The Track Is Clear

Like the third time, the fourth time was the charm, too, for the planned $1.6 billion monorail project, re-approved Tuesday night, Nov. 2, as Seattle voters rejected a citizens' initiative to "recall" the revised project. Though the proposal squeezed through by just 877 votes in 2002, the newest monorail plan was being backed by more than 60 percent of the vote in late returns, handing something of a mandate to monorail believers and apparently decimating the opposition. "I think the numbers are pretty decisive," said Tim Killian, spokesperson for the anti-monorail group, Yes On I-83, the city initiative that failed. "This effort looks like it's over." His Monorail Recall group spent a stunning $865,818—outspending monorail supporters by almost 3 to 1—in their losing effort. Almost $350,000 of that money was donated by developer Martin Selig, who claimed the transit plan would devalue his downtown and Queen Anne properties.

But as monorail faithful partied at the Seattle Glassblowing Studio on Fifth Avenue, alongside which the 13.7-mile line is set to run, city officials were already confidentially weighing reports that the secret bid to build, operate, and maintain the monorail had come in as much as $200 million over budget. Sources said a second bid was also submitted by the sole bidder, Cascadia Monorail, which came in on budget but lacked features originally planned for the project. "No comment," said Seattle Monorail Project (SMP) board chair Tom Weeks, when asked about the two bids. SMP has refused to release bid details, claiming that would expose proprietary information and hurt Cascadia's position if the project had to be re-bid.

Now confident they have been given the go-ahead, monorail officials still face numerous hurdles, including a class-action lawsuit brought last week by monorail opponent Henry Aronson, challenging the legality of the vehicle excise tax used to finance the project. The monorail must also prove to City Hall it is financially sound before obtaining construction and use permits. City Council member Jan Drago says the outside consultant hired to do a review for the city can't complete work until at least the end of December because SMP has delayed releasing bid details. "It might not be done until early next year for that matter," she said. SMP also has two legal challenges pending against I-83, still to be decided by the state Supreme Court, although the vote might have made the issues moot.

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