Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn is still working toward his 2009 campaign promise to offer light rail linking West Seattle and Ballard to downtown.

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Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn is still working toward his 2009 campaign promise to offer light rail linking West Seattle and Ballard to downtown.

But that’s a daunting political challenge considering what else could be on voters’ ballots soon: a levy this fall to double the city’s Families and Education levy, a sea-wall property-tax levy next year, and proposed state requests for gas taxes, car-tab fees or other transportation funds. That’s not to mention the spread of bridge and highway tolls.

McGinn’s short-term strategy, however, involves a relatively small amount to get a foot in the door.

He suggests asking voters in August or November to approve only $10 million — to complete 15 percent of the design of an 8-mile line, and maybe qualify for federal grants. Another option, he said, would be squeezing $1.5 million from city budgets to do a lesser, “conceptual” design.

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Then voters would see a bigger dollar request, as soon as next year.

“A third path — that I hope we can all agree is off the table — is doing nothing,” McGinn wrote in a message to a citizen advisory group this week. “At a time when we continue to face difficult funding cuts, including potential cuts to the SDOT [Seattle Department of Transportation] maintenance budget, we also have a responsibility to make the kinds of investments that will build a solid long-term foundation for Seattle’s future.”

Construction of surface rail through flat Interbay is relatively simple, but bridge or tunnel crossings to Ballard and West Seattle would push costs into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Sound Transit already pledged to study these lines in its voter-approved 2008 regional expansion plan, as well as corridors to Burien, Renton, Redmond, Kirkland, Eastgate, Issaquah and Everett.

But design wouldn’t begin until mid-decade, and construction only after a future regional vote. McGinn has talked of moving more quickly.

Transit board Vice Chairwoman Claudia Thomas, a Lakewood City Council member, said it looks like McGinn wants to rally Seattle voters, then make a pitch to partner with Sound Transit.

“The mayor hasn’t spoken to me about this issue; he hasn’t bothered to bring it up with me,” said Sound Transit Board Chairman Aaron Reardon, the Snohomish County Executive, who expects they will discuss it soon.

Seattle City Council President Richard Conlin said he’s very interested in the concept if it delivers transit sooner, but he worries about repeatedly asking the voters for more money.

“What I told the mayor was I don’t want to go to the voters unless you have something substantive,” he said. “You can go to voters too often. … Nickel-and-diming them is a real problem.”

Ref Lindmark, co-chairman of the Seattle citizen advisory group, said it has yet to recommend what should reach the ballot when. The group is helping city leaders plan for transit, roads, bicycling and walking, funded by a voter-approved car-tab fee or other money.

Meanwhile, Sound Transit continues to work on its 2013 First Hill Streetcar, its 2016 subway to Husky Stadium, and extensions to Lynnwood, Bellevue and South King County.

Staff reporter Lynn Thompson

contributed to this report.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or

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