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Thursday, August 17, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Monorail backers to turn in petitions

Seattle Times staff reporter

Backers of a new monorail initiative plan to turn in enough signatures today to qualify for the November ballot, gathering the required amount in just over a month.

The effort sets up the latest fight over an idea variously described as a woefully misguided plan or a perfect solution to the city's transportation problems.

Initiative 53 sponsor Peter Sherwin estimated monorail backers will deliver 21,000 signatures to the city clerk. That's more than the 18,800 signatures needed, but Sherwin said volunteers will keep working for a couple of weeks to gather more in case some are ruled invalid.

I-53 would require the city to spend $6 million on a one- or two-year study of possible monorail routes. It also would set aside up to $200 million toward the construction of a monorail system.

When the study was completed, voters would be asked to approve a detailed plan paid for by an as-yet-undetermined mix of public and private money.

I-53 is meant as a follow-up to 1997's Initiative 41, which called for a 40-mile monorail to connect most of the city's neighborhoods but offered no plan to pay for it. The initiative created an independent group, the Elevated Transportation Co. (ETC), to pursue private financing, but no specific plan emerged.

Monorail supporters argue that private backing would develop if city leaders first showed a commitment.

City officials say the ETC's own research demonstrated that a monorail - at $35 million to $90 million a mile - is too expensive.

"I still think the monorail is financially infeasible," said City Councilman Richard McIver. "I also think that everyone wants one as long as it's not running down their street."

King County elections officials should have just enough time to verify the signatures and let the City Council put the measure on the November ballot before the Sept. 22 deadline, according to City Clerk Judith Pippin.

But Sherwin, the initiative sponsor, is confident the measure will make the ballot.

Last week petitions drew more interest at Westlake Plaza than a group of promoters passing out free boxes of cereal nearby, Sherwin said.

"I think it's ridiculous that we don't have any adequate transportation in this town for anyone who lives outside of downtown," said Dyanne Kessler, who stopped to sign a petition.

"If we voted for a monorail, they should find the money to build it," she said.

The City Council last month disbanded the ETC, replacing it with an advisory board charged with aiding city planners in a transportation study that will lump monorail technology in with a study of expanded bus service and other options.

Planners say the monorail should be just one of many options considered as the city tries to figure out solutions to traffic congestion.

"The issue is not monorail or no monorail. The issue is what's the best way to solve our mobility needs," said Jared Smith, regional transit manager for the city.

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

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