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Mr. Monorail: No there there on new elevated plan

New monorail proposal has some problems. Credit: Credit: Howard Wright/Flickr

I like chocolate. But that doesn’t mean I am going to eat Chocolately ExLax any time soon. I may have written the original 1996 monorail initiative but I cannot support Elizabeth Campbell’s new Century Transportation Initiative (or CenTran). It will be on the ballot (as Proposition 2) in November. It should be beaten like a Chinese gong. 

This new initiative is the wet dream of anyone fond of the Seattle Process. In fact, it is nothing but process. It is a plan, to plan, for a plan. It will plan to build a monorail, but it will not actually build a monorail. After all is said and done, there is only the promise that there will be process to plan to build a monorail. A plan for the process to plan. 

Campbell’s website (Centran.org) shows a route that starts in Ballard and runs along the waterfront and on to West Seattle. It includes video of a Scomi monorail train. The proposed route has monorail trains crossing the Ship Canal near the Ballard Bridge and at the same height. The route, choice of train and Ship Canal crossing all present huge problems:

The proposed route serves the cruise ship terminal and the Washington State ferry dock; neither cruise ship tourists nor ferry commuters will pay any taxes towards the construction of the system. The Scomi trains shown on the website are too small to haul the number of passengers needed to make a dent in demand. The low Ship Canal crossing means that trains will have to wait whenever the Ballard Bridge opens to boat traffic.

But none of these shortcomings matters in the end, because in Campbell’s governance proposal the monorail planners will not be held to account for any of them. They are not promises or guarantees but mere “starting points.” The new monorail board is free to ignore any or all of them. Renderings of the trains, the route and other specifics on the CenTran website are meaningless. The board can plan whatever it wants and then seek approval from the voters.  

Campbell’s plan is to create a process so sure, so pure, so chock-full of process that it cannot be hijacked or subverted.  Unless, of course, you simply ignore her calls for transparency. 

For example, there is nothing to stop bad actors from telling everyone that they are more transparent than Lady Godiva and then, hiding everything they do by declaring every piece of paper, every step they take and every decision they make a “draft.” Under the state’s public records act, “Preliminary drafts, notes, recommendations, and intra-agency memorandums in which opinions are expressed or policies formulated or recommended are exempt [from public disclosure]” with the exception of any record that is “publicly cited by an agency in connection with any agency action.”

In other words, unless you talk or write or cite them publicly, draft documents could be effectively classified. Since there are no penalties for willfully ignoring cries for transparency, all an agency has to do is stamp everything “draft” and it can do pretty much whatever it likes.

Campbell’s solution is to assemble an unbeatable board. One member must be an advocate for social justice; another must be a member of a Native American tribe. This may be laudable, but does it assure that no executive director can pull the wool over these board members’ eyes? Are social justice advocates and Native Americans somehow immune to wool-over-eyes-pulling?

The entire problem here is that CenTran is nothing but another scheme to plan, process and plan. There is no guarantee, no matter how convoluted and Byzantine the make-up of the Board, that the process cannot be hijacked. Other than good intentions, there is no guarantee we wouldn’t be headed down the same single track right into Transportation Hell.

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