myself.”

No citizens reviewed or studied a proposal to build his monorail system. Falkenbury was proud that the word “study” did not appear in the first initiative approved by the voters. It simply demanded that one be built, providing the public with a detailed route, a funding mechanism and a governance structure.  The billion-dollar proposal sprung directly from the head of a taxi cab driver, as the media loved to note. Although grandiose in his aspirations, Falkenbury acknowledges that he was “financially, a pathetic failure. I had never held a real job.”

He was, however, was an experienced organizer. He had worked as the campaign manager on another citizen-led initiative to stop the widening of the I-90 Highway Bridge across Lake Washington. In his first failed monorail initiative attempt, he found he could collect many signatures simply by setting up unstaffed card tables with blank initiatives. With the help of Grant Cogswell and a few others, the second effort to get the initiative on the ballot succeeded in 1997.

I should note that Falkenbury, true to form, self-published his book and seems to have eschewed both editing and fact-finding assistance. One obvious error is that he repeatedly uses 1996 rather than 1997 as the election date for the first successful Monorail initiative. His spelling is off at times, including a misspelling of my first name, Nick. Whole paragraphs are almost duplicated, and his timeline is fragmented if not confusing. In a state recently noted in a national survey for having residents least likely to use obscene language, Falkenbury stands out as a fount of profanity. This book will not be distributed in public schools.

"What were they smoking?"

Despite these editorial shortcomings, Falkenbury captures the reader's attention with his deft humor and boastful recounting of an improbable movement that teetered between complete folly and daring new vision. After all, his initiative campaign was entirely run by volunteers who managed to gather the necessary 18,000 certified signatures to get it on the ballot. It passed with a 53 percent approval vote, despite supporters spending less than $3,000 on their pro-monorail campaign. Mayor Paul Schell asked me, in an off-the-cuff remark the day after the public voted, “What were they smoking?”


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Comments:

Posted Sun, May 26, 3:18 p.m. Inappropriate

The monorail authority was not “largely rejected by the establishment”. Far from it. For example, the same entities behind Sound Transit designed, sought, and obtained all the enabling legislation (state and local), and then pushed hard for approval of the deceptive ballot measure that was put up for a vote in 2002.

The Seattle Popular Monorail Authority in fact was just another regressive tax harvesting machine for the establishment -- it was a junior form of Sound Transit.

The establishment’s lawyers were responsible for the SPMA and everything it did. The state and local enabling legislation for SPMA was drafted by the private law firms in town that would use it to make money as bond counsel - Preston, Gates and Ellis (now K & L Gates), with input from some Foster Pepper lawyers.

Here’s an editorial in the Times from a key municipal-client law firm, and a labor honcho, pushing it:

http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=20030205&slug;=monorail05 .

Jamie Pedersen was one of the SPMA’s main outside lawyers -- he now chairs the house judiciary committee.

Cleveland Stockmeyer and his law partner Phil Talmadge had a hand in setting up the overall structure. As Cleve wrote for a Muni League report in 2003: “In 2001, with law partner Phil Talmadge I represented the ETC and devised the strategy to constitute the monorail board as a stand alone agency.”

http://www.munileague.org/cec/2003/report/mono/StockmeyerC.htm .

The draft state enabling legislation was prepared early 2002 and hand delivered to the legislative leadership that year by Hugh Spitzer (a Foster Pepper lawyer) on behalf of the ETC. The legislature rubberstamped it that session.

Here’s how even more of the political and legal establishment around here showed their support of monorail – this is from the 2002 voters guide:

“Broad support. Monorail supporters include League of Women Voters, Washington Conservation Voters, King County Labor Council, King County Democratic Party, Sierra Club, Speaker Frank Chopp, environmentalist Denis Hayes, Dick Falkenbury, Peter Sherwin, Judy Runstad and many more.”

That “Statement For” in the 2002 voters guide was signed by Greg Nickels, Dan Evans, and Jim McDermott.

The top politicians around were squarely behind the monorail authority.

The monorail authority tax and spend measure that went on the ballot in 2002 was abusive to taxpayers, just like Sound Transit's ballot measures. Moreover, those sister taxing districts are flawed for the same reasons (only in Sound Transit’s case the damage to the public and the economy is FAR worse, because of its vast scale). Essentially the same legal template was used for both, so they would be heavy tax imposers that lacked appropriate oversight and accountability measures. Nothing is more “establishment” around here than Sound Transit.

Can anyone identify any political or civic leaders who spoke out forcefully against the SPMA tax and spend ballot measure in 2002? Charlie Royer’s lame “Statement Against” in the voters guide doesn’t count. He failed to identify the key problems with the governance structure and the financing plan.

