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Tuesday, August 1, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Corrected version

Monorail backers fear city grant is kiss of death

Seattle Times staff reporter

The Seattle City Council voted yesterday to give $50,000 to the group charged with devising a future for the monorail, but supporters of an expanded system said city leaders actually dealt the plan a death blow.

By giving the Elevated Transit Co. money to operate, the council took away the group's independence. The group had been able to raise and spend its own money, though the only budget it ever had was $200,000 in council-approved funds. Now the group will report to the council and act as a partner with the city's Strategic Planning Office in determining the monorail's feasibility.

"The monorail is dead for all intents and purposes," said Dick Falkenbury, the cabdriver behind the 1997 initiative that ordered the city to pursue a 40-mile monorail extension. "This is repeal, pure and simple. . . . People asked the city to build this thing, and they're supposed to. That's the law."

So while Councilwoman Heidi Wills hailed the council vote - on a bill she co-sponsored - as a "good day for Seattle's future," monorail supporters could not have disagreed more.

Falkenbury said the seven council members who voted for the amendment to the 1997 initiative would not be re-elected. Peter Sherwin, who is leading the effort to put another pro-monorail initiative on the Nov. 7 ballot, said the council action showed an arrogance that will strengthen his signature drive. Sherwin says his group, Rise Above It, has 12,000 signatures, which he described as comfortably on the way to the required 18,830.

The group's proposal, Initiative 53, would require the city to spend $6 million to come up with a plan for financing and routing the monorail. It also would have the city set aside $125 million to $200 million in debt capacity to build the expanded system. Right now, the city has $127 million in debt capacity.

I-53 would build on Initiative 41, the 1997 measure that started the monorail movement without providing a means for funding it. Some estimates for monorail construction in Seattle are put at $1 billion. Cities that have built monorails report spending from $25 million a mile to $232 million a mile.

City Councilman Richard Conlin, who was Wills' co-sponsor, said the council helped the monorail cause, which was running out of money. Also, he said, the monorail is likely to benefit by being connected to the Strategic Planning Office's broader study of transit alternatives.

"They won, and they just don't realize it," he said.

Councilman Nick Licata was the only vote against the measure. Peter Steinbrueck was absent.

The amendment provides that within one year of getting recommendations on what role a monorail should play in the city, the council would determine if the routes were feasible and where the money would come from. The city is barred from running its own transit agency and would need commitments from other government agencies or private organizations.

Any final plan likely would go before voters.

Tomorrow, the council will consider a plan by Council President Margaret Pageler to have voters in September consider how money might be raised for a monorail.

Beth Kaiman's phone message number is 206-464-2441. Her e-mail address is bkaiman@seattletimes.com.

Published Correction Date: 8/2/2000- The Seattle City Council on Monday voted to give the Elevated Transit Committee $50,000 to continue study of an expanded monorail. The story incorrectly stated the name of the group that would receive the money. The Elevated Transit Committee is replacing the Elevated Transportation Co., created after the 1997 monorail initative.

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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