Standing outside the Columbia City light rail station this morning, mayoral candidate Mike McGinn announced an ambitious, if less than fully formed, plan to expand light rail within two years to neighborhoods on the west side of Seattle, including Ballard, Queen Anne, and West Seattle. McGinn's plan would require a Seattle-only vote for a local increase in sales or car-tab taxes.
"During the course of this campaign, I've talked a lot about what I'm against," McGinn said, referring to the proposed $4.2 billion deep-bore tunnel on the waterfront. "I'm here to tell you what I'm for. ... Within two years of taking office, I commit to bringing a plan before the voters of Seattle to bring expanded light rail service to neighborhoods."
McGinn didn't present a cost estimate or specific proposed routes, but said his plan would be a stripped-down proposal using "existing right-of-way" (i.e., streets) that would be built and operated by existing transit agencies like Sound Transit and Metro. Asked how—given that the tax would be Seattle-only, and would thus violate subarea equity rules requiring transit dollars to be evenly distributed throughout the region—his proposal would not require creating a separate agency a la the monorail, McGinn responded: "Much like Sound Transit contracts with Metro to operate light rail, we would work with Metro and Sound Transit to design, build, operate, and maintain the system."
"The monorail had it right in a number of ways," he added. "It served Seattle neighborhoods, it was separate from traffic. Where it fell apart was it didn't have adequate funding and it didn't integrate with other transit systems."
However, it's far from clear that Metro, which is facing its own funding shortfall, and Sound Transit, whose long-range plan already includes lines to Ballard and West Seattle, would be interested in cooperating with and contributing resources to a separate, Seattle-only transit system.
McGinn's press conference was one of a relative handful of times the candidate has appeared in Southeast Seattle. A gaffe yesterday—in which he identified the location of the Columbia City station as "Edmunds and Empire Way" (it's been Edmunds and Martin Luther King Jr. Way since 1983) has prompted some to question McGinn's familiarity with neighborhoods south of the Ship Canal.
Asked how else he planned to reach out to Southeast Seattle voters, other than holding press conferences there, McGinn responded, "You just haven't been following me. I was down here at the Columbia City parade—I've been coming down to Southeast Seattle as mich as I can. I've had breakfast at the wonderful Silver Fork diner on Rainier Avenue just the other day."