The monorail authority debacle cost the residents of Seattle that owned vehicles $200 million of completely wasted tax confiscations. Nick Licata and his colleagues on the city council allowed it to happen by loaning money to that separate authority in 2003, by granting it the transitway agreements, by failing to disclose the ballooning tax costs, by failing to inform people of how the ballot measure deceptively failed to explain the tax costs to the public and contained essentially no taxpayer-protection provisions, etc. That’s par for the course for Nick Licata and his colleagues on the council though – they also are helping to cover up Sound Transit’s abuses of the public using a substantially identical unaccountable governance structure, far greater unlimited taxing powers, and essentially useless spending of staggering sums of money.

the final bill was to be $11 billion dollars for the 14-mile line and not the promised $1.3 billion

Go for it, Nick . . . tell everybody how much Sound Transit’s financing plan will cost in terms of new regressive tax confiscations. Don’t employ a double standard. Let everybody know the tax cost of Sound Transit’s financing plan (it certainly was not even hinted at in that municipality’s deceptive 2008 ballot measure).

crossrip

Posted Mon, May 27, 10:19 p.m. Inappropriate

The parallels between the Monorail and Sound Transit is a story worth telling to the people of Seattle, for it is they who are left with the dinner tab after all the hogs at the trough have had their fill.
What's left of our local press has not been up to the challenge, and I don't think Jesse has enough air time to suggest more than a few good sound bites worth.

007

Posted Tue, May 28, 9:30 a.m. Inappropriate

Huge difference between the Monorail and Sound Transit -- for all the taxes we paid for the Monorail, we have absolutely nothing to show for it. Money totally and abysmally wasted. For all the taxes we pay for Sound Transit, we have an operating light rail line that is being expanded in all directions. (Yes, the whiners and perfectionists will complain loudly, right here I'm sure, about how Sound Transit taxes are regressive, but they are building something that most taxpayers seem pretty satisfied with.)

Posted Tue, May 28, 11:07 a.m. Inappropriate

R on Beacon Hill:

"[M]ost taxpayers seem[ed] pretty satisfied with" the monorail authority as well. That ended when the tax costs of the financing plan were revealed and people then got a chance to terminate it at the ballot box.

What do you think -- should Sound Transit staff disclose how the hidden financing plan now under development likely would require that municipality to confiscate about $85 billion in taxes from the people (mostly) around here through 2054, and then let us vote on whether or not that cost to the public should be imposed?

As it is, the public has no means of challenging the irresponsible, abusive financing plan the political appointees on Sound Transit's board are setting up. When we had knowledge and the ability to stop the monorail authority's abusive financing plan in its tracks we took it. Shouldn't we have the same knowledge and ability to stop Sound Transit's abusive financing plan?

You want to explain to everyone the magnitude of the tax costs related to securing Sound Transit's bonds? Nick Licata sure isn't eager to address that issue.

Another thing you are wrong about is your suggestion that the taxes paid to Sound Transit are "worth it" because now there is a train. In a very real sense the taxes confiscated by Sound Transit are a complete waste. In lots of metro areas, including in Portland and the Twin Cities, light rail was built out with no new taxing targeting people. That could have happened here as well.

The extreme taxing by Sound Transit is unnecessary and contrary to how responsible government policy-setters pay for light rail. For example, it is my understanding that when the budget for East Link finally is revealed we will see that NO federal grant money is being sought for it. That's completely unlike how responsible transit agency heads in this country pay for light rail. Indeed, it is an aberrant transit financing plan feature that Nick Licata's column above identifies as improper. Not using mostly federal grant money was a mistake made in connection with the monorail authority's financing plan, and Sound Transit is repeating it.

crossrip

Posted Tue, May 28, 5:29 p.m. Inappropriate

"As it is, the public has no means of challenging the irresponsible, abusive financing plan the political appointees on Sound Transit's board are setting up." The ST board members are elected officials, not appointees. That's a pretty big misunderstanding.
"What do you think -- should Sound Transit staff disclose how the hidden financing plan now under development likely would require that municipality to confiscate about $85 billion in taxes from the people (mostly) around here through 2054, and then let us vote on whether or not that cost to the public should be imposed?" If it's a "hidden" plan, it's not being hidden very well, because it's being discussed on Crosscut. And why does ST "confiscate" taxes while other entities "collect" taxes? ST has the legal authority to collect taxes. If it doesn't, that would be an easy lawsuit to win.
"For example, it is my understanding that when the budget for East Link finally is revealed we will see that NO federal grant money is being sought for it." Where did you get that understanding? It is flatly wrong. There's no final "reveal" of the East Link budget; it's been public for years. And it's beyond dispute that ST is aggressively seeking fed funds for East Link. You think it's going to find $3 billion (plus financing)in local funds on top of the money it needs for the Northgate and Lynnwood and Federal Way and Tacoma extensions? And the ops base? And ST3 planning? and its everyday operations? And that it would ignore potential federal funding on purpose? Maybe there is a universe in which that makes sense, but I can't imagine where. I'm sorry to sound frustrated, but that's just a completely irrational scenario to suggest. ST may have a lot of dysfunction, but failing to pursue federal money isn't part of it.

nonydog

Posted Tue, May 28, 6:06 p.m. Inappropriate

The ST board members are elected officials, not appointees. That's a pretty big misunderstanding.

