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Samples of Letters We've Sent

Letter to Tukwila City Council

June 07, 2002

Dear Council Member,

I represent Friends of the Monorail (FOM), a citizens group devoted to disseminating information about innovative and alternative rail transit technologies and advocating their consideration for use in local transit projects. We are writing to you regarding the City of Tukwila's critical, pending decision about whether to permit the construction of Sound Transit's proposed Light Rail Transit line through the City or to seek changes to the plan. We would like to explain why we believe that a vote to reject Sound Transitıs plan in its current form would be beneficial to the City and the region and would permit the development of a more effective and economical transit system.

Since Sound Transit began the scoping process for the light rail environmental impact statement (EIS) in 1997, FOM and its members have tirelessly encouraged the agency to consider alternatives to the preselected Light Rail Transit (LRT) technology. The LRT mode can be simply described as electric rail cars running on steel rails and powered from overhead wires. Although LRT can operate in a variety of settings, including through at-grade crossings subject to vehicle and pedestrian cross-traffic (which also leads to accidents), it is not well-adapted to the diverse terrain and other conditions prevalent in the selected project corridor between Northgate and the Airport.

Most crucially, LRT's very limited grade-climbing ability together with its more massive right-of-way and engineering requirements would mandate very costly and risky tunneling in the hillier and denser sections of the project corridor, largely in central and northern Seattle. Further increasing costs is the need for oversized tunnels to accommodate overhead wires, a requirement not dictated by other modes. These facts emphasize that LRT is not well-adapted to the project corridor.

Sound Transit has, since publishing the project EIS, openly admitted that the technical limitations of LRT coupled with the high cost of tunneling under much of Seattle forced it to plan cheaper routes for other areas, notably Tukwila and the Rainier Valley section of Seattle. In other words, Sound Transit's inequitable treatment of different neighborhoods and cities was inherent in its preordained choice of technology. The ever-increasing costs of the LRT project because of tunneling and other obstacles also account for Sound Transit's otherwise inexplicable decision to bypass your City center, clearly a major regional focus of business and employment.

Friends of the Monorail has long been profoundly concerned about the project's inequitable treatment of neighborhoods and its poor cost-benefit ratio. We conclude that both of these drawbacks are inherent in the use of LRT for the selected project route to the exclusion of any and all alternatives. Sound Transit has further eliminated most of the remaining benefits of the project as a result of the recently disclosed explosion in the costs of implementing LRT technology. Even before construction has begun, the length of the rail line has already been curtailed by one-third and projected ridership has been cut by two-thirds. The increasingly limited scope of the project further reduces its utility to the citizens of Tukwila and the region.

Sound Transit has steadfastly refused to examine other rail transit modes that could yield a more equitable and cost-effective project. These modes include monorail, to be sure, but also other innovative and emerging technologies, such as urban Maglev, a magnetically levitated system specifically adapted for urban transit use. A number of these alternative modes both are more adept at climbing hills and have reduced right-of-way and engineering requirements, relative to LRT.

The City of Seattle is presently planning a monorail line that, despite being the same length as the truncated LRT project, is predicted to cost only $89 million per mile in 2002 dollars (including 19 stations, two major water crossings, and contingencies). The per-mile cost of the LRT line, in contrast, is presently estimated to be $150 million per mile. Use of an alternative technology for Sound Transit's project could reduce costs and distribute impacts more fairly while facilitating better service to key urban destinations, such as Southcenter.

Sound Transit has never seriously examined any alternative mode nor, left to its own devices, will it ever do so. The City of Tukwila has the opportunity to seek changes to the regional transit plan that will better serve the interests of its own citizens and businesses, as well as the region as a whole. Given the clear advantages of monorail, for example, the City should consider whether to seek monorail either as a supplement to LRT, to provide needed service to Southcenter, or, quite possibly, in lieu of LRT. The second option is more viable than ever in light of the progress in planning the Seattle monorail, which could easily be extended to Tukwila and other destinations. At the very least, Tukwila can help to prevent our region from irrevocably committing itself to an ineffective and costly project that would burden taxpayers and the environment for decades to come. We encourage the City to take full advantage of this rare opportunity.

We welcome your requests for further information. Please contact me at 206-223-1060 if you have any questions.

Sincerely,

Charles R. Horner


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