MAKING IT WORK
Seattle City Councilmember Richard Conlin
The purpose of this newsletter is to provide
information, inspire involvement, and make things work
in this great city.
October 7, 2005, Volume VII, Issue 9
RESPONSE TO HURRICANE KATRINA/DISASTER PLANNING/SR 520
We have all been stunned and saddened by the disastrous experience of Hurricane Katrina and the failure of the emergency response system to respond in a prompt and effective manner. The City has joined its citizens, organizations and businesses in providing assistance for the response and recovery program. City staff from our Urban Search and Rescue Team went to New Orleans to assist, and the City has given permission for our employees to donate the equivalent value of their unused vacation time to recovery efforts.
The experience has also reinforced the Council's determination to strengthen our emergency preparedness program. In the aftermath of the 2001 earthquake, the Council acted to improve our emergency response, based on the recommendations of an expert outside evaluation. The Council will continue to press for implementation of those recommendations, with a special emphasis on developing ways to communicate with citizens during an emergency and preparing citizens and neighborhoods to provide mutual support. Seattle does have a program that trains groups of residents in disaster preparedness, but the program has only reached a small portion of the population. The Council will consider expanding it during our budget deliberations this month.
The Council also acted proactively earlier this year in reviewing the Emergency Response Plan for the Alaskan Way Viaduct and insisting on improvements. As reported in Volume VII, Issue 7, (accessible through the Council web site), this plan was significantly improved as a result of the Council's oversight.
The Transportation Committee will turn its attention next to a Catastrophic Failure Plan for SR 520, the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge. On September 12 the Council was briefed on new engineering information suggesting this facility is more vulnerable than had previously been thought. The approaches to the bridge are not built to modern seismic standards, and the bridge is only built to resist 57 mile per hour winds, which are exceeded by the 20-year storm (last experienced in the inaugural day storm in 1993). The bridge has deteriorated significantly since then, and the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) anticipates that a significant winter storm season could require it to be closed on several occasions. The worst case would be a loss of the bridge, as was experienced by the I-90 Bridge in 1990.
WSDOT is moving immediately to develop better plans for emergency closure and response, as well as for managing the possible loss of the bridge, which would put severe strains on our transportation system. They are scheduled to report back in November, and the Council will review the new plan to ensure that it is practical and comprehensive.
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As reported in Volume VIII, Issue 8, Councilmember Tom Rasmussen and I have been working to try to preserve this valuable habitat, scheduled to be sold for development in the Mayor's proposed 2006 budget. We persuaded the City Council to pass a resolution extending to the end of 2006 the deadline for community and preservation groups working to raise funds for the preservation of property at "Soundway West" as open space and wetland habitat.
As a result of that resolution and increases in city revenues expected for 2006, Mayor Nickels has proposed to cancel the sale in his revised budget submitted to the Council on September 26. It therefore looks like the property will be saved as a permanent part of the West Seattle Greenbelt.
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At a Special Council Meeting on Friday, September 23, the Council voted unanimously in favor of a resolution sponsored by Councilmember Richard McIver that endorsed the recommendation of Mayor Nickels to cancel the City's Transit Way Agreement with the Seattle Monorail Project (SMP). This Agreement is the City's approval for the monorail to be built in the City's right-of-way.
The September 23 vote was followed that afternoon by the Seattle Monorail Project Board placing a shortened line on the November ballot, a ballot measure that was filed about two hours before the ballot deadline.
These actions were the culmination of a tumultuous three months since the SMP announced on June 20 an $11.5 billion financing plan for its $2 billion project, a plan necessitated by the increasing cost and revenue shortfalls plaguing the agency. Although the information about these issues had long been known to those who were following the project, the SMP had persistently denied its financial problems while it engaged in nine months of negotiations with the single bidder that proposed a contract to build and operate the system.
Under the Transit Way Agreement, the SMP would not have received permits from the City until it submitted a financial plan that the Council agreed was workable. Preliminary information from our financial reviewers demonstrated that there are significant financial problems with the proposed contract, even if a financial plan can be developed that does not rely on the kind of risky financial instruments that led to the earlier $11.5 billion proposal. The proposed contract is based on an inflated projection of the increase in the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax over time, has inadequate train capacity to carry the ridership assumed in the financial model, does not meet the federal standards for projecting ridership, and only guarantees the operational cost for the first five years of operation, despite the project's claim that it will become financially self-sufficient by 2020.
The ballot proposal asks the voters to approve shortening the line by eliminating service to Ballard and to the Morgan Junction in West Seattle. It would also give the SMP Board unlimited ability to make any other changes in the plan that they decide are necessary to make it affordable.
It is difficult to see a strategy that would permit the monorail project to proceed. Experts suggest that a reasonable financing proposal could only fund about half of the projected costs of the Green Line. The proposed shortening would therefore not be enough to make the project affordable. The shorter line will also have fewer riders and less revenue. Even if approved by the voters, the SMP would have to come back to the City for a new Transit Way Agreement, and convince the City that the new line actually provides a cost effective transit service and is financially prudent. With the number of serious problems plaguing the project, it is difficult to imagine that the earlier vision of elevated transit lines criss-crossing the city is attainable.
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Given the problems with the monorail project, the Council is pushing for alternatives to serve the Ballard and West Seattle corridors in the likely event that the monorail project winds up closing its doors. The City's Intermediate Capacity Transit study, completed in 2001, suggested that other alternatives, such as dedicated bus lanes or express streetcars, would be equally effective as elevated rail in serving West Seattle, and could also provide good service to Ballard. While these options were estimated to be less expensive than monorail, they were never fully developed because of the creation of the monorail project. There have also been suggestions that a light rail spur from the Sound Transit line could serve the 3.5 mile distance to the West Seattle junction, although there is not enough information to determine whether this is feasible.
On Monday, September 19, the Council adopted my amendment to the Seattle Transit Plan requesting that the Executive immediately begin preparing a contingency plan for enhanced transit service in the Crown Hill to Morgan Junction Green Line monorail corridor.
The contingency plan will include an analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of alternative transit technologies and a recommendation; the estimated capital and operating costs of the recommended, enhanced transit service; a projection of transit capacity to be provided, along with quality of service levels to be met; an estimate of ridership served; a discussion of possible funding sources; and a proposed timeline for implementing enhanced transit in this corridor.
If the SMP folds, the Legislature, which created the project, will have to close the agency and terminate the project. In its September 23 resolution, the Council agreed that it would ask the Legislature to give the City authority to go back to the voters and ask them to approve using some of the tax authority given to the SMP for other projects. These could include different transit options for serving the Ballard and West Seattle corridors, as well as other transit projects, and perhaps a portion of the Viaduct/Seawall replacement project. Any such measure would have to be approved by Seattle voters, and the Council will fully consult with the affected communities and develop specific proposals before submitting such a measure.
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"The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life."
"Democracy is the worst possible form of government, except for all the others."
Citizen participation and engagement are critical for maintaining democracy -- fostering it is a key task of elected officials. It's my hope that this newsletter will inform you about issues, inspire you to get involved, and that together we can make things work better in this great city. Please send me your feedback, so we can keep things lively, interesting, and useful. And please forward it along to friends who might be interested. You can get more information or send me feedback through the City Council website at http://cityofseattle.net/council/
Your Seattle City Councilmember
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