Privatize Kirkland's rail trail | Jeff E. Jared

The City of Kirkland recently voted to purchase the old BNSF corridor seen here. - Reporter file photo
The City of Kirkland recently voted to purchase the old BNSF corridor seen here.
— image credit: Reporter file photo

Kirkland is buying 5.5 miles of the old rail line from Renton to Snohomish that carried the Dinner Train for years. It’s buying it from the Port of Seattle for $5 million, and may convert it to a bike path and walking trail.

It used to be owned privately by BNSF. It’ll now be called the Kirkland Segment of the Eastside Rail Corridor. And it’s subject to future reactivation as a freight railroad, if decided by King County.

This old rail line runs right by my current home, and I remember walking to the new Totem Lake Malls on these train tracks in the early 70’s as a kid. But how to pay for this new jewel?

Let’s think outside the tax. Let’s privatize it. Let’s lease it to a private company for 10 years to make a profit from it, with a requirement to keep it open to the public. Roads are leased to private companies in this way in many parts of the U.S., including the Chicago Skyway.

My policy files in my library have subfiles for all kinds of privatization, from airports to zoning, but I didn’t have anything on “trails.” How the heck do you privatize a trail?

Like a railroad, or road, a trail traverses and crosses so much that it appears to be a “public good,” incapable of privatization.

How do you enforce private property rights and monetize a trail? After all, it is a kind of open space, a naturally “public,” traversing path.Well, let a company willing to invest in a 10 year lease answer that.

Let the market decide. Maybe a land trust should be allowed to buy it outright, then the city wouldn’t have to worry over its management and funding.

What would privatization look like along the trail? It might mean billboards, food stands or other concessions (I see water and hiking shoes for sale) or corporate naming rights of statues, benches or water fountains along the path, or perhaps a fee collected on parts of it, or maybe even horse or bicycle rentals.

Let people with a profit motive make it work, control and maintain it. Now that’s thinking outside the tax.

Jeff E. Jared is a Kirkland attorney who writes from a libertarian and law and economics perspective.


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