Fifteen of the eighteen board members are political appointees. Voters did not vote them on to Sound Transit’s board, and voters have zero control over who will take their places and when they leave that board. Only three Sound Transit board members are directly-elected to that board: the three county executives. That means some people in that municipality's boundaries only have the right to vote for or against 1 of the Sound Transit boardmembers, and nobody can vote for or against a majority of them. Sound Transit’s governance structure was set up that way (e.g., to be an appointive board). You should read the “Cunningham” opinion from 1990 – that’s the opinion that struck down old-Metro’s structure as unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment. Judge Dwyer’s analysis of this issue was sound. He determined that municipality had a representative board, and using that analysis it is clear that Sound Transit has an appointive board.

If it's a "hidden" [financing] plan, it's not being hidden very well, because it's being discussed on Crosscut.

It’s hidden deep in the silo. Go ahead, try locating a Sound Transit document estimating the amount and duration of the taxing that staff now anticipates imposing on the people (mostly) and businesses of this region over the next four decades in order to secure the bonds they want to sell to finance ST2. It makes the abusive monorail authority’s taxing plans look like chump change.

There's no final "reveal" of the East Link budget; it's been public for years. And it's beyond dispute that ST is aggressively seeking fed funds for East Link. You think it's going to find $3 billion (plus financing) in local funds on top of the money it needs for the Northgate and Lynnwood and Federal Way and Tacoma extensions? And the ops base? And ST3 planning? and its everyday operations? And that it would ignore potential federal funding on purpose?

The baseline East Link capital budget is not complete, and it has not been approved by the board. That’s a fact Jack. You can see that in the most recent quarterly financial report – no money has been budgeted for construction, and final design began just a couple of months ago. Moreover, for the EIS submissions they used "2007-dollars" estimates, which won't have any relevance to the big spending on East Link that is expected to take place 10-15 years after 2007. I read somewhere the budget for East Link is to be revealed and rubberstamped by the board in a year or so. Sound Transit is not seeking FTA New Starts grant money for East Link. That’s the big pot of money available for light rail extensions – New Starts grant money was where the $500 million from the feds came from for the line that’s up and running now, from the airport to downtown. The reason for that, as near as I can tell, is that it hauls in so much tax revenue from the East King subarea that it has to spend it lavishly. If it got federal grants to pay for East Link it would have a huge East King subarea surplus, and it does not want that.

crossrip

Posted Tue, May 28, 9:39 p.m. Inappropriate

Thought 1. Federal New Start grants are decided strictly on a competitive basis, and the high cost of East Link compared to the benefits don't pencil out very well.
Thought 2. The strictly competitive grants are also sensitive to the power of your congressional delegation, and FTA regional distributions, then distributions within the FTA Region 10 area. We can only claim so much, and Seattle has sucked the pipeline dry with all their tunnels and grand stations. Plus they'll need more dough to get to Northgate in the next 10 years.
Take your pick.

007

Posted Wed, May 29, 7:13 a.m. Inappropriate

Well Mic, nobody should "pick" either of those excuses.

As to your first thought, East Link doesn't have lower benefits than any other multi-billion dollar light rail extension project. Also, one of the New Starts criteria is that high local revenue contributions towards the capital costs are a "plus", and no light rail extension in history has come close to having scores of billions of dollars of dedicated local tax revenues and a municipality to build it that plans on selling $9 billion of long-term bonds.

As to the second, we've got plenty of juice in DC. Here's some info on Patty Murray:

Murray has served as the Senate Majority Conference Secretary since 2007, making her the fourth-highest-ranking Democrat and the highest-ranking woman in the Senate. Chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee from 2001 to 2003 and again from 2011 to 2013, Murray currently Chairs the Senate Budget Committee and previously served as co-chair of the United States Congress Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. She is currently the 16th most senior member of the United States Senate.

A big fat New Starts grant wasn't sought because East Link is needed to drain down the massive East King subarea tax revenue surplus that will build up over the next 3-4 decades.

crossrip

Posted Wed, May 29, 9:07 a.m. Inappropriate

Hey Mic: your first lame excuse for why Sound Transit is not seeking large federal grants for East Link is this:

the high cost of East Link compared to the benefits don't pencil out very well.

