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Please save our monorail, a few people plead

(File, Associated Press)

The debate over the future of KeyArena brings up the issue of another Seattle relic: the monorail.

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A proposed amendment to the Memorandum of Understanding between the city and Oak View Group asked to restrict the use of the $40 million transportation fund by prohibiting it from being used for any payment for capital improvements for the monorail.

At least two people in the audience who attended Thursday’s committee meeting regarding the MOU expressed surprise and concern that the city would do such a thing.

Evan Clifthorne of Project Belltown said his group found it surprising “that we have not been talked to — at all — about this.” He said “one of the most significant things we heard” from “dozens of business owners across Belltown” was the interest in seeing an additional monorail stop at Bell Street in the future.

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Seattle Councilmember Rob Johnson pointed out that the monorail is city-owned, but operated by a private company. He warned the council should be “respectful and responsive” of the fact that a city investment in the monorail could also directly benefit Seattle Monorail Services.

It was pointed out that the transportation fund linked to the arena could be used for additional traffic-mitigation projects.

Councilmember Sally Bagshaw said she’s heard the monorail talked about as a “key element” in getting people to and from the arena, especially, “while we wait for light rail.”

“We simply need to leave the conversation open,” she said.

The monorail came up earlier this year when Oak View Group CEO Tim Leiweke called it an “unused opportunity.” He told The Seattle Times the group even considered adding a monorail ride into the cost of a ticket to an arena event — once it is built.

The monorail could be a viable option to get to the new arena, especially with the Westlake light rail station nearby; reducing the number of vehicles driving in. However, the monorail has a poor track record when it comes to expansion.

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The monorail opened in 1962. Voters approved Initiative 41 in 1997; the initiative called for an extension that would have linked much of Seattle together. However, after costing Seattle taxpayers more than $120 million, the plan was killed in 2005.

After a lengthy discussion on Thursday, the Select Committee on Civic Arenas opted to pull the amendment, leaving all transportation investments related to a new arena at Seattle Center on the table.

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