Municipal League of King County
Recommendation on Seattle Citizen Petition 1—Creation of a City Transportation Authority for Public Monorail Facilities
Summary of Measure
Seattle Citizen Petition No. 1 seeks funding to create a City of Seattle transportation authority known as the Century Transportation Authority (CenTran), a government authority that would plan, construct, operate and maintain public monorail transportation facilities. Proposed funding would come from the imposition of a $5.00 licensing fee on vehicles registered within the City of Seattle and subject to relicensing tab fees. Proponents expect this funding to generate $2,000,000 per year.
CenTran would initially be governed by an interim board of nine members, six of whom are listed in the proposed legislation, and three of whom would be appointed by majority vote of the six listed members. Within 390 days, the interim board would be succeeded by a 13-member board, two of whom would be at-large members and the remainder selected by the Seattle City Council from Seattle-based organizations and institutions specified in the proposed legislation. A 21-member advisory council would also be established to assess transportation trends and needs in the authority area and adjacent areas, and to report to the governing board.
The $5 licensing fee would go into effect at least six months after the date the proposition is approved. The proceeds of the fee would be used to pay all or a portion of the costs of planning and designing the first phase of the monorail plan, which would link neighborhoods in Northwest Seattle, the Central Waterfront, the Duwamish Industrial zone, South Seattle, and West Seattle with Downtown Seattle.
Arguments FOR the Measure
- Seattle Citizen Petition 1 creates an organization led by neighborhood, academic, social justice, and business/industry leaders, dedicated to delivering high-capacity grade separated rail with a Ballard-Downtown-West Seattle alignment, linking bus and rail centers, and capitalizing on past-present Seattle transportation planning.
- Seattle citizens have previously voted four times in favor of a monorail system.
- All present transit options for the west side neighborhoods of Seattle have the same basic flaw: because they are ground based, they are subject to delays and may create more traffic tie-ups and accidents.
- Monorails are pollution-free, lighter, quieter, and less costly to build, operate and maintain.
- Monorails are the safest form of transportation because they are elevated and don’t mix with cars and people.
- Sound Transit’s light rail runs on the east side of Seattle and will soon serve Bellevue; light rail is not planned to connect the west side of Seattle for 15 years or longer.
- Sound Transit, streetcars and the bus system are subsidized up to 80%, but monorails can operate at a much lower cost.
- CenTran will complement and connect with existing transit services and will be led by citizen-composed boards.
Arguments AGAINST the Measure
- Seattle Citizen Petition 1 undermines current transportation planning by establishing another separate, conflicting transit agency.
- Petition 1 is a poor use of taxpayer money. In 2005, voters discovered that the imposed car tab tax of $140 per $10,000 of vehicle value was insufficient to fund a Ballard to West Seattle monorail line. The project was terminated after $124 million had already been spent.
- Petition 1 would initiate planning for an incompatible monorail line unconnected to the light rail system that is being built.
- The proposed $5 tax is regressive and has no official sunset date. The termination of the tax is at the discretion of the proposed new transportation agency or would require passing a voter initiative to terminate.
- Sound Transit has done a responsible job to date, producing light rail lines that are ahead of time projections and under budget. There is not a need for another planning agency.
Recommendations and Rationale
The Municipal League recommends voting NO on Seattle Citizen Petition 1.
The Municipal League believes that the creation of another separate transportation planning agency is a poor use of taxpayer dollars. What is needed in Seattle and throughout the region is a well-connected network of transportation lines. Sound Transit serves that function, assuring that the transportation needs of the region are met through careful planning and stewardship of public dollars in the most cost-effective way possible. The establishment of a separate transportation authority leads to costly duplication in planning and implementation efforts.
There are also too many questions unanswered by the funding mechanism requested in this petition. It is questionable whether the $2,000,000 projected to be raised will eventuate in a worthwhile product, nor is there a clear answer when these tab fees will expire and what funding will be required in the future. This is particularly true given that the City already spent well more than $100 million to study and design a similar monorail system that was then rejected by the voters. The Municipal League’s concern with the proposed funding mechanism is closely connected to its concern about the proposed agency’s governance structure, which is designed to ensure that the agency will be run, for a significant period of time, by citizen advocates who strongly support construction of a monorail system. The Municipal League believes that the best practice for transportation planning is to identify a mode of transportation based on the needs of a project, rather than identify a preferred mode of transportation and then build a project around it. The proposed agency’s leadership structure does not facilitate that approach.
All in all, the Municipal League does not see this measure as a wise investment of public dollars, and thus recommends a NO vote on Seattle Citizen Petition 1.