Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Bellevue wants light-rail tunnel through town
By Ashley Bach
Seattle Times Eastside bureau
While Sound Transit prepares this week to narrow the number of potential routes for an Eastside light-rail line, officials in Bellevue and Redmond are chiming in with their own wish lists for the project.
At the top of Bellevue's list: a tunnel through downtown.
The added expense of a tunnel, though, could mean dropping an extension of the rail line to downtown Redmond, Sound Transit officials said.
Sound Transit won't choose a preferred route for the Eastside extension until 2008, but the board is expected to eliminate some potential routes at its Thursday meeting. Bellevue and Redmond say they want an early say on a project that could affect land use and quality of life into the next century.
"It's incredibly important to do it right," Bellevue Deputy Mayor John Chelminiak said.
Voters next fall will be asked to approve an $11 billion Phase 2 plan for regional light rail that will include an expansion into Snohomish and Pierce counties as well as the Eastside.
In a letter to Sound Transit, the Bellevue City Council advocated a light-rail tunnel through downtown that would start as far south as 112th Avenue Southeast and Bellevue Way Southeast.
Even a shorter tunnel could cost three times as much as an elevated line in the neighborhood. City officials said looking out for residents is their top priority at this point — and expense will be dealt with later.
"Cost is not the issue we are dealing with here," said Councilwoman Claudia Balducci. "We should ask for all the options that we think might happen."
The Sound Transit board will wait until April to decide whether to end the Eastside line near Microsoft or continue to downtown Redmond. Under a proposal being considered by the board, the line would end at Microsoft, at least initially, but design and other planning would be completed for a line into downtown Redmond.
The tunnel would add up to $354 million more to the cost of an 11-mile line from Seattle to downtown Bellevue, according to Sound Transit.
Joel Pfundt, a Redmond principal planner, said both cities are "united" to get light rail to downtown Redmond.
South of downtown Bellevue, city officials want Sound Transit to study routes along 112th, Bellevue Way, 118th Avenue Southeast and the old rail line along Interstate 405. The city also wants to eliminate two of the routes that would cross over the environmentally sensitive Mercer Slough, as well as an elevated line that would travel up Bellevue Way and 112th.
Residents from the neighborhoods south of downtown, such as Surrey Downs and Enatai, have been vocal with their concerns about noise and loss of property; some have pushed for a tunnel that would start as far south as Interstate 90.
In downtown Bellevue, which isn't flat and has little open land, city officials want a tunnel, probably along the length of 108th Avenue — or along Bellevue Way, turning east at Northeast Sixth Street. A third option, winding up 106th Avenue and then Sixth Street, may be too long, some council members said.
The council also doesn't want Sound Transit to consider elevated lines along 112th or 110th avenues, or a surface line along 108th and 110th avenues.
The light rail-trains would run east from downtown, on an elevated line over Interstate 405 and into the Bel-Red Corridor, a 900-acre stretch of aging warehouses and office parks near Bellevue-Redmond Road that the city wants to redevelop.
The council says the rail line there should run primarily along Northeast 16th Street, a corridor the city plans to build, and not along Bellevue-Redmond Road or Highway 520. The line could be elevated or partially elevated, officials said.
In Redmond, city leaders also want a line to run along 16th Street and then into the Overlake neighborhood. In central Redmond, the trains should run along the north edge of Marymoor Park and then turn back into downtown, Pfundt said.
The route would serve commuters in Sammamish and Redmond Ridge, as well as downtown Redmond.
Another potential route through central Redmond, along Bear Creek Parkway, should be eliminated because it doesn't serve downtown and would hurt street traffic, Pfundt said.
Here's a link to a map of the proposed routes: