Monorail by 2010?

Of project delays, there's no end in sight.

Seattle's new monorail is behind schedule. That's not news, but a perusal of the calendar makes it easy now to envision an actual opening date sometime in 2010, instead of the present official target of 2009—and well after the original goal of late 2007. A groundbreaking once planned for last fall is now about four months behind schedule, and a delay in hiring a builder and getting needed City Hall approval of financing seems nowhere near resolution. Negotiations over a lone construction bid by Cascadia Monorail have been under way since September, and SMP board Chair Tom Weeks promises a decision on the builder "soon." But that doesn't necessarily mean an agreement, says SMP Executive Director Joel Horn. "If we can't finish these construction negotiations," Horn says, "the bidding eventually could be reopened, yes." Weeks adds that a rebid "is not in my expectations." But even if the process gets moving again soon, it's hard to imagine completion of the $1.6 billion monorail line before the decade is out.

Horn says he won't confirm or deny talk of $200 million separating SMP and Cascadia in their negotiations over the price of building the 13.7-mile Green Line from Ballard to West Seattle. Horn says those involved in negotiations have sworn a legal oath of secrecy, "so all you're hearing is rumor." An erstwhile prospective bidder, Team Monorail, withdrew from the competition last year but is apparently buoyed by the indecision and recently notified SMP it would like to submit a proposal.

That would be just fine with the Downtown Seattle Association, which has long been critical of the designs of monorail stations and bulky columns and guideways. DSA has asked the monorail to delay start of downtown construction until 2007, after the reopening of the Bus Tunnel. The tunnel will be closed later this year to prepare for Sound Transit's light-rail line, sending scores of Metro buses back to surface streets for two years. DSA says delaying monorail construction would ease traffic headaches. "We just want to lessen the congestion impact," says DSA spokesperson Anita Woo. "We're still waiting to see a construction timeline, but our goal is to delay the monorail start downtown."

That could push SMP's opening date somewhere into, what, 2012 or so? Not likely to happen, says Weeks. Remember, there's more congestion coming from another urgent project. "We're very interested in getting monorail work done before they start on replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct," says Weeks. The DSA's suggestion, he says, is DOA.

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