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STA meeting likely to settle light rail issue

Light rail backers are determined to keep pushing for a commuter train system between Spokane and Liberty Lake even though voters turned down two advisory measures on the issue last month.

Thursday’s Spokane Transit Authority Board meeting will likely decide the light rail question. Board members will vote to continue the project or to kill it for the foreseeable future.

Members of Spokane Transit Authority’s light rail steering committee said at a Monday night holiday potluck and meeting that the STA Board must push on with the project regardless of the November vote.

“Just like the Expo ‘74 leaders. … They refused to accept the vote then and moved forward, and thank God they did,” said committee member Dick Raymond.

Many on the committee said the vote means little because the ballot questions were confusing.

“We don’t really know anything. The vote didn’t tell us a darned thing,” said committee Chairwoman Phyllis Holmes.

The steering committee voted to spend the $73,000 left of the $8.8 million allocated for light rail studies over the past six years to find a consultant to poll people on the election and update projected rider numbers.

But some on the STA Board said this week that enough is enough. They want to disband the committee and shelve light rail plans.

“I’ll be making a motion to disband the light rail committee. Their job is done. You can’t shove something down people’s throats,” said board member and Spokane Valley City Councilman Rich Munson.

The first proposition on the November general election ballot asked voters whether they wanted STA to write a funding plan to pay for the $263 million light rail project. It failed with 46 percent of voters saying yes and 54 percent no.

A second question, asking whether STA should use its existing funds on engineering work for the project, also failed with 48 percent in favor and 52 percent opposed.

The board could ignore the votes if it chooses, since the questions were advisory only.

That’s not likely, said board member and Spokane Valley City Councilmen Dick Denenny.

“Even though it is an advisory vote, all of us take those very seriously,” Denenny said. “You can keep trying to find what you want, but that goes against what the public told us.”

Light rail backers said they just can’t understand the election results because polling earlier in the year showed support for light rail.

“The polls were like asking people, ‘Do you like heaven? Do you like the concept of heaven?’ and then asking them, ‘Do you want to go now?’ ” said Denenny.

But committee members such as Don Cain said stopping now would be tantamount to throwing away six years of work.

Project manager K.C. Traver also warned some right of way might be in jeopardy if the project stalls, particularly in the Riverpoint campus area where Washington State University is trying to plan development.

Munson said he admires the dedication of steering committee members and values the work they have accomplished, but it’s time to look at other possibilities, like a cheaper bus rapid transit system.

“I understand the passion that they’re showing,” he said, “but light rail is dead for now.”


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