Seattle voters approve Initiative 41 Monorail plan on November 4, 1997.

  • By Walt Crowley <br> Updated
  • Posted 4/14/2003
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 2525
On November 4, 1997, Seattle voters approve Initiative 41, which calls for development of an expanded Monorail system, by a 53-percent majority. The initiative is the brainchild of Dick Falkenbury, a cab-driving populist, poet-activist Grant Cogswell, and a small band of volunteers who see an elevated transportation system as the best cure for mounting traffic congestion.

Seattle's twin Monorail trains began operating in April 1962 to transport Century 21 World's Fair visitors between downtown Seattle's Westlake Mall and the fairgrounds at Seattle Center. Although extension of the line was frequently discussed, no action was taken until November 4, 1997, when a 53 percent majority of Seattle voters approved Initiative 41.

Almost Derailed

Written chiefly by populist gadfly Dick Falkenbury, the initiative called for construction of a 40-mile "elevated" system linking Seattle's four corners to downtown Seattle to form a giant "X." It established the Elevated Transportation Company, or ETC, to seek private capital and management. City officials proved reluctant to support its efforts and came close to repealing Initiative 41 in June 2000 (initiatives may be modified or repealed two years after passage) but backed off in the face of public anger.

Monorail supporters, led by activist Peter Sherwin, collected more than 20,000 signatures for Initiative 53, which authorized $6 million for a new monorail plan and reserved $200 million in municipal borrowing capacity for its possible implementation. The initiative was approved by a 55 percent majority on November 5, 2000.

ETC reorganized as the "Seattle Popular Monorail Project" and drafted a $1.75 billion plan for an initial "Green Line" from Ballard to West Seattle via downtown Seattle. The proposal narrowly overcame an aggressive opposition from supporters of more traditional transit technologies to win passage on November 5, 2002.

In 2005, following cost overruns and revenue shortfalls, Seattle voters killed the Seattle monorail project they had supported in four earlier votes.


Sources: Don Duncan, Meet Me at the Center: The Story of Seattle Center From the Beginnings to 1962 Seattle World’s Fair to the 21st Century (Seattle: Seattle Center Foundation, 1992), 43, 50; The Seattle Times, November 5, 1997; July 4, 200; November 6, 2000; November 6, 2002; Walt Crowley archives; Elevated Transportation Company Website, (www.elevated.org).
Note: This essay was updated on March 13, 2009.

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