July 7, 2007
The following is a guest article by Thom McCann, candidate for Port of Seattle Commissioner. Stopping the proposed airport swap deal and saving the Eastside railroad are major components of Thom's reform-oriented platform.
Eastside Rails and Boeing Field
For those not following this issue, here is a recap: There is a complicated proposal between King County, the Port of Seattle and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad. The current situation is that Burlington Northern owns a rail line that runs from Renton north to Snohomish county. King County has the first right of refusal should BNSF want to sell the rail line (and associated property). The Port of Seattle would like to own Boeing Field so the proposal is for the Port to spend around $175M to buy the rail line and 'improve' it to be a trail. In return King County would transfer ownership of Boeing Field to the Port of Seattle. Read on for more detail about this transaction and why I think its a bad proposal for many different reasons.
Since the rail line is not used very heavily and has some limitations, BNSF would like to sell it. King County executive Ron Sims would like to exercise its rights to buy it and turn it into a trail. One problem is that King County doesn't have the money. Solution? Find some entity with excess money to pay for it.
The Port of Seattle has the power to tax property owners of King County and they've been doing that for many years. Seven years ago, the total tax collected stood at $30M. Now it is close to $69M per year. The Port of Seattle has total operating revenues of around $440M (not including the tax and some other revenues). The Port can afford to buy the rail line, tear out the rails and convert it to a trail. The proponents of this deal at the Port would love to own Boeing Field.
Bad idea to remove the tracks
In one of the most congested corridors in the region, we have a duty to preserve the rail tracks for potential transit use. Any proposal that rips up the existing tracks without a plan AND A BUDGET to build a transit rail infrastructure should be opposed. Otherwise we will likely lose the use of this transit path forever. There are several plans floating that can save the rails. Please check out Eastside Rail Now group and All Aboard Washington.
Concern about Port ownership of Boeing Field
As a 16 year resident of Beacon Hill, I live on the flight path to Sea-Tac and right next to Boeing Field. The Port's track record of taking community input seriously is questionable when you consider the neighbors of Sea-Tac. Some neighborhoods such as Georgetown, West Seattle, Beacon Hill and others are very concerned about the potential impacts of commercial airline traffic out of Boeing Field. There must be guarantees about this before the deal is approved.
Bad policy getting worse
This proposal is being pushed on a time frame that doesn't allow proper community feedback. The proposed details have changed from month to month. Recently there has been an attempt to attach other unrelated projects to the proposal to make it more appealing to different groups. There are important projects at Stampede Pass and a potential inter-modal rail facility in Kent which have mentioned recently as part of this proposal. These projects should be considered separately. The desire to attach more projects is simply making a bad policy worse.
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