I Give Up
Sound Transit's announcement that light rail is "getting to the airport" convinced me to stop criticizing the project.
It's not that I'm satisfied with the "news." (Wasn't it supposed to get to Sea-Tac--and further south--all along?) And given the lack of details--Sound Transit signed an agreement in principle last week with the Port of Seattle for a future light rail station at the airport without saying how much it would cost or how it would be paid for--I've realized there's no way to honestly monitor this project.
Nothing makes the announcement true other than the fact that Sound Transit's board chair, Ron Sims, says it's true. And sheesh, he still scored zippy headlines based on his sound bite: "It's a system to somewhere--the Seattle-Tacoma Airport."
If you look at Sound Transit's own budget, it doesn't add up. Building the planned line (sans an airport stop) would only leave roughly $60 million in available funding capacity--not nearly enough to cover the estimated $300-$500 million needed to reach the airport. To get the dough, Sound Transit would most certainly have to violate the project's governing principle of "sub-area equity," says light rail critic and former Governor Booth Gardner. (The Sound Transit plan stipulates that the revenues of one community cannot fund projects in another.) At a January 16 City Club debate with Gardner, Sims responded--without explanation--"We're not maxed out. We're not going to violate the principle of sub-area equity." Well, um, okay.
In 1996, voters approved a 20-mile, $2.3 billion light rail line running from south of the airport to the U-District. Voters agreed to shell out taxes for 10 years. What's been on the table lately is a $2.5 billion, 14-mile line from downtown to Tukwila (north of the airport)--with taxpayers on the hook, if Sound Transit sees fit, in perpetuity. It's beyond me why these discrepancies are acceptable to local leaders.
Look, I could go on and on about how frustrating it is to watch Sound Transit leader Sims rely on his toastmaster's charisma to fool the public. Sims' defense has gotten so convoluted that when he debated Gardner, he made the case that light rail is a good thing for Martin Luther King Way because it will slow down traffic. Meanwhile, seemingly oblivious to a lawsuit from neighbors in Rainier Valley, Sims had the temerity to say that the community wanted light rail at street level. He also repeated his mantra that getting to the airport wouldn't require new taxes. Another Sound Transit board member at the event told me that Sims was misspeaking. Oh, that's cool--the board chair is just misspeaking to a room of 150 people.
You know what: Screw you!
I've been trying to get straight answers ever since a crew of Sound Transit officials "misspoke" in April 2000, when I interviewed them about potential cost overruns. (The following winter, they announced a $1.1 billion overrun.) After last week's ruse, I've given up. Let them have their light rail. They've lost me, and I couldn't care less. After all, it's not possible to care; they won't let you.