[Ed. Note: Our newest Contributor, Sherwin Lee, wrote this last week at his Lingua Urbana blog. We’ll be cross-posting some of his greatest hits as he starts writing original pieces for STB.]
I’m currently at the South Bellevue East Link workshop to take notes and ask about some key issues facing Link. I’ve got no access to wi-fi or internet, so I won’t be live blogging, but these are real-time notes as they happened.
5:16pm: I’ve arrived at Bellevue High School for the South Bellevue East Link workshop. Supporters of the B7/BNSF right-of-way alignment are outside handing out literature in defense of that particular alternative. I take one and politely brush past them.
5:20pm: An open workshop with a number of booths is set up for public input. The presentation is scheduled to begin around roughly 5:30pm. Each booth has renderings and drafts of different phases of the guideway that follows the preferred alternative. I hear a very elderly gentleman utter “that from everything [he’s] read, those trains can’t run across the I-90 bridge!” I hold my tongue.
More of the workshop below the jump.
5:41pm: Katie Kuciemba, the community outreach rep., opens up the evening presentation for the workshop. The average age of the crowd is older, not unlike the typical South Bellevue demographic. It seems that most attendees are residents that will be impacted by East Link construction. As expected, about 40-50% are in favor of the B7 alignment and all sport a big [B7] sticker on their chests. A workbook was given to everyone in attendance; Katie highlights the contents of the book.
5:45pm: Don Billen presents a project status update. He begins by explaining background info about the DEIS (Draft Environmental Impact Statement). An elderly woman sitting in front of me irritably finds my typing “annoying” so I switch seats. Don explains the upgrade on the preliminary engineering design from 10% to 30%. He gives a brief overview of the alternatives considered and how the FEIS will accommodate new environmental impacts and new route options (considering the new C9T tunnel option). The Final EIS is to be published in Fall 2010.
5:49pm: Don is now going over preferred routing of the entire line when it branches off from Central Link south of the ID Station. He gives reasons for the preferred South Bellevue alignment, one of them being higher ridership. The side-running option east of Bellevue Way/112th is mentioned as per the request of the Bellevue city council. The Downtown routing is explained with the at-grade vs. tunnel routing. Don mentions the new shorter C9T tunnel option, and says there will be another workshop in mid-November specifically for downtown.
5:52pm: The Bel-Red/Overlake/Redmond alignments are touched upon. Another ST representative takes the stage, didn’t catch the name. She explains the key elements as part of the South Bellevue alignment. The relocation of the FW Winters House is mentioned since it would sit right in the middle of the right-of-way.
5:55pm: The ST rep. mentions the expansion and retrofit of the South Bellevue Park and Ride, including the addition of a parking garage that will expand the number of parking spaces to 1400. The deliberation between elevated vs. at-grade guideway up to SE 8th is explained (up to where the Bellefield Office Park is). She touches on the elevated alignment from SE 8th to the East Main Station.
6:00pm: Katie Kuciemba retakes the stage, debriefs, and explains what’s next. More workshops, FEIS completion, continuance of preliminary engineering, etc.
6:02pm: Two public questions are taken: a woman who appears to represent Surrey Downs stands and explains that residents there could “lose their homes” due to the elevated guideway. Don Billen immediately rebutts by explaining that no homes are located between Bellevue Way/112th and I-405 (at least not where Link will run) so residential displacement is not possible.
6:03pm: Another woman who appears visibly frustrated says that 75% of participants at a DEIS comment roundtable sometime earlier in the year voted for another alignment other than B3 (presumably B7 because the literature that was given to me says the same thing; update: yep, she has the B7 sticker). Don Billen explains the compromise between choosing the alignments and says that the current preferred alternative is the most viable across all factors.
The presentation ends and participants are invited back to the booths to talk one-on-one with ST representatives. Despite the variance in conceptions from booth to booth, I overhear that the the costs are virtually the same. Mostly the differences are exactly where the elevated guideway will transition to at-grade and vice-versa. Representatives from the Vicki Orrico and Betina Finley campaigns are present, and maybe some more from others running for Bellevue city council.
I speak with one ST representative and ask her if a cut-and-cover option has been considered for the Bellevue tunnel alternatives. She doesn’t have a clear idea as there have not been comparisons made yet, but she surmises that deep-bored may not be a significantly more expensive option. After a while, I have a chance to talk one-on-one with Katie Kuciemba. She confirms the relative ambiguity with the deep-bored vs. cut-and-cover option but mentions that newer boring technology could bring more equitable cost comparisons. Essentially, it’s a non-issue as of now. Keep in mind that cut-and-cover requires business and traffic impact mitigation since you’re tearing up the road.
I bring up the C9T tunnel option and ask if the Board has an unofficial preference regarding it. At the moment, C4A is still the preferred alternative due to cost-effectiveness, but that could change if Bellevue can help plug the funding gap for the shorter tunnel option. I also ask about the projected budget shortfall of $3.1 billion and while no one is happy about it, I’m told that ST is already accounting for the defecit in line with the budget cushion, and is undertaking value engineering. The low-cost estimate for East Link is $2.4 billion, high is $2.7.
Before I leave, I have a quick word with Mike Williams about Kemper Freeman and ETA’s lawsuit. It’s still in a bit of a gray area as none of the reps. know exactly the status of the case. Mike tells me that as the suit was filed in state supreme court, it may be handed down to a lower court for jurisdiction. I’m no lawyer, but I’m told that the ST legal team is handling it well, so full steam ahead on East Link for now. But as we’ve covered, it’s not like Freeman’s going to win this thing. I also quickly ask about R8A and its status and am told that WSDOT is on track with that as ST2 provided funding for its completion.
Overall, no civil riots or major disruptions broke out. There was no open public comment session so things were relatively quiet. There will be a mid-November workshop that will hopefully provide more insight on the downtown options and we’ll try to provide updates then.