Another way we can tell you are full of it is that WSDOT and Sound Transit submitted FEIS documents for East Link less than two years ago, and those were approved by the feds. A big part of those FEIS submissions was a demonstration by those lead agencies that the benefits of East Link did outweigh its costs.

East Link’s benefits “penciled out” just fine then. What exactly are you referring to when you say that now its costs are too high relative to its benefits? Prove you speak the truth here. Post links to Sound Transit documents showing that its staff or board considered applying for New Start grants for East Link and rejected the idea because its benefits were insufficient in light of the cost. This goes to my point above: Sound Transit’s financing plan is hidden, and that agency operates in a silo where the public can not even glimpse its taxing plans or the system build-out financing plans it is producing.

crossrip

Posted Wed, May 29, 8:43 p.m. Inappropriate

Mic: You should explain to everybody here why "the high cost of East Link compared to the benefits [doesn't] pencil out very well."

All Sound Transit's peer light rail service providers get their systems funded by New Starts grants. Don't be shy. Explain why East Link is so substandard and deficient staff and the financiers know applying for anything like the usual percentage of fed support would be a completely wasted effort.

crossrip

Posted Thu, May 30, 9:58 a.m. Inappropriate

I didn't want to stray too far from the article on monorails, but your point about financing both monorail and light rail is very valid. Both agencies were/are guilty of running up huge debt loads. It's just that one got exposed and the other has yet to catch the publics eye.

007

Posted Sun, May 26, 6:36 p.m. Inappropriate

The monorail scam (yes, that's what it was) is a perfect illustration of how thoroughly fetishized transportation in Seattle had become. Any rational approach to the problem would begin with determining how to get people from point A to point B and back in a reasonably timely, cost-effective manner.

But no, in this case the cry is "build a monorail!" Like Disneyland's. Like the one at the World's Fair, but longer! Yeah! Seattle Invents The Future!

Never mind that a monorail was the least efficient, most expensive possible solution. Yes, Mr. Falkenbury states the obvious about traffic being only as fast as the slowest vehicle, but a grade-separated, dedicated busway could accomplish the same thing for a whole lot less money.

But no, the fact that the Las Vegas monorail has turned out to be a complete and utter failure will not deter the zealots from their grand vision. It was a CONSPIRACY that kept that vision from realization, by golly! *Sigh*

orino

Posted Mon, May 27, 10:25 a.m. Inappropriate

orino -

"Fetishized" is the perfect word for Seattle Transportation politics. The same can almost be said for the Seattle media, and the politicians. They went right along with the monorail even though it never was more than a cartoon type of fantasy train. Even the conservative think tanks like the Discovery Institute and the light rail haters got on the monorail bandwagon, partly because they were suckered for the dream but mostly because they thought the monorail could somehow kill off light rail. I never understood such stupid logic myself but that's partly what happened.

Their signature claim that it would be profitable was something the media refused to pick apart until about 5 years later. So the media rode this train too for reasons unknown. I guess it sold lots of papers and so their motives also favored the monorail. The Seattle monorail would probably have gone the way of the Las Vegas monorail, which just emerged from bankruptcy last year.

Las Vegas Monorail looks at new course
September 25, 2012
http://www.reviewjournal.com/business/tourism/las-vegas-monorail-looks-new-course

From the article:
"The reorganization plan reduced the business's debt from $757 million to a more manageable $13 million and maintained the company's not-for-profit status."

Never were the words "not-for-profit" more applicable than to the Las Vegas monorail.

Posted Sun, May 26, 7:10 p.m. Inappropriate

I supported the idea when it became real.

But I voted against it when Falkenberry was in charge. The idea that a billion dollars would do it was beyond laughable. It was clear he didn't have the tiniest idea what he was talking about. To this day I'm surprised that BS wasn't called more loudly. Same with his idea that it could be built so quickly.

mhays

Posted Sun, May 26, 10:36 p.m. Inappropriate

Among other corrections, this article says the Seattle Times headlined the $11 billion financing plan. It was actually Jane Hadley from the Seattle P-I who wrote the front page article.

And the Stranger didn't discover this fact. It was the opposition groups. The Stranger was a pure cheerleader of the monorail.

Monorail's building, debt costs balloon to $11 billion
By JANE HADLEY, SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER
June 21, 2005

Read more: http://www.seattlepi.com/local/transportation/article/Monorail-s-building-debt-costs-balloon-to-11-1176529.php#ixzz2UT64EvD6

Posted Thu, May 30, 11:06 a.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for pointing out the story and Jane's work on it. We've corrected.

