With the price soaring and the top executives resigning from the project, more than half of Seattle voters say it's time to cancel the Seattle...
With the price soaring and the top executives resigning from the project, more than half of Seattle voters say it’s time to cancel the Seattle monorail.
Many who had backed the project are beginning to turn against it. Slightly more than half of those who previously favored the 14-mile line from Ballard to West Seattle now have doubts about the project or oppose it, according to a new Seattle Times poll.
Still, 45 percent said they want to find a way to continue the monorail project. Most of those respondents, 53 percent, favor rebidding the elevated-train project to try to lower the cost.
“The support is clearly eroding,” said Stuart Elway, whose company conducted the poll Tuesday and Wednesday. “But there’s a sizable core of true believers.”
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Monorail board Chairman Tom Weeks and Executive Director Joel Horn resigned last week after it was revealed that the 50-year financing package would add about $9 billion in interest to the more than $2.1 billion project cost. The price has prompted angry calls and e-mails to City Hall and growing doubt about whether the project Seattle voters have endorsed four times can be completed.
When given a list of other proposed transportation projects in Seattle, a large majority of those polled, 66 percent, said replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct should be the highest priority, compared to 11 percent who said building the monorail was their top priority.
Just 1 percent saw the South Lake Union streetcar as the top priority.
Carl Ebeling, a University of Washington professor of computer science and engineering who lives in Wedgwood, said he voted for the monorail but can no longer support it.
“I didn’t realize what the costs would be. I didn’t think we were voting a blank check to the monorail,” he said. “I thought it would be part of a bigger plan, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.”
The poll of 400 registered voters found the monorail is on the minds of many residents, with 86 percent saying they are paying attention to the issue.
Council under scrutiny
They also appear to be watching how City Council members vote on the monorail. The council is to review the project’s financing before granting the necessary construction permits.
Of those polled, 37 percent said they would be more likely to support a council member in the November elections who tried to stop the monorail. A smaller number, 29 percent, said they would more likely support a member who tried to save it.
Nearly one in three voters said it would make no difference.
Greg Gerhard, 57, also was a monorail supporter but said he can’t back it today with an $11.4 billion price.
“It seems like a bait-and-switch at this point,” said the Green Lake resident and consulting engineer, who doesn’t think he’d ever ride the monorail. He said voters should approve any changes the monorail board tries to make.
“If they don’t kill it outright,” Gerhard said, “voters should have another shot at it.”
But West Seattle resident Robert Tornow, a teacher who lives near Morgan Junction where a monorail stop is planned, said he’s been a longtime monorail supporter and still is.
“I feel it would be a nice way to get to downtown and Ballard,” he said. “We put so much money and time and effort into this, it’s almost too late to pull the plug.”
The poll found that 61 percent of the voters said if there is a new monorail plan it should go back to the voters.
Glen Casper, a psychiatric counselor who lives in Wallingford, has an unusual position on the monorail. Though he didn’t support it and doesn’t now, he doesn’t want to kill it, because voters approved it several times. “I say if it could come in under the costs, go ahead,” Casper said. “But I doubt that would succeed. I would reopen the bidding process.”
About the poll
The poll of 400 Seattle registered voters was conducted by Elway Research on Tuesday and Wednesday. It has a margin of error of 5 percentage points, which means there is a 95 percent probability that the results of the survey are within 5 percent of the results that would have been obtained had all registered voters in the city been interviewed.
The random sample in the poll differed slightly in age from the demographic profile of Seattle registered voters:
• About 32 percent of those responding to the poll were 65 or over, compared to 22 percent of registered voters.
• 27 percent were 51-64 years old, compared to 30 percent of registered voters.
• 27 percent were 36-50, compared to 33 percent of registered voters.
• 13 percent were 18-35, compared to 13 percent of registered voters.
Source: Elway Research
Those who support the monorail say it’s needed to get cars off the street in increasingly congested Seattle.
Cristin Pullman, 22, who lives in Belltown, said she would definitely use the monorail. “I think it’s a lot better than other things that have been proposed,” she said. “This is something above the traffic.”
The amount of money troubles her, Pullman said, “but it’s been voted on so many times I’m pretty positive voters are for it.”
Some would OK new taxes
Asked how to keep the project going, only 10 percent of those surveyed said they would scale back the line to cut costs by making it shorter with fewer stops. Twenty-five percent said they would authorize new taxes to generate enough money.
The monorail is being funded solely by car-tab taxes that now average $130 per vehicle, and the amount collected is falling 30 percent short of projections.
The poll found that those who want to cancel the project want to vote on any new plan; those who want to continue the project are more likely to want to proceed without another vote.
“Opponents want to keep voting until it is defeated,” Elway said. “Supporters want to keep looking until they find a way to build it.”
Karl House, 70, a former manager of a freight-hauling company, lives in the Queen Anne neighborhood and says the viaduct should be the city’s top priority. He has opposed the monorail and wants the project killed.
“I’ve lived in Seattle all my life and this is the worst piece of taxpayer boondoggle I’ve seen,” he said. “And there have been some substantial ones over time.”
He said the monorail runs much of the same route as a bus he used to ride as a child to Lincoln Park. “I have no objection to the monorail in general if it went somewhere that would relieve traffic,” he said.
The project, he said, was sold to the public with a price tag that now “seems way, way far from the truth. The amount of revenue that was to be generated is falling far short of projections and the boundaries of Seattle are not going to get any bigger.”
Added Eleanor Hart, 89, who lives in West Seattle: “Kill the project. It’s pathetic to saddle people with a debt like that.”
Project supporter Tornow, 56, the teacher from West Seattle, wouldn’t resubmit the issue to voters: “Let’s just build it and get it done. We need to refine it, increase the tax a bit and get it built.”
Brad Green, 51, a real-estate agent who lives near Northgate, is another backer. He supports mass transit, even though he owns 20 cars and considers himself a car guy.
“I would love other people to use it because it would make more room for me on the freeway,” he said.
Still, he said was troubled by the price and worries that if the project goes to the ballot again it would fail.
In other poll findings:
• Support for the monorail diminishes with age. While 66 percent of those between ages 18 and 34 want to continue with the monorail, only 37 percent of those 65 or over agree.
• Among those most likely to ride the monorail, 85 percent want the project to continue; 75 percent of those who say they would most likely never ride the monorail want to stop the project.
• The most consistent voters are most likely to support a council member who tries to stop the monorail. The poll found 42 percent of those who have voted in all of the past four elections would be more likely to support a council member who votes to stop the project, compared to only 31 percent of those who have voted in one or none of the past elections.
Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or firstname.lastname@example.org