Schell, Sims selling surface solution

With the activist group Save Our Valley pushing vociferously for consideration of a below-ground rail line in Southeast Seattle, Mayor Paul Schell and County Executive Ron Sims have unveiled their own mitigation proposal for this segment of the Sound Transit project. The two favor surface rail on Martin Luther King Jr. Way, but want to link the project with such add-ons as a $50 million community investment fund, boulevard and access improvements along M.L.K., and an additional rail station at South Graham Street (in addition to the four proposed southeast stops). The Schell/Sims package would add about $100 million to the cost of the Southeast Seattle light rail segment—a hefty increase, but less than half the added cost of the subway approach proposed by Save Our Valley (costed out at $205 million to $215 million).

Even if the Schell/Sims plan appears unlikely to bring the Save Our Valley crowd on board, the prospect of economic development funding could prove attractive to policymakers. City Council member Richard Mc-Iver, a notable tunnel sympathizer, has given a skeptical reception to claims that light rail alone will bring economic prosperity. "Just because a train is going down a street . . . economic development is not just going to happen because it passes there," he told his council colleagues late last year. Schell and Sims' $50 million community investment fund could be the type of hard investment needed to draw McIver back into the fold.

But both the Sims/Schell mitigation plan and the M.L.K. subway face a major hurdle: Sound Transit's empty wallet. Even if built exactly as planned, the light rail system is already over budget—hopes for funding a segment from North 65th Street to Northgate Mall as part of the first phase are all but dead.

What's more, while Seattleites are caught up in our North/South light rail civil war, the many citizens outside city limits who also pay for Sound Transit improvements aren't sold on boosting the light rail budget. Tacoma Morning News Tribune columnist Peter Callaghan recently reminded his readers that the Sound Transit funding package only gained voter approval in 1996 after a strict promise of funding equity for each plan subarea. Any major money shift in the light rail plan would constitute a subsidy that non-Seattle voters aren't interesting in providing, says Callaghan.

Which leaves the Schell/Sims package about $100 million short of being a viable solution.

10, 19, 32, 43, 359

Forget Fred Brown and Jack Sikma—the newest retired number in town is 359. Last Saturday, routes 6 and 359 were combined into a new bus route—the 358. King County Department of Transportation officials say the number 359 has been retired permanently in memory of driver Mark McLaughlin and the passengers injured and killed in last November's fatal plunge from the Aurora Bridge. The service changes predated the crash, says county transit spokesman Dan Williams. "[The new bus] was going to be called 359 until the bus accident," he notes.

Downtown left Source-less

It's curtains for the Downtown Source, the Seattle Timesowned weekly community newspaper. The Source will cease publication with its February 8 issue, according to managing editor John Russell. Factored in with last year's folding of the Times Community Newspaper chain (Federal Way, Highline), the daily newspaper's ill-fated flirtation with the small-publication business seems to be winding down. The Times still publishes the Issaquah Press and Mirror, a magazine for high school students.

The lifestyle-oriented Source had taken a more serious tone during its last year, with substantial cover pieces on government and city issues. Times president Mason Sizemore recently confided to our own Eric Scigliano that the big paper "couldn't find the synergy" with the downtown weekly. Another thing it couldn't find was the money: The Source never turned a profit in its four and a half years.

Skybridge OK awaited

The expansion of the Washington State Convention and Trade Center faces a final city hurdle—permission to construct two massive skybridges over Pike Street and to lid a section of Eighth Avenue for the new exhibition hall. Council discussion has gotten a bit testy, however, as its veteran colleagues have taken umbrage at the watchdog tack taken by new member Peter Steinbrueck.

Council member Jan Drago noted that the convention center project has been more than six years in the making and that many mitigation efforts, including 1-to-1 replacement of housing displaced by the expansion, have already been accomplished. Tina Podlodowski asked council staff to clarify the issue by clearly specifying what the council can and cannot do in its skybridge decisions.

Transportation Committee chair Richard McIver took a more humorous approach: Cautioning convention center officials to take a fast-track approach once the project gets the green light, he joked, "We know that we have an ever-evolving city council, and we want to hurry up before we have some more changes."

Flavor of the Times

What's the difference between a city columnist and a metro columnist? Nicole Brodeur, the flavor of the month on the Seattle Times local column merry-go-round, answered the question with her first regular piece—a "humorous" tale about how those silly Seattleites react upon learning she lives in Bellevue. Yikes! This blatant play for the suburban soccer mom demographic almost makes you forget about Mark Trahant, Times correspondent from the mythical West. Introduced with similar fanfare just last May, Trahant has been bumped to an obscure righthand page in the A section as his bosses handed his marquee spot on the local front to Brodeur. Here's hoping Nicole heeded the Times columnist mantra in securing her Eastside digs: Rent, don't buy!

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