The Seattle City Council will lift a roadblock to studying light rail and other transit improvements at its afternoon meeting by lifting a budget proviso that hamstrung the mayor's office, according to city council staff. The bill being voted on today would release $300,000 for hiring consultants to study updates to the city's Transit Master Plan (so outdated it still features a monorail); however, the second half of the funding for transit research would remain contingent on the council's future approval.

The problems arose this spring, when the council became alarmed by what several members perceived as the mayor's attempt to fulfill a campaign promise of extending light rail to Ballard and West Seattle at the expense of studying alternatives, like increased bus service. Council member Tom Rasmussen, chair of the council's transportation committee, sponsored a bill in June that prevented the mayor from spending any money to update the city's transit master plan—drawing some ire from transit leaders. In a letter explaining the decision, council president Richard Conlin wrote, "As with any intellectually honest exercise, it would be inappropriate to identify the specific transit mode investment before having considered a range of alternatives and options based on evaluative criteria."

But Mayor Mike McGinn's office says freezing the budget was unnecessary. "The perception that we were going to study just light rail is not true," says McGinn's spokesman, Aaron Pickus. He says the mayor, although a firm believer that light rail would prevail as the best option, intended to study transit alternatives. Further, Pickus says the council has possibly jeopardized the light-rail planning by delaying the process since June, thereby eliminating two months to study light rail and put it on the 2011 ballot. He also says that if the council delays planning for another two months at the midpoint, as the new proviso allows for, that "would put a ballot measure even further at risk."