Councilmember Licata left office on January 1, 2016.
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Urban Politics #182: Monorail Alignment

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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.

With assistance from my L.A. Newell Aldrich

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.



  • Monorail Alignment
  • Transit-Way Agreement
  • Independent Financial Review
  • Other Monorail Legislation


The City Council has recently taken three important actions on the monorail project regarding the alignment, transit-way agreement, and independent financial review. Each action is described below, along with other monorail-related work the Council will take up in the future.

Monorail Alignment

On June 14, after several months of analysis, and going over the route in detail, the Council approved a modified alignment for the monorail. While the SMP governing board approved an alignment for the monorail in March, the alignment still required City Council approval.

The Council passed a number of changes that I believe improved the route, and made it a better fit into the neighborhoods. Council-approved changes include:

– On 2nd Avenue downtown, a requirement that the monorail “dynamic envelope” be 13-15 feet from buildings. ‘Dynamic envelope’ means all potential operating space for the monorail. In practice, the monorail will be an additional foot from the buildings. The SMP-approved route had a distance of 5 feet;

– A statement of priorities for 2nd Avenue, including the maintenance of a bike lane downtown;

– On California Avenue SW in West Seattle, a requirement that the dynamic envelope to be 10 feet from the property line, up from the 5 feet of the SMP proposal;

– On Harrison Street, the Council mandated a requirement that the dynamic envelope be at least 10 feet from buildings-up from 5 feet–and allowed for the line to run in the middle of the street. The SMP is meeting with the community to see what the best fit is;

– On 15th Avenue NW, a requirement for an additional foot for the dynamic envelope;

– On 35th Avenue SW a requirement that the guideway be at least 20 feet from the property line.

Analyzing the monorail route required the Council to consider a variety of issues. Moving the guideway a few feet often meant losing a traffic lane, or a parking lane, right or left turns, driveway access, or had other impacts.

Each street was different. For example, requiring additional space on 15th Avenue NW would have eliminated parking on the east side of the street north of 65th, and would have made right turns very difficult for large trucks on an important freight corridor. Also, there are only two buildings on the west side of 15th NW that are at the height of the monorail guideway, in contrast to 2nd Avenue, or California SW just south of the Alaska Junction.

On California Ave SW, there was some interest in a center-lane option. This would have made left turns impossible in most areas, because under current codes, landscaping would be required under the guideway. This would create a median, making it impossible to weave between the columns, the way you can now on 5th Avenue.

Transit-Way Agreement

On Monday June 28 the Council Committee of the Whole passed the “transit way agreement” granting use of City streets for the monorail project by a 9-0 vote. The Full Council passed the agreement on Tuesday, July 6.

The Transit Way Agreement is a contract between the City and the SMP that contains requirements the SMP must meet in order to use City streets, including:

– An independent financial review, to assist the Council in determining whether to vote to allow the issuance of final construction permits;

– A requirement to minimize the impact on other right-of-way uses;

– A provision giving the City Director of Transportation approval authority for construction sequencing, with direction to maximize coordination with the Downtown Transit Tunnel retrofit and any Alaskan Way Viaduct project work;

– Insurance provisions protecting City of Seattle finances, and the City-owned West Seattle Bridge;

– A requirement that the SMP to acquire a $54 million bond to remove the monorail system (if necessary), in the event that performance bonds are not deemed adequate by the City;

– A program for businesses impacted by construction;

– Improvements for pedestrian access to the Elliott/Mercer station, and between the 5th and Stewart station and Westlake Center;

– An elevated walkway between the King/Weller station and the Weller Street Pedestrian Bridge;

– Safety improvements for the Delridge station area;

– A pedestrian overpass to the west side of the railroad to connect to the Safeco Field station;

– A requirement for work on possible Residential Parking Zones;

– Tree replacement with the principle of no net loss of tree canopy;

– A $5 million fund to assist in development of the parcels by stations at NW 85th and 15th NW; Virginia and Stewart on 5th; James and Yesler on 2nd at the “Sinking Ship Garage” site, and California Ave SW near SW Alaska and Edmunds;

– Improvements to Westlake Center to facilitate transfers between light rail and monorail, and to the King Street station area to facilitate transfers between monorail and other modes.

Under the terms of the transit way agreement, final construction permits will not be issued until the independent financial review described below has been completed, and voted on by the Council. This is a change the Council made to the original version received from the Mayor, to ensure public accountability.

Independent Financial Review

On June 28, the Council also passed a Resolution 30693 stating its intent to hire an independent expert to assess whether the monorail system is capable of being constructed, and operated and maintained for five years after its opening, which is the initial length of the initial contract to operate and maintain the monorail system.

That resolution follows the direction Resolution 30629 I sponsored in September of 2003, stating the Council’s intent to base its approval of the transit way agreement on

“Substantial evidence that the entire 14-mile Green Line as described in the Council approval is capable of being constructed within the budget described in the Seattle Popular Monorail Plan of $1.29 billion in 2002 dollars or $1.75 billion in year-of-expenditure dollars.”

I introduced Resolution 30629 because, above all, we need to be sure that once construction of the Green Line begins, that it is completed. I served as Chair of the City Council’s Monorail Ad-Hoc Committee in 2002, and monorail issues came before the Neighborhoods Committee I chaired in 2003, so this made me keenly aware of the need to finish the system once it’s started.

In the financial review per Resolution 30693, the independent expert will assess financial risks that may attend the monorail system beyond five years. The independent expert will review motor vehicle excise tax (MVET) revenue projections, ridership forecasts, projected farebox revenue, the DBOM contract, and other areas the independent expert so chooses, as well as assumptions used by SMP with regard to Metro bus service.

The Council also asked if the SMP’s $1.5 billion cap on debt (in 2002 dollars) allows SMP to issue sufficient debt based on the 1.4% MVET tax and its projected yield; whether SMP’s financial resources are adequate to cover any costs go beyond the Design, Build, Operate and Maintain contract, and to cover any unanticipated risks.

After receiving the independent expert report, the Council will have 30 days to vote whether to allow final construction permits to be issued.

The Council also stated it will consider, as part of its assessment as to whether to allow such permits, its request that SMP initiate a good-faith effort with King Country Metro to obtain a letter of intent to work toward a common fare structure that avoids unreasonable transfer penalties; outlines a strategy on deciding how and whether to truncate existing routes; and that outlines an approach for sharing fare revenue.

Bids for the project are expected to arrive in mid-August.

Other Monorail Legislation

In addition, the Council will consider a Seattle Center use agreement. This is needed because the Green Line will use Seattle Center property for a station near Key Arena, and for the “Northwest Route” for the Green Line across the Center campus.

When the Council passed design guidelines for the monorail on April 19. I removed some aspects of the guidelines to allow for greater neighborhood input. Consequently, station-location specific guidelines will be considered in the first quarter of 2005, when more information is available, and when the City station area plans should be available. Also, since the design guidelines lacked clear illustrations for system-wide guidelines, I removed them; they will likely come back to the Council later this year.

Station area plans are being developed by the City’s Executive branch, and will come to the Council for consideration at a later date.

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