Inspired by Timothy Noah’s Death Watch (the latest regarding Karl Rove) series on slate, I’m tempted to start something on the Monorail as the whole operation seems to be in a death spiral lately… However, rather than go for the jugular, I’ve decided to give my view on how the monorail’s future became so dire.
After the defeat of Initiative 83 that would have effectively banned the monorail, the project seemed on a high. The monorail supporters (rightfully) saw the overwhelming support as a great sign in that the project could now move forward with the full support of the City (at least at the highest levels of the City government). However, as the negotiations between the sole-bidding contractor and the monorail agency dragged on, support seemed to wane. I heard numerous times from people who said that they were tired of all the delays and their support was waning with each passing day.
The latest crop of news began when the monorail announced on June 3rd that an tentative agreement had been reached with the prime contractor for the (relatively unusual) design, build AND operate contract.
On June 21, more details of the agreement were released to the public. This set into motion a series of articles documenting the total cost of the proposal. The Times has a decent article, while the PI put out sensationalist piece giving the total projects costs as “$11 billion”. This holds the monorail up to a higher standard than any other public project and is really just bad economics. For example, it is like saying the price you paid for your $400,000 home ballooned to $1,200,000 because that is the total amount you will pay over the life of your loan. The worst part of this journalism is that I’ve heard numerous individuals quote this number as if the cost of the monorail jumped from $1.7B to $11B overnight. This type of apples to oranges comparison seems irresponsible of the Seattle PI…
If the monorail fails someday, I would say that a definitely turning point happened around the time of the PI’s “$11 billion” article. After that, the Monorail Board and the City Council members had to start explaining economics in order to justify their positions, and this became a no-win situation. Both the Times and the PI ran articles describing how support was quickly evaporating.
Then on July 1, the Monorail board rejected the complicated 50-year financing scheme which led to the resignation of Project Executive Director Joel Horn and Board Chairman Tom Weeks. The Seattle Weekly has since written a scathing article about Joel Horn.
Does this mean that the monorail project is dead in Seattle? Not necessarily. The acting director is working hard to attact a new director and sway public opinion back in favor of the monorail. However, the odds are definitely against the monorail at this point.
On Friday (7/15) the editorial board from the Seattle PI, which has generally been a supporter of the monorail, gave an editorial which asks for the final nail to be put in the coffin of the project. (This had the anti-monorail voices over at the Sound Politics blog jumping for joy, or as one writer put it: “Stunned. Encouraged, but stunned.”)
Can’t get enough monorail information? Here’s a list of my resources: