The C9T alternative (click to enlarge)
The C9T alternative (click to enlarge)

[How’s that for a wonky headline?]

Thanks to intrepid reader and commenter Bernie, we have an account of Monday’s City of Bellevue “study session” on East Link alignments. The agenda is online and includes an information packet.  Below, a synopsis of his notes.  Consider this a preview of tonight’s East Link Workshop.

Sound Transit’s preferred alignment runs along the surface on both 108th and 110th Avenues to bracket the Transit Center, and is projected to cost $700m (in 2007 dollars, as all the figures below).  Longstanding tunnel option C3T costs $1.175 billion.  Sound Transit on Monday presented the first cost estimates for the relatively new C9T option, which travels under 110th Ave NE and comes in at $980m – $1.01 billion.  As Sound Transit has committed to fund the surface alternative, this reduces the funding gap for a tunnel to about $300m from an earlier rough estimate of $500m.

ST is considering lowering the South Bellevue station below street level or moving it away from the street to maintain car and bus access to the lot.

The Sound Transit board will re-evaluate Segment C (Downtown Bellevue) in the first quarter of 2010.

63 Replies to “C9T to Cost $300m Extra”

    1. Of course let’s do it. But the city council has to come up with $300 million to do it.

      1. ST can’t legally do that. The state constitution forbids gas taxes going to anything but roads. That’s partially why theres the big kerfluffle over I-90 and the Express lanes being converted to light rail. “They” claim that since the bridge was 10% funded by state gas tax (ok, it’s less than that, but it was 90% federally funded, so I’m going w/ 10% for argument sake) so they can’t convert it to rail.

      2. True, they can’t do a gas tax, but ST wouldn’t do it anyways. Bellevue City Council would institute an LID for just Downtown Bellevue or all Bellevue.

      3. It will never happen. You can get the property tax revenues from the Bellevue School District Budget. $1.14 per $1,000 of assessed value raised $36 million and change. So ~$31.6 million per dollar assessed. Funding $300 million even over 30 years (ten year funding is more typical for Bellevue capital projects) requires about $21 million a year in payments. So, 21/31.6 gives you 66 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. Doesn’t sound like much maybe until you consider that the owner of a $500,000 home would be shelling out over $300 in new property taxes every year. That’s just not politically viable in Bellevue. Maybe you could get a tenth of that which is about what we’re paying for the Ferry District but I’m not so sure that tax would even hold up if put to a vote in Bellevue. School levies fine, they pass no problem. But a tunnel for downtown, no way. There’s a good deal of sentiment among neighborhood associations that the City is already spending disproportionally too much on downtown. I don’t think that’s true but it’s a pretty common sentiment.

      4. You could probably get a good deal of that from deferring the East Main Station and from federal funds. That could easily make it so Bellevue would only have to come up with $150 million, which isn’t too bad.

      5. ST hasn’t expressed any interest in using Federal Grant money it receives to further a tunnel project in Bellevue. I think there’s a good case that they should since the City and especially the downtown core are a big part of the pie when it comes to sales tax revenue. Not just the retail but all of the sales tax paid on construction materials that have flowed from the downtown building boom. The only chance for any Federal funding is if Bellevue applies for and receives the money directly and that seems to be unlikely. $150 million would still be way to much. Cities like Bellevue and Redmond fund things like overpasses and it takes years to get that done. The 31st/36th overpass for example. It was somewhere around $35 million and Microsoft kicked in $17.5 and the Feds (via the PSRC which was the actual recipient of the grant) kicked in $11 million. A $300 million project is an order of magnitude to big for Bellevue to cover alone. Bellevue has long term plans to remake Main into a pedestrian friendly corridor (one lane each direction instead of the current two) but that’s years out because there’s no funding for it right now. In the current economy Bellevue is struggling to keep the West Lake Sammamish Parkway project on schedule and has to do that in phases.

