The Bellevue City Council voted 4-3 tonight to approve a term sheet that has agreed to offer up to $150 million in funding toward a downtown tunnel alignment with Sound Transit. The agency cannot afford the C9T alignment on its own and has said the city must provide funding if it wants a tunnel alignment. The $150 million is the most concrete step forward we’ve seen thus far on funding the tunnel alignment.

Without approval of the term sheet (pdf), the city would have committed nothing to a downtown light rail tunnel. That would have put the Sound Transit Board in a bind, and when it selected its preferred East Link alignment it would have been unlikely to move forward on the tunnel. While the Bellevue City Council overwhelmingly favors that alignment, during a contentious and late night meeting it seemed unwilling to move forward on the term sheet.

The C9T alignment.

But an unexpected “yes” vote from Mayor Davidson put a narrow majority in favor of moving forward with the term sheet. The Sound Transit board will likely move forward with studying both the C9T and C11A alignments for downtown. The C11A at-grade alignment is unpopular on the council because it would run light rail on city streets, but that alignment is within the current East Link budget.

Davidson admitted after the vote to putting out “feelers” and hints that he would vote no. He seemed to struggle with his yes vote.

Some on the council seemed anxious to tie the term sheet for the downtown segment to the B segment south of downtown, with some implying their “no” vote was a statement to Sound Transit that the board must support a B7 alignment which isn’t favored regionally because of its ridership and environmental impacts. Mayor Davidson had proposed an amendment that would tie the approval of the term sheet to early design on B7 moving forward, but that amendment failed because the city would have had to pay for the study. Some vocal communities in Bellevue have demanded that light rail run far away from their homes and a majority on the council support B7. That alignment does not serve the South Bellevue Park & Ride and would be costlier to connect to the downtown segment, and the Sound Transit board is unlikely to move B7 forward.

Some council members said that a week was not enough time to study the term sheet that was negotiated between city staff and Sound Transit staff. Some also argued that the Sound Transit Board will recognize the city council’s commitment to a tunnel even without a formal term sheet moving negotiations forward.

With these negative arguments, some councilmembers seemed resigned to a losing vote. Councilmember Balducci had asked the council just to get the vote over with since she could see how the “winds are shifting,” just minutes before she unexpectedly prevailed in the majority.

City staff recommended the council adopt the term sheet. The term sheet is not binding and a final alignment will not be selected until Spring 2011 when East Link’s environmental impact statement is finalized.

40 Replies to “Bellevue Moves Downtown Rail Tunnel Forward”

  1. Hey, this coverage is great, but could you consider putting links on each alternative number to ST’s description of the alternative, or some other source? Would make your coverage easier to follow for us dilettantes who want to know what’s happening, but who lack the obsessive commitment needed to learn all the codes. Thanks!

    1. I second that motion. I love the coverage but can never keep any of the alignment numbers straight and it makes it much more difficult to follow.

    2. Even a link to a map of the alignments somewhere on the side-bar would be fantastic. (And yes, great coverage! Thanks!)

    3. It’s a noble idea, but we cover East Link so much we can’t possibly list and describe all the alternatives in every post. But we will think about making a reference key or something along those lines.

      1. One tip is to place all the code that you use often into a word document, and whenever you need – for example – need to re-use a link to an alignment chart, you can quickly copy paste it out of the document into the post.

        It’s still additional work though.

      2. Why don’t you put up a single post briefly laying out the various alternatives, with a map and basic explanations – then, when the topic comes up again, just link back to the post

    4. The most important part is that one alignment is a tunnel and another is at-grade through downtown. I understand the terms can be confusing though.

  2. I’m confused by this statement in the article:

    “Davidson admitted after the vote to putting out “feelers” and hints that he would vote no.”

    Vote “no” in what context?

    I also agree that an East Link Alignment Alternative Decoder Ring (and also one for 520) would be a great addition to this site.

  3. This is good. All political manoeuvrings aside, I think Bellevue will regret putting Link on the surface or aligning it with I-405. The cost of the tunnel is a hard pill to swallow, but all the data that has been presented point to it being the right decision. I hope it is ultimately selected by ST.

  4. Nice coverage. Kudos to the four city councilmembers who realized Bellevue’s REGIONAL role in transportation. As opposed fishbowl NIMBYs, and some mall owner who adheres to the “eastside island” theory.

    1. Jeremy, I am simply asking for clarification of your comment. How is this a regional role in transportation when regional transit routes are put on city streets as opposed to regional routes such as I-405?

  5. Some vocal communities in Bellevue have demanded that light rail run far away from their homes

    I. Don’t. Understand. These. People.

    Are they just stupid? Lived too much in transitless Seattle or come out of anti-big-city Hicksville?