Posted Mon, May 27, 3:59 p.m. Inappropriate

The 5th Ave double-track monorail divides traffic lanes poorly; bad for traffic, bicyclists, pedestrians. Single-track monorail systems impose lower visual and physical impact, stations are simpler to locate. The single-track "Circulator Monorail" proposed since 2000 is a 6-mile loop between a Mercer Garage station and a sports arena station atop Exposition Hall. From a KOMO Station as proposed on the Greenline, a 1-mile loop circled the Center and located 4 stations. In the other direction, one line of the 5-mile loop ran the length of 4th Ave, the other line to SR99 and along the Waterfront. Five monorail cars ran every 5 minutes on a 15 minute loop with 12 stations (4 Seattle Center stations, KOMO, Belltown, Pike Place, Coleman Dock, Arena station, King station, Central Library and Westlake Plaza), all major destinations with high travel demand. This monorail system produced twice the ridership of the Greenline, 1/3 the cost, is still possible, and is still blacklisted in Seattle. The establishment prefers a transit system that won't work. Roll out the coal trains, boys! Put up a CNG terminal! Drill baby drill! Frack that frickin water supply! Pipe that shale oil sh*t! Money Money Money!

Wells

Posted Tue, May 28, 10:10 a.m. Inappropriate

And, of course, but not mentioned is that we have the circular routed Sydney (Oz) monorail that is and always will be a financial loser.

Sorry, as long as we have downtown curbside parking on city north-south streets that can be cleared for the rush hour and then used for bus transit only, monorail will always be financially dead.

seebee

Posted Tue, May 28, 8:13 a.m. Inappropriate

I aways thought the Cult of the Monorail was an interesting phenomenon.

Posted Tue, May 28, 11:19 a.m. Inappropriate

*SIGH* I don't know why we need to even bring up this sore subject again... BUT it would sure be nice not to hear the same old lies and rewriting of history as before.

The project did not cost $11 billion; the contract was for roughly ~$2 billion. We don't price out the Alaskan Way Viaduct Tunnel at its final debt cost at the end of financing in a couple of decades, and readers don't quote the price of their new house at the total cost after 30 years of mortgage payments. We also don't ask readers to plan for the total costs if they have to refinance during those thirty years, and spread out the payments even further -- which is essentially where the $11 billion forecast came from.

As for Las Vegas... The FACT is that the monorail system there has ALWAYS been able to cover ongoing operations and maintenance at 100%. It is a financial "failure" because it was also expected to cover the entire cost of capital and construction.

Surely, the SPMA could have similarly "failed" to cover all of those expenses... but, again, I'd like to see The Viaduct Tunnel or Link Light Rail cover even ongoing operations and maintenance from tolls/fares. News flash -- they won't.

Crazy pipedream, or fool's fantasy, at least the Monorail Project proposed to do something different, and set the bar high. It's unfortunate that local government is not more willing to do that here.

Mickymse

Posted Tue, May 28, 12:18 p.m. Inappropriate

-- The [SPMA] project did not cost $11 billion; the contract was for roughly ~$2 billion.

This is another way the monorail authority and Sound Transit are substantially identical -- their advocates ignore the costs of the financing plans. The boards of both impose heavy new taxes to finance the capital spending, and after the votes we've learned that the new taxing is to be on the order of five times the capital costs. That's unconscionable.

A Seattle Weekly story explains how it is the same small group of individuals that produced the monorail authority’s financing plan and the one Sound Transit is putting together in its silo. It includes Maud Daudon, the muni bond lawyers, Wright Runstad, and Seattle municipal heads:

Within days, Horn, with interim board approval, brought aboard Preston Gates along with Foster Pepper Shefelman as the monorail's outside legal counsel. (A Perkins Coie attorney objected to the lack of an open bid, but Horn said state law didn't require it.) He also picked Seattle Northwest Securities Association—Maud Daudon, managing director of investment banking—as the agency's financial adviser. Daudon's firm went on to become a major player behind the failed plan presented by Horn and SMP Finance Director Jonathan Buchter, a Cleveland attorney with little experience in such a project. The day after the $11 billion financial turd hit the fan last month, Daudon gutted it out with Buchter, Horn, and other advisers and potential investors at an SMP press conference to salvage some credibility. A nervy Daudon insisted there was nothing unusual about the financial plan except that the "monorail tax ends when the bonds are paid off. In contrast, taxes used to pay the total cost of other transportation projects, including roads, typically continue forever." Fifty, 75, 100 years, heck, that's not forever.

http://www.seattleweekly.com/2005-07-13/news/joel-horn-s-blank-check/3/

That same group (substitute Joni Earl for Joel Horn) is responsible for the even worse financing plan Sound Transit now is embarking on. It’s now something like a fifty-year $85 billion tax confiscation plan, all because of the unprecedented and abusive security provisions in the bond sales contracts that are supposed to be used to produce the cash to cover most of the approximately $11 billion in ST2 capital costs. A primary beneficiary of Sound Transit of course is Wright Runstad. It has huge development plans on the Bel-Red Road that only exist because of the planned light rail stations there.

