History of Monorail Planning in the Seattle Area

by Bob Fleming

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1962 Seattle World’s Fair:

In 1962 Seattle was the location for a big world’s fair, officially called the Century 21 Exposition, but commonly known as the Seattle World’s Fair. Two landmarks that were built for the fair were the Space Needle and the monorail, both of which are still famous Seattle landmarks.

The monorail was designed and built by a German company, Alweg, now out of business. It is a little over one mile long and connects Downtown Seattle with the fair site, now known as Seattle Center, and the monorail is now called the Seattle Center Monorail.

Dick Falkenbury’s Plan and the Elevated Transportation Company (ETC):

Several years ago, a Seattle cab driver, Dick Falkenbury, thought it would be a great idea if the monorail could be extended to serve a much larger area. He successfully organized a campaign that resulted in the formation of the Elevated Transportation Company (ETC) to study the feasibility of a monorail system and to place a design on the ballot for voter approval.

The plan developed by ETC was for five monorail lines in Seattle, three running north and south and two running east and west. Patterned after the custom in many subway systems, each line was named after a color. The one selected to be the initial route was the Green Line, which would connect Downtown Seattle with West Seattle in the southwest part of the city and the Ballard and Crown Hill districts in the northwest part of the city.

In the November 2002 election the citizens of Seattle narrowly approved the ballot measure to build the Green Line and to begin initial design for a second line.

The Seattle Monorail Project (SMP):

As a result of the November election, an agency was formed, known as the Seattle Popular Monorail Authority (SPMA), to administer the design and construction of the Green Line, and to begin planning for a second line. The SPMA operated under the simpler name, The Seattle Monorail Project.

The Green Line would have been about 14 miles long and would have served, among other places, the West Seattle business district (Alaska Junction), Seahawks Stadium, Safeco Field, King Street Station (Amtrak and Sound Transit “Sounder” commuter rail), Downtown Seattle, the Seattle Center, the Interbay district, the Ballard district, Ballard High School, and Crown Hill district. The Green Line design provided for the possibility of extending it in the future south to the Fauntleroy Ferry Dock and from Crown Hill it could have been extended north and east to Northgate and/or Lake City.

The project included two water crossings — the Duwamish Waterway on the way to West Seattle and Salmon Bay between Interbay and Ballard.

On June 3, 2005, agreement was reached between the Seattle Monorail Project and Cascadia Monorail Company for a contract to design, buyild, maintain, and operate the Green Line. Later in the month details of the contract proposal were revealed, including a financing plan that would have cost about $9 billion in interest over fifty years. The financing plan resulted in fierce opposition and the financing plan was killed.

The SMP came up with a shorter line that would cut the cost of construction and financing. The new proposal was to build a starter line that would not go to Ballard and Crown Hill, and would not include the last segment of the West Seattle end of the line. This proposal was submitted to the voters.

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels withdrew his support for the monorail, as did the city council and both of the Seattle daily newspapers. Monorail opponents launched a new campaign to kill the monorail.

In the general election of 8 November 2005, Seattle citizens voted against a shortened Green Line and the project is dead.

Since then, the Seattle Monorail Project has sold off the real estate acquired for building the Green Line and its other assets, and shut down.

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©2020 Robert M. Fleming Jr.

This page was last updated on 14 June 2020.

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