Sound Transit: more sour news

I've got the solution to our transportation problems—we'll finance our light-rail system by selling SOUND TRANSIT ANTACID TABLETS.

To find out which brand offers the best relief, just check the dumpster outside the troubled transit agency's offices to see which over-the-counter stomach preparations employees have been swallowing as news of the agency's many failures hits the papers. Anything that can soothe the inner churning of our light-rail warriors as their transit plan collapses around them must be 100 percent effective.

The arrival of bad news about Sound Transit has become a regular event. Two weeks ago, the project's director admitted that the proposal's budget was too small to build the light-rail system as planned. Last week, Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Chris McGann charged that the system's total costs were hidden from voters (who approved it in 1996). Then, in the Sunday paper, a Seattle Times/Northwest Cable News poll showed that only a bare majority of voters still support the light-rail system.

These sad sacks make Paul Schell look like the luckiest guy in the world. Even our seemingly snake-bit mayor isn't scared of Sound Transit—he's again infuriating system officials by pushing an abbreviated first-phase light-rail system from the airport to downtown's Union Station.

Which brings us to the question of the day: Can we just ditch light rail?

Yes, say the system critics at Sane Transit. Kathy Baxter, group spokesperson, argues that, even minus light rail, the system has enough rail elements to live up to its ballot description. The real problem would be reapplying for federal funding for any new plan to replace light rail, but the extensive changes in the system thus far may already require that Sound Transit make a new application for D.C. bucks.

Can Sound Transit skip light rail and build a monorail system? Well, perhaps, although the agency's board isn't exactly packed with monorail enthusiasts. (Sound Transit officials claim that changes this major would require a return to the ballot.)

The Times survey contains a few clues as to light rail's possible future. About half of those surveyed want to see any modified transit plan on the ballot. And, even though 51 percent of those surveyed are still staying the course on light rail, some 54 percent of the Seattle respondents (the folks who are supposedly the biggest beneficiaries of the system) want to scrap it and start over.

The political viability of Sound Transit is noticeably dimming. These people need some good news—and soon.

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