It’s the same scam, by the same self-interested players, and individuals and families again are targeted for grossly excessive taxing.

-- We don't price out the Alaskan Way Viaduct Tunnel at its final debt cost at the end of financing in a couple of decades.

There will be some toll revenue bonds sold, and proceeds of state gas tax bonds will be used for that project, but at this point the financing plan doesn't include any new taxing. In contrast, the monorail authority and Sound Transit are all about the new heavy taxing, and that reality means it needs to be a big factor the public considers.

-- and readers don't quote the price of their new house at the total cost after 30 years of mortgage payments.

We get it . . . you and the Sound Transit advocates don't want to address the staggering tax costs to the public of those financing plans the unaccountable political appointees on the boards adopted after the misleading ballot propositions were approved.

crossrip

Posted Tue, May 28, 12:37 p.m. Inappropriate

I take it that the guy pictured in the red shirt is his twin brother Fick.

I think the Seattle monorail is a good solution for busy inner city transportation. If it went to the ballparks and looped back, and there were large public parking garages at either end, it would work.
The Disney monorails seem to function pretty well. The automated people movers at SeaTac seem to work as planned. Not sure why a monorail needs a driver, that is kind of ridiculous with today's technology.

Advantages of a monorail over an elevated steel wheel train? Less noise and much more sky open to the street below.

Posted Tue, May 28, 3:25 p.m. Inappropriate

Folks should buy Dick's book -it is available as an ebook on Amazon. It is a fascinating read on the monorail project from an insider (or mostly insider). One of the bizarre aspects of the project discussed in the book is the expensive and expense lading plans and designs that the monorail project developed internally. This effort did not make a lot of sense when the project was headed to a DBOM bid. It does illustrate the gold-plated approach to the project. That was odd in itself since SMP knew from the get go that the car tab tax would never fund the agency. It is a not question of whether you look at the project as a $2BB or $11BB effort, there was an inadequate tax revenue to carry the project either way. Apparently, the strategy was to commit to a contract and assume that the city or state would provide a bail out or maybe the voters would approve another tax to support the project. That might explain why the SMP was so desperate to issue bonds as soon as possible. The book talks about the almighty contract in terms of the DBOM contracts, the real lock for the project might have been the obligations created by the bonds if they were ever issued.

tup

Posted Tue, May 28, 4:02 p.m. Inappropriate

crossrip your monorail analysis is so right on. once we gave the SMP taxing authority it was all over for the taxpayers. one thing I don't see mentioned is the absolute arrogance of Joel Horn the SMP chair, I feel that set the tone for everything they did. Of course he ran away when the heat was on. One thing they did by accident that made money was to acquire the downtown property for the monorail stations, and it was sold at the end at the height of the downtown commercial realty market. didn't this recoup about 75% of the $200 million spent?

katzjamr

Posted Tue, May 28, 5:04 p.m. Inappropriate

"We" did not give the SPMA taxing authority, the state legislature did. Moreover, "we" did not impose a single nickle of tax, the political appointees controlling the board alone had the power to impose taxes, and they used it.

You ask: "didn't this recoup about 75% of the $200 million spent?" None of the approx. $200 million tax revenues confiscated were refunded to those who paid those taxes. More than $200 million was spent by that municipality, and it used proceeds of sales of the properties it had purchased to pay off some of its debts.

crossrip

Posted Tue, May 28, 8:58 p.m. Inappropriate


Mickymse -

The reason the $11 billion financing plan was a big deal for the monorail was that it was SO out of whack with what is paid for financing costs. What they were proposing in the financing plan could essentially be called 'bond-kiting'. They were going to do a bond issue and then use part of that borrowed money to pay off the loan because the MVET revenue wasn't enough to even cover the bond payments. Joel Horn's plan here was to continue with the 'bond-kiting' for about 10 years when the hope was that the MVET taxes would naturally inflate over the years and catch up and be enough to cover the payments. But in these 10 years NOTHING was being paid off and successive bond issues during the 1st 10 years resulted in runaway financing costs.

So that's why the monorail finances were so extradinary. Imagine if a person borrowed $300,000 to buy a home and then used a portion of that loan to make the payments. NOT a viable plan. But that's exactly what the monorail agency was proposing.

