It's just minutes from downtown Seattle, but it's another world down here, with faces and accents from far away. It is another world, too...

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It’s just minutes from downtown Seattle, but it’s another world down here, with faces and accents from far away.

It is another world, too, for the city of Seattle, with earth turned to craters, the asphalt peeled back like a tuna can and construction equipment set down like spaceships. There is progress in South Seattle. Progress of the transportation kind.

Sound Transit’s light rail has broken ground here and is headed our way. It will take years to finish, but it is movement nonetheless.

I needed to see that for myself yesterday, to take a trip out of the fog of uncertainty that hangs over the region’s transportation projects: the Alaskan Way Viaduct, the waterfront streetcar and the civic drama queen known as the monorail.

Earlier this month, the city finally learned how much the monorail might cost, and stood as stunned as Dagwood after Blondie had left nothing in his wallet but smoke.

We were still reeling over the project’s $11 billion price tag when monorail executive director Joel Horn made the most of Independence Day and resigned.

Now we are left to worry about how big a crater has been dug for us as a city of commuters who sit in traffic, remembering trips on Chicago’s L as if it were Paris, and wondering if we will ever find a way around ourselves before costs crack the ozone, we’re all dead, or both.

But my serpentine tour of the Sound Transit work zone proved that progress is hard to take when you’re accustomed to civic atrophy.

Most business owners and residents who sit at the start of this Yellow Brick Road are none too happy with the distinction. They can’t see the future for the orange signs that line Martin Luther King Jr. Way South.

“Oh, we’re joyful,” quipped Carolyn Hollingsworth, 57, who stopped for gas at the 76 station at Graham and MLK. “Joy riding down the street, dodging holes.”

At the King Way Hair Salon, Jenny Nguyen shook her head as she washed a client’s.

“After it’s done, it will be nice,” she said. “But right now, it’s really bad.”

“Too big of a headache,” said the client, Glenn Dawkins, 32, a loan officer who has lived in South Seattle since 1998. “But I guess they have to go through this in order to get light rail.”

And Dawkins was glad to see something beyond the talk and numbers.

That is correct,” he said.

Gary Thorstensen, 51, drives this street “every blessed day,” for Providence Health Systems. He moved here from Chicago to get away from “the sprawl and the mess.”

“And now,” he said, then glanced out at the broken street. “There’s some good to it. The city wants to get something done. There’s gonna be some backups and problems, but it’s a solution.”

Solution. Every blessed day, people down here are moving toward one. Our leaders need to stop seeing it as a concept from another world.

Nicole Brodeur’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or

Patricia, you girls are trouble.