Urban Politics #200: Seattle City Council Role In Review Of The Seattle Monorail Project Green Line


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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.

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Seattle City Council Role In Review Of The Seattle Monorail Project Green Line

On June 20, the Seattle Monorail Project (SMP) staff released an agreement with the Cascadia Monorail Company to construct and operate the Green Line monorail. The agreement covers the price, the location of the Green Line route and stations, the construction schedule, and the operations and maintenance of the system. The SMP also released a financing plan.

This edition of Urban Politics provides a summary of the Seattle City Council review of the SMP Green Line, and the SMP Board process. Both the SMP Board and the Seattle City Council will need to cast affirmative votes in order for the project to be built. The votes, however, are on different issues.

 

Seattle Monorail Project Board

Voters living in Seattle created the Seattle Monorail Project in the 2002 General Election to “plan, acquire, finance, build and operate a city monorail system.” Although it shares the boundaries of the City of Seattle, the SMP is an independent government, entirely separate from City government.

No agreement may be signed without approval of the SMP Board. The SMP Board must make a written finding that the agreement is in the public interest and financially sound before approving it. The Board has announced it will hold three public hearings before voting on the agreement. Additional information is available at the SMP website at www.elevated.org.

 

Seattle City Council

The City role in the monorail project includes regulating land use and determining whether and under what conditions to allow construction in the City’s right-of-way (streets) and on other City property.

A key issue soon to be before the Council is whether to authorize City departments to issue construction permits for the Green Line. The Council reserved this authority when it approved the Transit Way Agreement, which allows the SMP to use City streets. In Resolution 30693, the Council laid out factors it would consider when making this decision, which included SMP finances among other factors. The Council hired a consultant to conduct an independent review of SMP’s proposed construction and operation contracts, with particular attention to financial aspects. More information about this review is listed at the end of this sheet.

Resolution 30693 also noted that, as part of its assessment of whether to allow issuance of construction permits, the Council requested a good faith effort by SMP to obtain a letter of intent with King County Metro Transit to: agree to work toward a common fare structure that avoids unreasonable transfer penalties; outline strategies on when and how to truncate and re-route bus routes; provide new or expanded feeder bus service to monorail stations; and outline an approach to sharing fare revenue and/or compensation for changes in ridership or revenue due to operation of the monorail.

The Transit Way Agreement stated that City construction permits would not be issued until the Council voted to allow such issuance, after consideration of SMP’s financial submittal. The financing plan released June 20 will be one element of SMP’s financial submittal. The completeness of the submittal will need to be verified. Once it has been, the consultant hired by the Council will complete a report and deliver it to the Council. The Council will then review the report and schedule a vote. The Council stated its intent in Resolution 30693 that the consultant should deliver the report within 30 days of the financial submittal, and its intent to vote within 30 days of the receipt of the report.

The Council will hold a public forum before voting, at a date and time to be determined.

The City Council’s process for consideration of SMP’s financial submittal and consideration of work done by the consultant is solely a part of the City’s determination whether to consent to SMP’s use of its rights-of-way and to allow issuance of construction permits. Any decision the Council makes will be only for the City’s use. No one else should rely on the Council’s determination for any purpose. Others must make their own assessments for their own purposes.

The Council has hired a consultant whose work will include answering the following questions:

1. Are SMP’s financial resources adequate to complete construction of the 14-mile Green Line monorail system and, for five years after the Green Line is open for revenue service, operate, maintain and make adequate provision for replacement of the capital stock of the Green Line, without creating undue financial risks after those five years?

2. When combined with the other financial resources SMP will have available, does the SMP’s $1.5 billion cap (in 2002 dollars) on debt provide sufficient financing capacity to complete the project and operate and maintain it for the first five years?

3. Are SMP’s financial resources adequate to cover all remaining capital and operating costs, beyond those addressed in the Design-Build-Equip Contract and Operate-Maintain contracts SMP will have for the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of the Green Line?

4. Has SMP provided sufficient protections and reserves to pay unanticipated costs and to address unanticipated risks?

5. After performing sensitivity analyses of key assumptions, what are the key areas of risk that affect the feasibility of the construction and operation of the Green Line and what are the key elements of financial strength?

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