Posted Tue, May 28, 11:53 p.m. Inappropriate

I don't doubt that all the allegations of bureaucratic bumbling and obscene cost overruns about light rail are true. Comes with the territory, I guess. But the oil is running low, and fracking a small corner of N Dakota ain't gonna save us, and it sure isn't going to turn the U.S. into an energy exporter. The era of Happy Motoring is coming to an end, whether we like it or not. I'm not happy about it, I rather like cars, and don't particularly enjoy riding on buses or trains.

But we need to prepare for the day when the rest of the world stops sending their wealth to us in exchange for these things called dollars that we create by the trillions. It seems to have taken forever, but that rest of the world is finally waking up to the fact that dollars really aren't worth even the paper they are no longer printed on. Five dollar a gallon gasoline will be a cherished memory when that happens, and it could be soon.

The monorail was quite possibly the worst possible way to build for a post-oil future. It would have been a complete oddball, construction and engineering-wise, without a single component available off a shelf anywhere. There are very good reasons why only a handful of monorails have ever been built, compared to thousands of good old fashioned dual railroads. Monorails are clumsy and awkward to design, build and especially operate. Railroads have proven themselves for almost 200 years. Too bad the proposal wasn't for an elevated railroad system. All the monorail did was poison the atmosphere against all mass transit projects. The day may come when we regret that. Maybe soon.

Posted Wed, May 29, 7:28 a.m. Inappropriate

When a right-winger talks about tax collections as "confiscation," I stop reading. We have enough of that talk via the Drudge Report.

Posted Wed, May 29, 12:35 p.m. Inappropriate

I had about $1,500 taken for the monorail. Never got a refund or a monorail. If that wasn't a confiscation, what was it? A donation?

NotFan

Posted Wed, May 29, 12:38 p.m. Inappropriate

It was a toll. You got taken on quite a ride, didn't you know that?

Posted Fri, May 31, 1:08 p.m. Inappropriate

What a great discussion!

On East Link cost-benefit and Federal New Starts funding, I recall in the EIS that the cost-benefit ratio was calculated with the now discontinued Federal Transit metric "incremental cost per incremental new rider" and that this comes out too high compared to the comparable numbers for the two other light rail lines in Seattle that secured $1.3 billion from the same Federal pot.

East Link is forecast to achieve 50,000 riders per day, but only 10,000 would be incremental new transit riders who wouldn't otherwise be using bus service that is already in place. The incremental cost to achieve this new ridership is very high compared to simply improving bus service, so New Starts grant funding was out of the question.

[Sidebar: I understand this metric going to high was the main reason the First Hill station was eliminated from the extension to Husky Stadium.]

Other factors: Given that East Link could be built with the tax dollars collected from the East King County subarea of the Sound Transit district, and given that North Link from Northgate to Lynnwood is impossible to achieve without $600 million or so in a third New Starts grant, the decision to skip this grant program for East Link became even more obvious for Sound Transit management, even if the Federal metric were not an issue.

Now, even the $600 million needed for building light rail beyond Northgate is considered at risk in the current Federal fiscal climate.

jniles

Posted Fri, May 31, 2:41 p.m. Inappropriate

Well John Niles, it was a great discussion. Then you showed up slinging BS for Sound Transit:

I recall in the EIS that the cost-benefit ratio was calculated with the now discontinued Federal Transit metric "incremental cost per incremental new rider" and that this comes out too high compared to the comparable numbers for the two other light rail lines in Seattle . . ..

Just because you’re paid to spread deceptive propaganda doesn’t mean you should phone in your efforts. Stuff like that just makes you -- and its communications team -- look ridiculous.

Your “recollection” there is a weak fabrication. Absolutely nothing in the EIS is a “cost-benefit ratio” that “comes out too high” for New Start grant money. Indeed, the EIS suggests that East Link would qualify for FTA grants. We know that from the statement by Sound Transit and WSDOT in their FEIS submissions about the sources of funds expected to be used to build it out (this is from page 49 of Chapter 2):

“Sound Transit's regional transit programs are typically funded through a combination of voter-approved tax initiatives, FTA grants, issuing bonds, and fare box revenue.”

You can find that document by going to the Sound Transit website page with the East Link EIS materials links:

http://projects.soundtransit.org/Projects-Home/East-Link-Project/East-Link-EIS.xml

More fundamentally, "incremental cost per incremental new rider" never has been the metric upon which New Starts grant funding depended. 49 USC §5309(d) is the federal statute that establishes the criteria under which proposed New Starts projects are evaluated:

http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/USCODE-2011-title49/html/USCODE-2011-title49-subtitleIII-chap53-sec5309.htm

That is the controlling statute, and as everyone can see it is a set of other factors that is considered by the feds. Those do not include a "incremental cost per incremental new rider metric".

