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Seattle monorail tax might be revived

Remember the car tab tax you had to pay in Seattle to cover the proposed monorail expansion? It could be coming back to help fund light rail, even though light rail funding isn't allowed under the tax. (AP Photo/file)
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Remember the car tab tax you had to pay in Seattle to
cover the proposed monorail expansion? It could be coming
back to help fund light rail, even though light rail
funding isn’t allowed under the tax.

Puget Sound has been voting on light rail for 17 years,
and after all that time only one line has been completed,
covering just 14 miles.

Transit supporters are getting tired of waiting for long-
promised quick trips across this congested region.

Seattle tried to extend the monorail, but it failed at the
ballot. It turns out Seattle could get its monorail after
all, but it all depends on what your definition of a
monorail is.

If I asked you to define a monorail, what would you say?

You’d probably say something like it’s a small train car
riding on an elevated track, just like the one at Seattle
Center. But that’s only one definition.

Monorails don’t need to be elevated, and as far as
Washington law is considered, they
only need to be “train cars running on a guideway.”
That’s pretty vague. A monorail could also be defined as a
subway or any other rail system said transit supporter Ben
Schiendelman.

“The language is quite open to funding many things,”
Schiendelman said. “The language is trains running on a
guideway, which is light rail. It’s a street car. It’s a
subway. It just so happens that they say ‘except light
rail’ in their definition. So, you know, you call it a
“subway,” and that’s what you’re building.”

While the Seattle Monorail extension project is dead, the
taxing authority given to Seattle by the Washington State
Legislature in 2002 to fund a monorail, is not. It never
went away. The City Transportation Authority is still
there.

“Nobody asked for this for years because nobody noticed,”
Schiendelman said. “There was first an assumption that
the legislature had taken away this authority, and there
was another assumption that it had to fund a monorail.”

And now since light rail goes underground, Schiendelman
said, you can call it a subway, and Seattle can go to
voters and ask to use this taxing authority to create a
2.5 percent motor vehicle excise tax to fund the rail
projects currently underway.

Schiendelman hopes it would help Sound Transit speed up
its efforts.

“We want to use city money the same way Bellevue is
helping Sound Transit to pay to build a tunnel under their
downtown,” he said. “We want a local acceleration where
we can say, ‘We want high-capacity transit, and we want it
sooner.'”

In case you forgot what that monorail car tax meant to
your checking account, it averaged about $130 a year, per
car.

Schiendelman and other transit activists are already
meeting with local leaders behind the scenes to try and
get this tax back.

The goal is to present the tax before Seattle voters in
November 2013.

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