Changes Suggested For Rail -- Councilwoman Wants More Spend In Rainier Valley

Metropolitan King County Council member Cynthia Sullivan will ask Sound Transit to abandon any short-term hopes of extending a light-rail line to Northgate, and will propose the money instead be spent in South Seattle.

However, Sullivan's proposal - which is expected to be endorsed by other Seattle representatives on the Sound Transit board - is unlikely to mollify opponents to the Sound Transit plan, as it still would not provide enough money to put trains in a tunnel through Rainier Valley.

Sound Transit is planning the route of a 24-mile light-rail line between the University District, downtown Seattle, Rainier Valley, Tukwila and SeaTac.

Financing is based on local sales and motor-vehicle taxes, and the assumption that the federal government will pay about one-third of the cost. Transit planners had hoped that any added money appropriated by the federal government would be used to extend the light-rail lines to Northgate, through the Roosevelt District.

The basic plan was approved overwhelmingly by Seattle voters in 1996, but the prospect of light-rail lines on surface streets has aroused significant opposition in several neighborhoods.

A recommendation from Sound Transit staff members called for the light-rail lines to emerge from a tunnel near Northeast 65th Street, then travel on Eighth Avenue Northeast, with an aerial station and an overpass, before heading along Interstate 5 to Northgate.

Sullivan instead will call for a tunnel under the Roosevelt District, with an underground station. It would not be built until some future extension of the light-rail program, which would require another election.

She will propose any extra money be spent in Rainier Valley. However, a tunnel there would add $400 million to the cost of the light-rail project. Sullivan said she thinks any saving from the North End could help with community-development grants and street enhancements in the Rainier Valley area, but there would not be enough money for tunneling.

Her proposal is expected to be similar to one by Seattle Mayor Paul Schell, King County Executive Ron Sims and County Councilman Greg Nickels, who have scheduled a news conference on Thursday to announce their plan.

Schell for several weeks has said he thinks up to $50 million could be spent on surface improvements along Martin Luther King Jr. Way South, where the train tracks would be built into the roadway median.

But Ray Akers, a spokesman for Save Our Valley, which has led the tunnel opposition, said Sullivan's plan would not win support in the area because it does not address the "real issues."

He said no matter how much money is spent on neighborhood improvements, it won't solve the safety, noise and vibration issues associated with surface trains.

A decision on the route is scheduled Feb. 25 by the 18-member Sound Transit board. Seattle's other representative on the board, Seattle City Councilman Richard McIver, has said he favors a tunnel through Rainier Valley.