City Hall

McGinn at Odds with Council Over Light Rail

By Erica C. Barnett August 11, 2010

This post has been updated to include language from Mayor Mike McGinn's original Transit Master Plan proposal.

At a press briefing this morning, Mayor Mike McGinn appeared to have retreated somewhat from his insistence that the city put a tax proposal to pay for light rail on the ballot, saying, "That's one option. You have to do the transit study first" to determine "what are the best modes for those major corridors."

McGinn proposed updating the city's Transit Master Plan as part of his "Walk, Bike, Ride" initiative, but the city council restricted him from spending anything on the plan until the council could adopt specific rules for what the plan would study. McGinn initially wanted to explicitly study rail to Ballard and West Seattle along with other options; the council's restrictions say that the city must determine the best technology for every transit corridor, including Ballard and West Seattle, rather than choosing specific technologies in advance. Council members have expressed skepticism about the idea of funding an expensive light rail system locally, arguing that it should be funded at the regional level instead.

The "scope of work" McGinn originally proposed for the transit master plan included "Ballard and West Seattle rail transit modal analysis: evaluation of rail transit alternatives, potential alignments and phasing timeline options rail to Ballard and West Seattle." Ballard and West Seattle are the only corridors for which McGinn's scope of work explicitly mentions light rail. Council members have expressed skepticism about the idea of funding an expensive light rail system locally, arguing that it should be funded at the regional level instead.

Pushed on the question, however, McGinn said he, personally, didn't need a study to believe that light rail is the best technology for the Ballard-to-West Seattle corridor.

"Personally, I believe that light rail is the best technology for connecting our Westside neighborhoods," McGinn said. "It's something we need to do. But making a big infrastructure investment like that, you have to do the study to demonstrate that." He said the delay the council put on the Transit Master Plan could jeopardize plans to put a light-rail  tax on the ballot in 2011.

"We’ve seen such delays and skepticism and concern from the council with proceeding with the Transit Master Plan, which makes me concerned [about whether] here’s going to be support for moving ahead with that next year."

The council has only released half of the $600,000 needed to complete the transit plan.
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