    2. I’m surprised the savings of C9T vs. C3T is only $200 million. I know Bellevue has to come up with money, but if the difference is only $200 million, isn’t C3T the better choice because it gets the station closer to the geographic center of downtown Bellevue, including major condos & offices & retail.

      Actually, why does Bellevue have to come up with the money? Did Mercer Island have to come up with money for its lids? Did Seattle have to come up with tunneling money for Beacon Hill or Capitol Hill? Just wondering where the legislation dictates what’s paid by ST and what’s paid by local cities.

      1. It was physically impossible to put light rail on the surface over Beacon Hill and Capitol Hill, and Mercer Island only got those lids after fighting for many, many years over I-90.

      2. And the feds paid 90% of the cost of I-90 across Mercer Island. Those days are gone for the foreseeable future.

      3. And anyways, highways are frequently 80% paid for by the feds while rail projects are 40-50% at most…

      4. In the case of Beacon and Capitol Hill, there isn’t a viable surface alternative. Going around the hill via Eastlake would have faced ridership issues, slope stability issues, crossing the cut, and going though the UDistrict. Tunneling just made sense when the dust settled. And Seattle DOES have to come up with the money via sub-area equity. The Seattle area is already paying their share for the tunnels. SnoCo isn’t paying for the Seattle tunnels, but we’re paying for all of our own improvements. And same with other regions getting ST goodies. Thats why if East Link is cancelled, ST can’t accelerate or reallocate funding to other Link components. The money is locked in building east of the lake.

        Mercer Island was able to take everyone to the cleaners when they built that road. Times have changed and ST appears to have grown a pair.

        Bellevue has to come up w/ the money b/c the voters approved to approve a surface option. The tunnel is an extra goodie and, yes, regional trains might be slowed, but it doesn’t benefit others to spend more on Bellevues tunnel. As a person who lives in Edmonds, why should I have to pay for that tunnel when I don’t even get Link? And on the same token, why should Bellevue pay for my Sounder service. All part of the sub-area equity.

      5. Not arguing with most of your points, but at the time of the ST2 vote, I don’t think it was defined that downtown Bellevue would be a surface route, nor was the question of surface/tunnel put on the ballot.

      6. Really what was voted on was a funding plan. That funding plan was developed based on an assumed cost for East Link and that cost didn’t include a tunnel through Bellevue. Including a tunnel in the funding plan would have meant either a higher sales tax, a shorter route, or a longer construction time frame, any of which could have led to the defeat of Proposition 1. There are always compromises made to get these projects to work, the surface alignment through Bellevue is one of those compromises.

        From a purely transit based viewpoint I would like to see a tunnel under Bellevue with 2 downtown stations. I think that would have the highest ridership and time savings benefit, and would probably come out best in the fed’s cost-effectiveness ratings. Unfortunately Sound Transit alone can’t afford it, and we have a lot of anti-transit politicians standing in the way of getting additional funding for it, so the outlook for a tunnel under Bellevue is probably not very good.

      7. It’s not really Bellevue that has to come up with the money it’s the eastside sub-area equity account that is the limiting factor. If the money was there I don’t think there would be any question that ST would fund the tunnel. City of Bellevue is just about the only taxing authority which would even entertain a tax increase to fund a Bellevue tunnel. The only other one I can think of would be King County but with Metro in crises mode now there’s not much chance of getting any county money for a transit mega project.

        What I’ve never heard is an estimate of how long the project would be delayed if we waited until there was enough in the piggy bank.

      8. I don’t think Sound Transit is willing to wait. They were very clear about not delaying East Link, they’ll build surface and we can upgrade to a tunnel later.

      9. I’m sure they don’t want to wait. For one that would mean less work for ST. Two, it would undoubtedly raise costs, Three, people would be pissed as the sentiment already is “why is this taking so long”. But, it would still be interesting to know. If it’s a year then waiting would be viable option. If it’s ten years then probably not. Something in between coupled with local funding might be worth considering. If it’s never (revenue never catches up) then there’s no discussion. It certainly seems like a question we should have the answer to.

