Last week, the anti-Sound Transit folks at Sane Transit made good on the legal threat they issued last February ["Illegal Light Rail," Josh Feit, Feb 7]. On Friday, May 17, Sane Transit filed a complaint in King County Superior Court saying that Sound Transit's proposed 14-mile line represents a "substantially different" system from the one voters approved in 1996. The lawsuit argues, for example, that while voters signed off on getting a 21-mile route up and running by 2006-- carrying nearly 130,000 people by 2020--Sound Transit is now planning a 14-mile line to be up and running by 2010, which will carry one-third as many riders. The suit asks the judge to stop the project in its tracks before wasting any more public money.

However, Sound Transit spokesperson Geoff Stuckart says the Sound Transit board is still "committed to the 21-mile alignment." The 14-mile run, Stuckart explains, is just the "initial" segment; it's a "sequence" approach that adheres to the initial 1996 vote, he says.

Well, Sane Transit spokesperson Mark Baerwaldt isn't buying the "sequence" approach. The only plan Sound Transit has on the table, Baerwaldt says, is a 14-mile line that betrays voters, and that line hasn't even shored up its funding plan!

"Sound Transit is not authorized to use tax receipts to construct this substantially different and markedly inferior line without another vote of the people," the Sane Transit lawsuit states.

King County Executive Ron Sims, who is Sound Transit's board chairman, told the Seattle Times that the suit was simply an effort to complicate Sound Transit's bid for federal money. (Sound Transit has been crossing its fingers for three years, hoping that Senator Patty Murray--the Chair of the Subcommittee on Transportation for the Senate Appropriations Committee--will deliver the $500 million federal grant needed to build the $2.1 billion, 14-mile line.) Sims is right to worry that Sane Transit's lawsuit might make it less likely that the feds will open the spigot. One prerequisite for federal money is the notion that the locals support the project.

Unfortunately for politicians like Ron Sims, Greg Nickels, and the Seattle City Council--who pretend their unanimous pro-Sound Transit votes portray widespread Sound Transit support--Sane Transit's lawsuit is the latest clue to the feds that Sound Transit's light rail plan is not popular.

Consider some other telltale signs:

First, there's Tim Eyman's latest initiative, I-776. Following up on his original initiative--I-695, which eventually forced Olympia to hold the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET) at $30--Eyman's new initiative would prevent Sound Transit from tapping its .3% MVET taxing authority. Eyman says the Sound Transit MVET is a violation of the $30 restriction. Eyman's initiative is plowing ahead on its 200,000-signature goal thanks to heavy populist appeal--i.e., the people aren't getting the 21-mile light rail plan they voted for, so why should they pay for a 14-mile stand-in? Stuckart says Sound Transit has no contingency plan if I-776 passes.

Second, there's a recent monorail poll showing gargantuan support for a $1.2 billion expanded monorail line. One certainly has to wonder why the public is so enthusiastic about spending $1.2 billion (72 percent say "Yay!") when voters are already on the hook for a $2.1 billion light rail plan. Evidently, voters don't see light rail as an answer to the region's mass transit woes.

Sound Transit's Stuckart argues that the monorail's high polling numbers actually speak well for light rail because it shows that people want complementary "transportation choices." Please. Given that there aren't similar polling results on Sound Transit, and given the bitterness over Sound Transit's 14-mile line, Stuckart's point of view is wishful thinking.

In short, the Federal Transit Administration, the U.S. Congress, and the Bush administration--all of whom eventually need to sign off on the critical $500 million Sound Transit grant--should take note that the only people asking for the money are those who have staked their political careers on the project.

And the public? They're filing lawsuits and demanding a monorail.

josh@thestranger.com

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