Introduction: One possible – but not guaranteed – project on the Eastside is commuter rail line that could run from roughly Snohomish to Renton, or some segment between them. The STB staff have varying opinions on the value of this line, which we fleshed out in this roundtable.
BB is Brian Bundridge, BS is Ben Schiendelman, AS is Andrew, JJ is John Jensen, and I’m MD.
MD: I think we all agree that East Link should be the highest priority on the Eastside. But right after that, the I-405 corridor’s congestion is absolutely horrible. Because the ST2 map leads me to believe that I-405 light rail is going to have to wait for ST4, I say we do something for commuters along that route in their lifetimes. Let’s get this thing built.
BB: The biggest thing with the Eastside Rail Corridor is getting the train closer to the City Core which is the biggest complaint among those who would take the service. An elevated section would however be expensive but would it be so expensive that it is prohibitive?
BS: Crossing 405 would be a 150-200m bridge, so yeah, I think it would be. And you couldn’t go elevated with heavy rail in the middle of Bellevue’s actual downtown.
The biggest issue is that you’d have to rip out and replace the trackbed along the entire corridor – that’s a couple hundred million, there’s no ballast. Then you’d have to shore a lot of the corridor up against slides. I actually went out and took pictures near Woodinville – there are a fair number of slides visible from the not too distant past.
You’d need platforms, equipment, another 100 million. Then you’d upgrade all the crossings or the cities would say no way – another 100 million. It goes through Totem Lake diagonally next to a large intersection – intersecting two streets there. Upgrades there alone would probably cost you a good ten million. The park and ride necessity to get any ridership would cost you another hundred million.
The thing is, this money would do a lot of more cost effective things for the eastside. The rail corridor simply isn’t the best bang for the buck with that money – you could spend it on more bus service (seriously) and get two or three times the riders per dollar. Sound Transit banked east king money last time because they knew east link was ten times as cost effective as this – the eastside rail contingent didn’t even start to speak up until ST2 was on the ballot, even though they’ve had ten years of BNSF trying to sell that corridor.
AS: Ben is right about the costs of the Eastside BNSF Corridor. On a trip through the Eastside in April, we saw a slew of spots where the train speeds were limited to 20 mph and even sometimes as low as 10 or 15
mph, the Totem Lake double-crossing comes to mind. Those areas require track upgrades that could cost well into the hundreds of millions.
The one big slight on the routing of the track is that it doesn’t go through downtown Bellevue. The common response is that it goes very close, and that the future of downtown Bellevue will be on that side of 405. I cannot see this happening until after ST2 gets built and a station connecting the BNSF track to Link is put in place. At that time, the Eastside Corridor becomes viable. It would connect job centers in Kirkland, Bellevue and Renton with residential centers in Kingsgate, Totem Lake, Kirkland and Newcastle/Kennydale.
The criticism that the rich people whose backyards the tracks go through will oppose the trains is valid, but the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. In whole I think that the Eastside BNSF corridor can be a working rail transit corridor, though I believe we need ST2 in place first to make it work.
BS: And with ST2 in place, the cost of the eastside rail corridor would be better spent on connecting Overlake to downtown Redmond, so that ST3 could start building more in the 405 corridor.
AS: Imagining the exact same cost, I’d say connecting Kirkland to Overlake Hospital is more important than connecting DT Redmond to Overlake, though I bet LRT to Redmond would be more cost effective.
BS: The ridership would be higher on DT Redmond to Overlake, because DT Redmond is upzoning and DT Kirkland isn’t.
BB: There’s also a real technical issue there. With Eastside trains running every nine minutes (as assumed in ST2 planning -Lynnwood-Sea-Tac and Northgate-FW are the other two nine minute runs, for three minute central operations and six south of downtown), you’d create a transfer at Overlake Hospital. You couldn’t split the route.
One idea that was brought up to me is the time savings of Everett – Redmond. The train would take 30 minutes at a maximum speed of 45 mph with stops at Everett, Snohomish, Woodinville Jct, Columbia Winery, Redmond Town Center.
But per BNSF, double tracking the flood plains is required.
AS: Kirkland’s not upzoning? Maybe not, but what’s this I’ve heard about Google building a campus literally next to the BNSF line?
There are several other large companies in that area also, Bungie, Clearwire, and Monolith, among others.
Kirkland also has nearly the population of Redmond (46K vs 51k) in less than half the area. (4220/sq mi compared to 1220 sq mi). A fair bit of that population density for Redmond is already served by the Overlake TC station.
The Kirkland BNSF corridor is a good bang-for-your-buck rail because it cuts right through the employment centers, as well as the residential centers.
BS: Monolith is at the S. Kirkland Park and Ride, and has about 100 employees (I worked there during the SOE buyout). Bungie’s got 40 (again, I worked with them during Halo). Clearwire might be 100. Downtown Redmond has 4-500 MS employees alone at Redmond Town Center, and there are a couple of office buildings there that we don’t have either. Downtown Redmond is seriously upzoning – they just made plans
to turn another downtown parking lot into 5 stories, and the town center is looking at developing the east parking lot (by Claim Jumper) and/or tearing down an existing parking lot to replace it with an office building, and building a larger semi-underground garage.
The business park in east Kirkland really just doesn’t cut it. You don’t have any high density residential, and those are your prime users – MS employees and Bellevue DT employees. Connecting to that Kirkland business park doesn’t add much because you don’t have good residential on the line in a decent distance.
MD: That’s Part I. There’s more to come as the conversation continues…