      10. If ST were to put a tunnel in downtown Bellevue, it would just slow down any extension to Overlake or (eventually) Redmond.

      11. The difference is probably only $200m because a big part of the cost is the underground station.

  1. If I were Microsoft I would sponsor the tunnel for naming rights, it is needed to make sure trains run on schedule to them anyways… they want the train to come faster to MS, this is a great way to prove it.

    1. Sure, MSFT can just lay off another 3000 people, and then they’ll have the funds to cover the cost. :/

      I don’t think that’s a very good plan. Nor should a private company be that deep into a public resource.

      1. Why shouldn’t we be recruiting MSFT and other private companies to help fund public transportation? Isn’t that how a lot of transit works? Just advertising writ large?

        I was just reading about how Apple is paying for refurbishment of a subway station in Chicago in exchange for advertising and the ability to landscape some transit-owned property. Sure, they’re doing it because they’re building a store and they want everything nearby to be pretty, but isn’t this a win-win?

        I have vague notions of WA state laws regarding private gain from public property, but I don’t really understand them, nor do I see a great value in slavish separation of public and private. I’d vote for a law change if it meant transit stations that looked more like Tokyo than BART.

      2. Anybody remember or know what Safeco or Quest paid for naming rights on the stadiums? Those get national TV exposure so I’d expect are worth more than a tunnel in Bellevue. How much did Apple kick in for the subway station?

        I’m leery of expecting Microsoft to “kick in” for public transportation. They already run a transportation service for employees. Paying for a Bellevue tunnel sounds a lot like the sort of tax disincentives that prompts companies to move away from the region.

      3. Here’s an article on Apple’s subway station. They’re spending $4 million to refurbish the station and the bus turnaround outside (turning it into a park), and in return they get naming and advertising rights.

      4. OK, $4 million. A 30 second Super Bowl ad runs $2.6 million. Don’t really even care how many people watch the Super Bowl but here we are on the “Seattle” Transit Blog discussing how Apple is “donating” money to transit. $4 million given the advertising that promotes “this is a great/safe place to come to and Apple is saving the planet” seems smart like a fox. We’re still two orders of magnitude from $300 million for a tunnel in Bellevue; and Bellevue is a lot smaller market than Chicago.

      5. I agree $4 million would be a drop in this particular budget bucket – I was mainly responding to Paul’s comment and raising the more general issue of private involvement in public transportation. And I don’t think anyone sees the Apple example as a “donation” – its an advertising investment that happens to have a public benefit when compared to a billboard or a Super Bowl ad.

        Would Microsoft contributing to improved light rail service in Bellevue really be a bad thing? If so, why?

        Or, more generally, are we better off for not having advertising/private concessions/etc as part of our public systems?

        Another example, not transit related, are the public toilets that Seattle rolled out, and then rolled back in again. My understanding is that part of the reason Seattle failed with these (as opposed to San Francisco) was that we paid for everything with public funds (as opposed to advertisers covering most or all of the costs).

      1. Jeff, read the comment again – the “it” doesn’t refer to “naming rights”, it refers to “tunnel”. I don’t think it’s a great idea either, but calling Justin naive because you can’t figure out the antecedent to the pronoun in his sentence is a bit more than naive.

  2. A couple of other notes from the meeting:

    There are also new surface alternatives being studied, C9A (like C9T but at grade) and C11A (elevated over 112th NE at Main, then north along 108th NE to NE 6th and through the transit center). These are too new to have cost estimates. With C11A, they are looking at running buses and trains side-by-side through the TC so buses won’t delay the trains.

    The city of Bellevue will present a report on tunnel funding options to the ST board on Dec. 10.

      1. I think by “side-by-side” he might mean buses in the outer lane and trains in the inner. C11A sounds like its by far the best option if you’re going to have to do at-grade.

      2. Yes, trains in one lane, buses in another. Buses might have to wait for other buses, but trains shouldn’t have to wait.

