Cross-Center monorail route still favored by most

Hardly anyone supports Seattle City Council President Peter Steinbrueck's proposed resolution that would eliminate the monorail's so-called Northwest Route through the Seattle Center, according to testimony and comments at two recent meetings.

The public opposed the resolution by a three-to-one margin at a jammed Sept. 22 meeting of the council's Neighborhoods, Arts and Civil Rights Committee.

And - with the exception of a sound engineer worried about intrusive monorail noise - only organizers of the Bumbershoot and Northwest Folklife festivals lined up behind Steinbrueck at a Draft Environmental Impact Statement hearing on Monday this week.

The Northwest Route would cross Center grounds from Republican Street, veer south on the east side of the Center House and travel through the Experience Music Project to Fifth Avenue North. The Seattle Monorail Project has identified the alignment as a "Preliminary Preferred Route" for the Green Line.

Technically, there are four route options around or through the Seattle Center under consideration, but the Mercer Street Route is the only alternative to the Northwest Route that has drawn much scrutiny, according to monorail spokesman Paul Bergman.

"The Northwest Route and Mercer have been generating the most interest," he said in explaining why monorail planners developed a rough estimate that showed the Mercer route would cost between $10 million and $16 million more than the Northwest Route.

Bergman said no cost estimates have been developed for the Thomas Street route, which was roundly criticized by the Seattle Center. Nor, he added, have cost estimates been developed for a southern route that would travel partly on Denny Way, a route choice Steinbrueck insisted be included for further study in the Draft EIS.

"Our plan is we will be developing more detailed estimates ... this fall," Bergman said, adding that all four routes are still on the table.

"They're not taking it seriously," Steinbrueck said of the Denny Way alternative. "I was disappointed with that. I still think there's a solution that would work for all of us."

Nobody else at the two meetings seemed disappointed about the lack of attention, though, and Steinbrueck said he hates being on the opposite side of practically everyone else on the issue. "Yet I just can't accept the solutions that have been offered," he added.

Neither can Northwest Folklife Festival executive director Michael Herschenson, who spoke against the Northwest Route at both meetings. "I am a proponent of the Mercer Street route," he said at the hearing on Monday.

"I offer that the Seattle Center is a sacrosanct place that should be protected," he said. Bumbershoot, Folklife and the Bite of Seattle together generate $8 million and attract 700,000 people to the Seattle Center each year, Herschenson added. "I would hold this has not been taken into consideration."

Jane Zalutsky, a Queen Anne resident and president of One Reel, the organization that stages Bumbershoot, also spoke at both meetings and slammed the Northwest Route because it would interfere with the yearly festival.

The Mercer route was still in the mix when the public voted for the monorail plan 11 months ago, she said on Monday, adding that the alignment is no different from the rest of the monorail's Green Line. "The West Seattle Bridge will be narrowed," she said by way of comparison to Mercer Street, which also would have to be narrowed to make way for the monorail.

While that's true, narrowing Mercer is a public-safety issue that hasn't been addressed, according to Kelly Tweeddale, administrative director of the Seattle Opera. Among other problems, narrowing Mercer the required 8 to 10 feet would pose a hazard at the wheelchair dropoff area, she said.

In addition, Tweeddale said, McCaw Hall, the Phelps Center and the Seattle Repertory Theatre were not designed acoustically to withstand the noise and vibration that would be caused by a monorail running down Mercer.

Beyond that, a monorail on Mercer would create a wall between the Seattle Center and the Queen Anne neighborhood, she said. Far preferable to that alignment would be the Northwest Route, which would be "graceful and reflective," according Tweeddale.

Neighborhood groups and the Chamber of Commerce in Queen Anne also oppose the Mercer route and support the Northwest Route, according to representatives from the organizations.

Chris Bihary from the Chamber of Commerce said the Northwest Route would showcase the Seattle Center, while a route on Mercer would make a congested-traffic situation even worse.

Doug Lorentzen, from the Friends of Queen Anne, said the group supports the Northwest Route, describing it as "a continuation of the vision for us who were here for the [1962] World's Fair."

The Queen Anne Community Council and the Uptown Alliance, which represents planning efforts on Lower Queen Anne, support the Northwest Route, said John Coney, who has taken the lead on transportation issues for both organizations.

A monorail route on Mercer would fly in the face of planning efforts for the Uptown Urban Center and strategies outlined in the Queen Anne Plan, which "calls for quality development of the new urban center," he said.

The deadline for submitting comments about the Draft EIS is Oct. 14, and there will be several more public meetings before the Seattle Monorail Project Board of Directors is expected to make a final decision about routes and station locations on Feb. 11.

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at[[In-content Ad]]