Back in May, Sound Transit presented its first iteration of East Link cost savings options to slim down Bellevue’s $60 million contingent contribution to a downtown tunnel. The ST Board advanced a few different options along three segments of the alignment for further study. Last week, ST released the findings (pdf) of the adopted cost savings work plan, which will help both the agency and the City decide which options might be pursued for further engineering.
While the entire cost savings effort is part of Bellevue’s deal for a tunnel, the work plan thankfully instituted limits on how far such reductions could go (emphasis added):
The MOU specifies that Project cost reductions from value engineering, design advancement, scope modifications and for any other reason within the City of Bellevue shall count towards the reduction of City contingent contribution (provided that such reductions do not result in deferral of stations or Park-and-Rides or deferral or complete elimination of other Project elements that have a direct negative Project impact on ridership or operations and maintenance).
More on the cost savings options below the jump.
The first proposal on the alignment heading into Bellevue would run Link trains at-grade along the east-side of Bellevue Way as opposed to the original retained cut profile agreed upon in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). To preserve the historic Winters House, the cost savings option would move Bellevue Way to the west and widen the roadway to accommodate a new southbound HOV lane. The most recent cost estimates put the savings between $7 and $11 million, slightly more than what was originally proposed.
With the exception of the new HOV lane, the concept remains largely unchanged since it was first proposed earlier this year. The downside to the added lane is that the street’s right-of-way eats into the hillside and requires a fairly tall retaining wall, greatly increasing the difficulty of making pedestrian connections between the station and neighborhoods palatable.
Moving north, the second cost savings proposal runs the train under 112th Ave SE to reach the street’s west-side and continues an at-grade profile entering downtown. Three sub-options on the table right now deal with access to the Surrey Downs neighborhood via SE 4th St:
- Closure of the street entirely, with the exception of emergency access: $9 to $16 million
- Provide general access via right-in, right-out ramps over the tracks: $7 to $12 million
- Maintain access by running trains in a trench under the road: no savings
Surrey Downs has the most to lose with a closure of SE 4th, and the impacts on property values are creating understandable opposition.
Moving into downtown, the work plan advances three tunnel options:
- Optimizing the adopted station on 110th: $6 to $10 million
- Stacking the trackways and platforms to narrow the footprint: $8 to $13 million
- Moving the station entirely to NE 6th: $23 to $39 million
Earlier this year, we editorialized against the latter two options. Since then, the stacked tunnel has improved a bit with a station entrance moved to the west-side of 110th adjacent to the transit center. The station’s configuration still eliminates the possibility of a center platform though, which isn’t crucial at this station but still far superior to the side platforms that populate Central Link.
Nothing about the NE 6th option, however, has convinced me that it’s any better than it was back in May. The station is the farthest removed from the transit center and only has general access from one end of the platforms. Its open-air construction also entirely defeats the purpose of even exploring cost savings for a downtown tunnel if the station won’t even be underground.
As one might expect, unfortunately, the NE 6th option saves the most money. The worry here is that the City will be tempted to promote what would be the cheapest but most inferior option moving forward. For now, I’ll stand by our editorial position that the adopted MOU station (C9T) still prevails as the ideal option out of the three proposals.
None of the cost savings proposals are a sure bet that the City’s contingent contribution can be removed entirely, which injects some risk into Bellevue’s ability to uphold its end of the agreement with ST. Nonetheless, I’ll accept the current rate of progress as a vast improvement over previous collaboration efforts between the two parties.