      3. I was hoping somebody else would make that connection!

        It would be interesting to have a Portland Mall version of MAX running through DT Bellevue. I think it’ll work out nicely in fact.

    1. On the potential “C11A” option:

      Right now the buses run contra-flow through the TC. That is, they “criss-cross” when they enter the Center so that they stop on the left side of the center platform viewed in the direction that they are traveling.

      If the trains take the center lanes, the buses will then have to move to the outer curbs which means they’ll be running right-hand through the center, as they drive on a normal street. In order to have shelters for their passengers, I believe that many (or even most) of the young trees on the outer sides of the street will have to be removed. That’s not a tragedy, but it may be criticized.

      But there is a potential operational difficulty that definitely bears consideration.

      It seems likely that if NE 108th is to have both directions of the trackway, there will only be a single lane in each direction left for autos and buses, but also that there will be no need for contra-flow operations by the trains. I’m not sure why contra-flow has been proposed for the C4A couplet, but it’s probably to keep autos from fouling the path of the trains. The trains have doors on both sides, so there’s no need for contra-flow operation if left-side running is selected. Max runs left side on Yamhill and Morrison but in the same direction as the autos next to it. The cars mostly stay out of its way, but they are very narrow streets, so sometimes the cars do foul the trackway. I guess it’s psychologically easier to sit with your back to a 70 ton railcar bearing down on you than to see it in the front windshield ;-).

      So I was a skeptic that adding the full through lanes to the Portland Mall was a good idea, but it appears that drivers are staying off the trackways on Fifth and Sixth reliably. The driving lane is a bit wider.

      I wonder if ST would consider revisiting that decision on C4A, since it requires the trains to cross paths twice, at both the north and south ends of 108th NE. But that’s an aside.

      If the trains run with-flow on 108th buses can pass a car or truck stopped in the curbside lane to load or unload by driving in the trackway when a train is not present. Bellevue Police will have to be willing to ticket non-transit intruders on the trackway and the fine pretty hefty, but eventually it should remain reliably clear.

      It’s also good at the TC, since the buses will need to pass through it in normal flow operation when stopping at the outer curbs. But in order to pass one another to access the proper bay, they’ll need to drive on the trackway like they do in Portland, so they’ll necessarily be traveling in the same direction as the trains. One wouldn’t want a contra-operating train turning the eastbound curve from 108th NE to NE 6th to hit a normally operating bus departing from its bay head-on.

      But though this parallel operation is good on the running street and works fairly well in Portland, it may prove to be quite disruptive to the buses within the station itself because there will be only two lanes in each direction.

      Let’s imagine that a bus and train are both coming north on 108th NE approaching NE 6th arriving at BTC. The train will naturally “have priority” at the turn since it can’t stop as readily as can the bus and it will be running with the signals (there will have to be some priority on 108th NE if it has both directions of the trackway). The trackway will certainly pass very close to the southeast corner of the intersection to make this sharp right-hand turn so they absolutely cannot make the turn simultaneously. The bus will have to wait for the train.

      In the Portland Mall when the trains leave a station the traffic lights are all red but they get the “white bar” to proceed. Once the train is clear of the station, the traffic signal turns green for the buses and autos to proceed, and they follow the train up the Mall. Normally the buses use the trackway to pass stops they don’t use (there are three sets of bus stops and the train stops on each street). But if they’re following a train, they have to wait drive slowly behind it until they arrive at their appropriate bay.

      So the train will turn and enter the station, thereby occupying the entire length of the “passing” lane in all its four-car glory. The bus will have to continue to wait to enter the TC until the train leaves before it can advance to its bay and discharge. In the meantime, at least a few passengers on the bus will likely be fidgeting in their seats as they had been hoping to catch the train. But they will assuredly miss it.

      There’s no doubt that the shorter walk to transfer between modes will be appreciated, but this potential operational conflict should certainly be given serious thought.

