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Wednesday, April 4, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Light rail survives attack: City Council rejects anti-Sound Transit move

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Despite growing public uneasiness over Sound Transit's light-rail project, a majority on the Seattle City Council remains committed to building it.

After a lengthy and at times testy debate, the council yesterday rejected a resolution that called for a citizens panel to add neighborhood representatives and take a look at whether the project ought to be scrapped in its present form.

"I do believe the tide has turned," said Councilman Nick Licata, who sponsored the resolution, which was laced with anti-Sound Transit barbs. He said voters weren't thinking of the current light-rail plan, now an estimated $1 billion over budget, when they voted for a regional transit system in 1996.

But Licata and fellow doubters Judy Nicastro and Peter Steinbrueck were clearly outnumbered on the nine-member council.

Most say Sound Transit's light-rail system, despite its problems, remains desirable. And they fear too much public criticism could jeopardize $500 million in federal funding.

So in place of Licata's resolution, the council substituted language praising the agency and pointing out that much of the $1 billion overrun is the result of changes that will "make it a better project for Seattle neighborhoods."

Councilman Richard McIver said he had faith that light rail remained a good deal and berated some of the agency's critics as misinformed.

"I don't think we need to convince the last person on Earth that light rail is a good idea. We need to build it," said McIver, who along with Mayor Paul Schell represents Seattle on the Sound Transit board.

Councilman Jim Compton likened criticism of Sound Transit to a shark feeding frenzy.

"The blood is in the water now, and light rail could easily become the victim," he said.

Yesterday's debate occurred in the Transportation Committee and is likely to be reprised at Monday's full council, when the rewritten resolution will be debated. Council rules allow resolutions, which have no legal force, to pass out of committee without a majority.

Jim Brunner can be reached at 206-515-5628 or jbrunner@seattletimes.com.

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