IN the 1890s, streetcars rumbled along the cobble-stone streets of Seattle, then a bustling western outpost. Today, as the futuristic Space Needle casts its shadow over those same now-traffic-jammed streets, area voters are considering a move to bring a retooled version of streetcars - a light-rail system - to a city bursting with 20th-century congestion.
Advocates say the $6.7 billion public transportation program would help untangle traffic snarls and protect the region's environment by containing urban sprawl. Opponents contend that the plan would be too costly and ultimately ineffective.
Nationwide, cities are considering light-rail systems like Seattle's as antidotes to growing populations, pollution, and traffic jams. But garnering political support for such projects can be contentious.
Supporters in Seattle cite the impending population boom as the greatest imperative for a light-rail system. ``We already have the fourth worst traffic congestion in America,'' says a statement by supporters, including former Washington Gov. Dan Evans. ``With another 1.4 million people expected by 2020, traffic will only get worse.''
Opponents agree that traffic congestion threatens the region's economic quality of life, but they argue that a light-rail system is too costly and will not solve the problem. ``We're a 21st-century world. Do not shackle us with a 19th-century method of solving our problems,'' says Kris Wilder, campaign coordinator for Families Against Congestion and Taxes, the main group opposing the measure.