      1. Ananakos,

        I’m not sure I entirely follow your analysis, but in C4A I don’t believe the trains are actually passing through BTC.

      2. You’re right, they’re don’t and I didn’t mean to imply that they did; but I also don’t think that I did imply that. I just mentioned C4A because it has a contra-flow proposal, but if both tracks are on 108th NE it’s very likely that C11A would not be contra-flow. I probably should have just ignored the issue and let people figure it out for themselves.

        The issue is that when a train is stopped at the station, the only buses that can move will be the ones at the last bay on the side by the train which can depart and one entering the first bay on that side. Buses already in the middle and first bay can not depart and buses destined for the middle and last bay can not enter.

        When the train is entering or leaving the station they will probably all be instructed to wait, for safety.

        It won’t work.

      3. Paragraph 2 should read “The issue is that when a train in C11A is stopped at the station…”

      4. Not if there’s a different bus stopped at a bay in front of it and the bus behind needs to access a bay farther on.

  3. Monday’s City of Bellevue “study session” on East Link alignments. The agenda is online and includes an information packet.

    Information packet?? I didn’t see anything on the table and can’t find anything online. Council members and staff may have gotten an information packet. I totally missed it so if it’s online please provide the link.

    1. Bernie, there’s a link on the words “the agenda”. That pdf, in turn, provides a link to an info packet.

  4. I think it’s obvious that Link should be above/below grade whenever possible. I took Link the other day to Tukwila for the first time in months and we stopped at EVERY SINGLE red light. It was horrible.

    Once Link is extended, delays in that section will slow the entire region down. We need to avoid that mistake in the future.

    If we can’t tunnel we should either find more funding, elevate it, or use the BNSF corridor. Link should not be at grade and should not be at the mercy of traffic lights!

    1. If your trip to Tukwila was in the evening, there was a power outage in Rainier Valley that delayed Link from Columbia City south. The trains were still running, but each intersection was a 4-way stop.

      1. Oh okay, it was just your average reverse commute on Link. Stops every 10 seconds of 30 seconds or more pretty much the whole way down MLK. Everyone in the train was groaning. Then it happened again on my way back into Seattle.

      2. That usually doesn’t happen to me. It’s just if the driver ends up getting a little bit late, then the signal priority gets messed up.

      3. Alex,

        That’s because it’s not “signal priority”, it’s “timed signals” where the timing is triggered by the entry of a train into a station. This is the same system they use on Max north of Lombard and east of 181st. And you’re right, if the train gets a little late (usually because someone holds the door at a station or a wheelchair ramp has to be retracted — that may not be germane for Link) then the train is repeatedly stabbed until the next station when the cycle is reset.

        Signal priority advances or retards the signals for cross streets in realtime response to the presence of a train.

    2. I think it’s obvious that Link should be above/below grade whenever possible.

      I don’t think you can make blanket statements like this. It really depends on the exact at-grade configuration (some allow full-speed running and don’t require trains to wait for cars), ridership, and how much of a regional feeder the line will be. For example you might want to have a fully grade-separated trunk line splitting into mixed traffic street-running branch lines such as Muni, MBTA Green Line, or SEPTA Subway-Surface lines.

      Remember often the choice is between running at-grade or no rail at all. Lets not let the perfect be the enemy of the good enough. If we’d required MLK to be fully grade separated it likely would not have been built at all.

      I took Link the other day to Tukwila for the first time in months and we stopped at EVERY SINGLE red light.

      That is more of a problem with how the signal priority system works and less one with at-grade operations in general.

      1. You have some good points, but in all, I think we should strive to make all future rail grade-separated, unless in special circumstances such as a couple blocks in a suburb’s little downtown, or an area like a railroad right-of-way where the train has no grade-crossings.

  5. Has WSDOT released their wishlist (and you know they have one) for what they would ask for if Stimulus Package Rnd 2 were to come about?

    Would the tunnel be a possible candidate for such funding?

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