We wanted to give Kevin Wallace a chance to address the many concerns that you had with his recent Vision Line proposal and to defend the premise behind his idea. I had the opportunity to bring forth some of the questions that arose during our open question thread and hear more about Wallace’s reasoning for picking the controversial alignment. Prior to asking him your specific questions, he briefed me on why he developed the Vision Line the way he did.
Wallace has four basic premises behind the proposal:
- The minimization of impacts on homes, businesses, and roads.
- An alignment within Sound Transit’s budget.
- Rail that will enhance the city’s multi-modal transportation system and preserve city roads.
- A system that provides potential for [transit-oriented] development.
More below the jump.
One of the major concerns that transit supporters have had with the line is the placement of its main station and the low ridership it would attract. To make a comparison of ridership, capital costs, and cost effectiveness, Wallace constructed estimates for the Vision Line by using DEIS (Draft Environmental Impact Statement) numbers for the B7 alignment and the C7E downtown alignment (which would have followed the most comparable route). While we cannot assert the complete validity of the estimates, he believes that this is the best comparison of the data. Here are his numbers*:
- Estimated ridership for East Link using the Vision Line would attract about 42,500 daily boardings, as opposed to 45,000 for C4A, 45,500 for C9T, and 47,500 for C3T (see inset below [C9T not included]).
- Projected costs for the B and C segments combined would be $1,060M for the Vision Line, $1,220M for C4A, $1,550M for C9T, and $1,720M for C3T.
*Vision Line estimates not official data from Sound Transit.
It appears that while ridership and expenses are indeed lower for the Vision Line, Wallace argues that cost-effectiveness (capital costs/ridership) is a better metric of which alignment should be chosen. He further iterated the need to provide potential for development around the station and the necessity of “multi-modal connections” (many of which are already served by the existing Bellevue Transit Center). Bear in mind that Arup, the engineering consulting firm that studied the Vision Line’s feasibility, has not done ridership analysis as of yet.
When asked about the tunnel options, Wallace firmly expressed his opposition to the city’s responsibility of paying for the extra costs, including any tax package as a financing method. He railed against increasing the city’s taxes in addition to the RTA sales tax increase for ST2 earlier this year, and cited the city’s “$100 million budget deficit” as a deterrent for a costlier tunnel.
Here are some of the questions you asked regarding his proposal.
1. How can you justify the fact that the Vision Line will not garner as respectable a ridership as other alternatives?
- Wallace admitted that the Vision Line ridership will be lower than other DEIS alternatives, but is a firm believer that long-term TOD will negate any ridership differentials between the other alignments. He advocates expanding the downtown area east to include what is currently auto-row and believes that future upzoning and development will bring riders to the line. Wallace also believes that the Vision Line’s cheaper price tag is a benefit that outweighs the lower ridership.
2. The main station is incredibly far from the downtown core. Why?
- Wallace says that access to the downtown core will be facilitated by a covered walkway along NE 6th Street complete with moving sidewalks. He believes that the walkway will help enhance the pedestrian corridor that currently runs from the Bellevue Transit Center to Bellevue Way. Connections elsewhere will be further fostered by bus bays beneath the station and a potential downtown circulator shuttle service. Wallace also hinted that he would support moving the transit hub from the existing transit center to the main Vision station.
3. Mayor Grant Degginger expressed concerns over the cost of your covered walkway. How do you address the potential expenses?
- Wallace admitted that the costs for the walkway were in a bit of a gray area and was unsure how the expenses would stack up.
4. Who makes up the Vision Line Coalition?
- The Vision Line Coalition is a small group of property owners (many of whom have a stake along the proposed alignment[s]), downtown business interests, and Surrey Downs/South Bellevue residents. Wallace did not iterate specifically if business owners with a notorious passion against rail were also members of the coalition.
5. The Bellevue City Council unanimously ruled out an elevated alignment. How does the Vision Line not contradict those wishes?
- Wallace believes that an elevated guideway will work because its close proximity to I-405 will aesthetically compliment the expressway. He asserted that since the alignment is far enough out of the downtown core, the elevated portion will not induce any of the impacts that the council was initially concerned about.
6. The Vision Line still seems unnecessarily tall.
- In addition to his belief that the tall elevated segment would pair well with I-405, Wallace asserted that the main Vision station’s height would allow for the walkway to the Bellevue Transit Center to be level, as opposed to a hill climb for shorter station.
7. The B7 alignment will skip over the South Bellevue Park and Ride. Why would it be prudent to deny South Bellevue and Factoria residents access to rail?
- Wallace had three reasons behind his support of B7, all of which we are familiar with. He believes that the South Bellevue Park and Ride offers no TOD potential, while a Wilburton P&R offers more access to commercial properties and sites that could be developed. Secondly, to affirm the “protection of homes” mantra, Wallace believes that running trains right along neighborhoods like Enatai, Ashwood, and Surrey Downs would be a blight to the suburban character of the communities. Lastly, he believes that it would be easier to add an Eastgate spur to B7 than it would be for any Bellevue Way alignment, and would have less environmental impacts on Mercer Slough. Wallace also iterated that such a spur could also provide for a Factoria Station, something not possible with B3.
8. So what’s wrong with an at-grade alignment? It works out for cities like Portland and Minneapolis.
- Wallace is a firm believer in protecting our roads network as a necessity to the “commerce” in the city. He argued that “Bellevue’s road network just cannot accommodate a light rail system” since it would cause “huge problems to the traffic grid.” He also disputed the assumption that at-grade works “well” in other cities and its feasibility here, particularly with the wider roads and superblocks in Bellevue.
9. The Vision Line main station is in close proximity to properties managed by your companies. How could you argue that this isn’t something you would personally stand to gain from?
- Wallace believes the Vision Line offers no real benefit to his company because the properties closest to the line wouldn’t have attracted transit riders to begin with. He argued that a 110th Ave NE alignment would have been of greater benefit. Wallace also wanted to give the reminder that his own offices will have to endure the construction impacts if the Vision Line were to be constructed.