The new light rail system recently recommended to the Spokane Transit Authority is a thrilling opportunity for Spokane to join other transportation-smart cities. Less thrilling is the anti light rail talk being heard around town.
Exhibit ‘A’ for light rail critics is the cost; $300 million dollars-most of which will be covered by federal funds. Sounds like a lot of money, but it needs to be put into perspective. The Mariners ballpark, Safeco Field was built with $340 million in public funds. According a recent article in the L.A. Times, each new mile of interstate cost $100 million dollars, with each interchange costing $25 million. The replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle, whichever direction it goes, is going to be a multi- billion dollar project. A light rail line from Spokane to Liberty Lake, which could eventually be extended further, seems like a bargain in comparison.It’s worth paying for. Does anyone believe that oil is going to get cheaper and more plentiful in the long-term, reducing the need for public transportation? Does anyone believe the development along I-90 between Spokane and North Idaho is going to come to a screeching halt anytime soon? Does anyone think Spokane can compete economically with similar metro areas that have better public transportation?
The choice is clear; we can either get ahead of the curve with our transportation needs, like Portland did, or drag our heels like Seattle. When Brock Adams was President Carter’s Transportation Secretary he could have delivered any public transportation project the Emerald City desired. But Seattle blew it’s chance a few decades ago saying, in affect, “We’ll never need a train system here.” Now the city is playing catch-up, with insane growth and awful traffic that’s only getting worse.
There’s something luxurious about getting into a vehicle and having somebody else do the driving for you. That’s what I think when I step into the light rail at the PDX airport and head into town. Portland’s TriMet train is fast, efficient, and moves more people better than busses can. How thrilling would it be to have local political and business leaders stand up and champion the same sort of light rail in Spokane? If enough of us take a vocal pro light rail stance it just might happen.