Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Stop the monorail

We've never taken a position before on Seattle's monorail system. But now, we agree entirely and wholeheartedly with comments made by our state treasurer, Michael Murphy:
With Seattle's monorail headed for a contract signing next month, state Treasurer Mike Murphy yesterday urged local officials to shut the project down.


Murphy is worried because the Seattle Monorail Project's financing plan — which includes 40-year bonds, deferred interest payments and some high-interest "junk bonds" — would require $11.4 billion in taxes through the year 2053 to fund a $2.1 billion elevated train system.

"I'm hoping good sense will prevail at the monorail board and they will stop dead in their tracks," Murphy said in an interview.

He explained: "The average guy can't afford a Ferrari, because he can't afford it. There should be somebody at the monorail saying we can't afford this thing. The numbers keep getting bigger and bigger. To finance something at 5-½ times the construction value is totally ludicrous."
The monorail project is completely out of control. Not only are Seattle residents not getting the kind of project they were promised when they voted, but the scaled-down design is going to cost a lot more.

The Seattle Monorail Project is under the control of a group of pro-monorail advocates who seem to want to build monorail no matter what the cost. In contrast:
Sound Transit is funding its light-rail line from downtown Seattle to Tukwila with $800 million in local cash, $500 million in federal grants and $900 million in bonds, which will cost a total of $1.9 billion to pay off.
We have always been, and will continue to be, in complete support of Sound Transit's light rail project, which has been going well and is on track to be completed as scheduled.

But the monorail is a whole different matter. It's a monster of a project that Seattle residents will have to be paying through 2050, and, as Murphy notes, the total cost is far beyond what it will actually cost to build the project:
The total also is more than five times the construction tab alone for the monorail. State Treasurer Mike Murphy has called that ratio "ludicrous." The typical principal and interest payments on a state project amount to double the construction cost of the project, he said this week.
Murphy is now contemplating the idea of taking action unless monorail backers stop the project:
Murphy, who has no direct authority over SMP, said he could use his "bully pulpit" to challenge the project.

He said he hopes to avoid a repeat of the Washington Public Power Supply System debacle, known as "Whoops" because the agency defaulted on $2.25 billion in nuclear-plant bonds in the early 1980s. Murphy said that unlike WPPSS, the financial risks of the monorail are known before construction begins.

Although WPPSS bonds were backed by electric utilities and not the state, the state's credit rating suffered for years after four out of five nuclear plants were left unfinished, Murphy said.

"As chief financial officer for the state, I cannot sit idly by and watch someone take the rest of our good reputation down," he said.
If Murphy feels the state's financial health is threatened, then he should move and take action. And we urge local officials in Seattle to act now to shut the monorail project down.

More Information: OnTrack - Keeping the Seattle Monorail Project Accountable

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