The simple truth is that the excessive taxing means Sound Transit needs to delay East Link and drive up the costs to drain down the massive East King subarea tax revenue surplus that will build up over the next 3-4 decades. The fat New Starts grant Patty Murray could deliver would undermine that craptastic financing plan (it would reduce the “need” for the mountains of tax revenue Sound Transit intends to haul out of East King County to satisfy the bond sales contracts security provisions).

Another falsehood from John here is that he suggests we should not think “the current Federal fiscal climate” for light rail grants is conducive to legit requests. He's wrong about that. The same generous fountain of fed grants for light rail we’ve had still is available, due to the recent “Surface Transportation Authorization” measure.

There are significant FHWA/FTA transit investment funds that have been available, for years, that Sound Transit could have obtained. It is a big pool of federal dollars. More of them will be available. The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) measure was signed by Obama on July 5, 2012. Its financing provisions apply to FY'13 and FY'14, and they are as generous as the terms that resulted in the billions being paid out to light rail system operators since the 1990s. Long story short, there’s a fairly deep pool of “New Starts” (and other) grant money that can be tapped by transit services providers that have worthwhile projects.

Why hasn’t Sound Transit sought big federal grants for East Link? It wants to use East Link as a dry sponge to soak up tax revenues confiscated from the east King Co. subarea.

crossrip

Posted Sun, Jun 2, 11:46 p.m. Inappropriate

Crossrip: Go back to your cave and seek some truth. Mr. Niles is one of the few citizens left willing to scrutinize Sound Transit, and documents everything he says, rather that conjure up stories like some here do. In 10 or 20 years we will wish there was an army of Niles around to keep from drowning in a sea of local debt in the name of Transit.
Just look at our local bus agencies. Pierce and CT are cannibalizing services because they're broke, and the tax payers have about had it with ever higher taxes for mass transit, and little to show for it. Metro isn't far behind. Meanwhile, Sound Transit sends hundreds of million of dollars to local consultants, lawyers, bond sellers, and the BNSF RR to keep their ship afloat - much of which is borrowed money. They are building one of the most expensive light rail lines in the nation (per/mi) with one of the lowest riderships and highest cost per new rider.
Do your homework, as John has.

007

Posted Mon, Jun 3, 7:12 a.m. Inappropriate

John Niles is paid to play the patsy by financial beneficiaries of Sound Transit. He's a shill used by Sound Transit's PR team as "the face of the opposition". That's why he makes fundamentally dishonest assertions such as those in this thread.

crossrip

Posted Sat, Jun 1, 10:05 a.m. Inappropriate

"The monorail was quite possibly the worst possible way to build for a post-oil future. It would have been a complete oddball, construction and engineering-wise, without a single component available off a shelf anywhere."

As said very nicely by someone who doesn't read the news.

Posted Sat, Jun 1, 11:26 p.m. Inappropriate

Post-oil future?

Why does everyone worry so much about oil, and why is no one talking about continuing our freedom via our personal mobility by using something other than oil?

This inane war parallels the war on the Gutenberg printing press, which obviously was lost.

I think the war on cars is simply a false front. Thinking people have no war against personal mobility.

Posted Mon, Jun 3, 11:54 a.m. Inappropriate

Every dollar wasted on monorail, light rail, Sounder, bike lanes, sharrows, etc. is the main reason why roads are in terrible condition, potholes exist everywhere, deferred maintenance runs into the billions, and why bridges collapse. WSDOT and SDOT and Sound Transit and all levels of government employ far too many autophobes who siphon off too much money from roads and send it to their beloved 'transit'.

animalal

Posted Sat, Jun 8, 6:41 p.m. Inappropriate

To this observer, they had a great idea, but in order to get voter support, as many politicians do, for there's no accountability for cost overruns, they were overly optimistic for - or underestimated - their financials.

The monorail expansion - had the financial estimate been realistic - would've been completed before Sound Transit's Central Link, even though it was started after Link was. That's because this generation of monorail takes up far less space on the ground: about one parking space per pillar, and it can be constructed off-site, then put into place.

animalal has a good point. Preservation & maintenance is given the short shaft, but it's in part due to politicians getting voter credit for - and hence getting re-electing and retaining power - with shiny new projects, that including transit, and getting no credit for preservation and maintenance. This lulls the typical voter into believing that they can get something (good roads) for nothing. And, much of the spending is opaque, not transparent. It's like the difference between telling your partner that you bought a new car vs. getting the furnace tuned up. That's why it's no surprise that the current transportation proposal just has 11% of its spending towards P&M; and why we've recently found - courtesy of the Skagit River incident - that there are thousands of suspect bridges across the country.

The state needs to do a far better job by (1) Getting a handle on P&M; costs; (2) Fund those costs, including automatic adjustments, i.e. take their funding out of the political game; (3) All P&M; costs are subject to legislative review and are completely transparent to the voters.

bricsa

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