Group pushes suburban monorail

A new political-action committee is being formed to promote a $5 billion, 59-mile network of suburban monorails as an alternative to freeway expansions.

Citizens for King County Monorail are suggesting elevated lines around the north of Lake Washington linking Bothell to Northgate, a line from Redmond to Seattle using a future Highway 520 floating bridge and a line from Bothell to Federal Way.

The group hopes to build a suburban monorail movement resembling the recent campaign for city monorail in Seattle, activist Cleve Stockmeyer said yesterday. Stockmeyer envisions several months of community forums, followed by a $20 million planning effort to pin down the route and station details.

Monday the group will register with county and state election departments as a political-action committee. It already operates a Web site, http://www.kingcountymonorail.org.

"This idea can break the gridlock in people's thinking," said Brian Derdowski, of Issaquah, a former Metropolitan King County Council member. "That in itself is extremely valuable."

In November, Seattle voters approved car-tab taxes to construct the $1.75 billion Green Line serving the western half of the city.

But considering that the plan passed by only 877 votes, a suburban monorail effort would sound like a longshot given the reluctance of Eastside and South King County voters to raise taxes.

And despite relatively high bus use in the metro area, more than 90 percent of the population relies on automobiles rather than public transit.

Advocates reply that monorail compares favorably to highway-laden plans such as the failed Referendum 51 or an $11 billion widening of Interstate 405.

"For half that cost, you could get regional monorail linking all the suburbs to Seattle," Stockmeyer said. He said another selling point is a guaranteed 23-minute travel time from Redmond to Seattle, or 28 minutes from Federal Way to Renton.

Redmond Mayor Rosemarie Ives, who met countywide monorail advocates over breakfast yesterday in Bellevue, is pro-monorail and interested in studying either traditional monorail or magnetic-levitation technology.

The suburban monorail group is one of many supporting elevated transit. Others are:

Seattle Popular Monorail Authority, a new public agency that will begin collecting taxes this summer to build the Green Line. A north link of suburban monorail would depend on the Green Line being extended to Northgate.

Freeway Monorail. This concept, promoted by architecture professor Folke Nyberg and architects Jeff Boone and Michael Godfried, calls for a line along publicly owned Interstate 5 from downtown to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport as the start of a north-south system. In 1962, Gov. Albert Rosellini had a similar idea.

Freeway Monorail proponents hope to stop the $2.5 billion Sound Transit light-rail project and put that money into freeway monorail. Bruce Agnew, of the Discovery Institute, has endorsed a similar switch in technologies, though state Secretary of Transportation Doug MacDonald considers it virtually impossible to engineer a line along a freeway corridor.

There is also support for other types of elevated transit, including:

Maglev. Patrick Johnston, of Ballard, has been encouraging politicians to consider a magnetic-levitation train that can exceed 200 mph in a north-south corridor. A maglev monorail in Shanghai, China, will open this year.

Personal Rapid Transit (PRT). Small, four- to six-person vehicles would be suspended from lightweight guideways, traveling at high speed. Passengers would select their stops by computer. PRT cars could operate as shuttles between regional transit stations and crowded destinations such as the University District, or citywide above arterial streets, supporters say.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com.

Who backs suburban monorail?


Some members of the new Citizens for King County Monorail group:

• Karin Blakley, of Newcastle, a former City Council candidate who organized a small group against proposed widenings of Interstate 405.

• Grant Cogswell, of Seattle, who worked with cab driver Dick Falkenbury on Initiative 41, the successful 1997 measure supporting an X-shape Seattle monorail network. Cogswell is a writer and former Seattle City Council candidate.

• Brian Derdowski, of Issaquah, former Metropolitan King County Council member. A maverick Republican, he joined the anti-World Trade Organization protests of 1999 and works on environmental causes.

• Scott Durham, of Seattle, an engineer who supported the city monorail campaign.

• Wes Larson, of Seattle, an attorney who helped create a citizens group to protect the Eastlake and Medina neighborhoods from freeway noise in future expansions.

• John Peter, of Mercer Island, an investment broker who has volunteered on the Seattle monorail campaign.

• Cleve Stockmeyer, a co-author of Initiative 53, the 2000 voter-approved measure that provided $6 million for monorail planning in Seattle.

• Mike Todd, of Kent, Democratic state representative from the 13th Legislative District from 1983 to 1991, where he served on the transportation committee.