Case #1639.1

Sound Move: The Debate Over Seattle's Regional Transit System (Sequel)

Publication Date: October 01, 2001
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The idea that the introduction or expansion of urban light rail systems could ease traffic congestion and air pollution has caught the imagination of many in American cities in recent decades. Yet, at the same time, questions about the efficiency and benefits of rail, compared with other transportation systems, have also arisen. This series of cases describes a long-running political and analytic battle in Seattle between rail transit proponents--including some of its leading planners and citizens--and opponents who believe the costs of a proposed new system, to be financed through a $3.9 billion bond package, will exceed its benefits.

Learning Objective:
The case proceeds from the point when rail proponents seek to adjust their plans, based on the electoral defeat of a bond proposal, through the 1996 victory of rail financing in another ballot measure-followed by a series of complications which threaten the scale of transit plans. The cases can serve to support discussion of both the analytic assumptions and methods underlying the views of the two sides in the Seattle rail transit imbroglio. The extensive exhibits require careful preparation in this regard. Such issues as the number of commuters likely to be drawn to rail and the costs attached to doing so must be thought through. At the same time, the cases can also serve as vehicles for discussion of the interest group politics and advocacy methods which come into play around the ballot measures. Business interests, citizen groups, and public officials all figure in the long-running drama surrounding rail transportation in Seattle. 

Other Details

Teaching Plan:
Available with Educator Access
Case Author:
Susan Rosegrant
Pages (incl. exhibits):
United States
Funding Source:
New England University Transportation Center