    I thought people in the high-priced suburbs were also manically obsessed with their property value.

    Fine, they can shoot themselves in the foot if they want, and watch their values drop like a rock while transit-oriented development near the train stations takes off. Who wants an overpriced converted condo in a car-dependent neighborhood when you can walk out your door and hop on a train to civilization? Apparently addled nimbys like Kemper Freeman and the Bellevue City Council who think Donna Reed was reality TV.

    1. Not all of them want it, but if you live on a single-family lot in a suburb, you have a tendency to hate any type of development whatsoever. I’ve lived in a suburb, and residents would fight developments just in case they might see an extra building on the way home from Seattle, god forbid! Never mind what positive impact it would have on land value.

  6. the only bad thing about C9T is that the station is a bit away from the Transit Center. At least on C9A it is only across the street.

    C11A though has the station AT the Transit Center … which is the best option IMHO … even if it is on the street

    1. According to that map, the station is less than a block from the transit center -a closer distance than it is to walk from my house to the East Falls Church metro station in Arlington, VA. Plus I am going across a major intersection connecting two major boulevards -and it takes me only ten to fifteen minutes to get there. And I do it everyday.

  7. if C9T is the option that will be selected going forward … will it be attached to B2A (w/SE 8th Station) or B3S (w/East Main station)?

    1. The B2A connection is what allows for the funding gap to be within financial feasibility. Without it, the city will be paying a lot more, and that’s not what the term sheet said.

  8. I took serious issue with councilmember Wallace’s comments, who essentially iterated that the primary goal of East Link is to protect neighborhoods, protect roads, and protect businesses, with the underlying notion that routing light rail is like playing Operation– keep it away from where people live as far as possible! There was nothing from his mouth about ridership, access, getting people to Overlake or Seattle or anything about siting light rail close to where people live and work. Interesting, isn’t it?

    1. I’d agree with what he says except I’d change my definition of “protect”. Eastlink will protect me and my fellow Eastside residents from future road expansion to accommodate growth. It will also protect us from being forced to choose an expensive mode of transportation that is dangerous, subject to gridlock, and causes an enormous amount of pollution.

      It’s not perfect and not everybody will be able to use it, but it will free up resources to improve bus connections and it will improve reliability. (The 550 I drove last night into Seattle was 20 minutes late because of the Mariners game. Rail would have been far more likely to have been on time.)

    2. [Comment edited: ad hominem.]

      Did the completely unprofessional behavior of the Bellevue City Council go unnoticed by all of you. Balducci was so rude and unprofessional while Robertson was having her say that she laughed outloud and made snarky remarks in public. It doesn’t matter if they agree or not but professionals don’t treat each other that way in public. Chelminiak is all of a sudden trying to make himself sound like the saviour of neighborhoods, “the_____ family which sits behind me in church will have a station 2 blocks from their house,” “the ____ family, good friends of mine, will have a train in their backyard,” Blah, blah, blah. Helloooooo, both of those families gave Chelminiak money for his campaign and he has not been a champion of neighborhoods in any part of this debate. Chelminiak resorts to emotional blackmail to make himself look like a friend and get what he wants. Thank goodness Degginger finally got himself under control. This is the first meeting in months where he has not been rage just barely controlled with snarky remarks and sarcastic insults. Davidson for once listened to everyone and made carefully thought out comments after the fiasco of his amendment sidetracked the council for almost an hour because non of them could figure it out. Lee did a good job of moderating. It doesn’t matter if you agree with them or not but Robertson and Wallace had well thought out comments and delivered them in a calm and professional manner.

      I am just wondering what the next slavo from ST will be now that the council has proven that they can be blackmailed and bullied by ST in public. Good grief none of what the council is doing has to do with what is best for Bellevue in any of their votes.

      1. “Good grief none of what the council is doing has to do with what is best for Bellevue in any of their votes.” By “best for Bellevue” do you mean “best for one neighborhood” or the entire city, which is who the council actually represents.

      2. No, By “Best for Bellevue” I mean decisions made outside of political egos and infighting.

      3. Robertson was reading a prepared speech, not just “having her say.” No other councilmember decided to read a speech. Balducci later apologized for her response.

      4. Many people write down their thoughts as a way of getting clarity and being able to speak clearly when offering a decision on an important topic, there is nothing wrong with that. For examples check out any Supreme Court decision when it is delivered. An apology at that point was too little too late after the inexcusably rude way she treated a colleague in public. I can’t imagine that Balducci’s frustration was any greater than Robertson’s frustration at being treated that way and yet, Robertson managed to remain professional in her demeanor and in her comments.

      5. Please, Cindy, if Davidson had voted no, you would have your hands in the air crying “Hallelujah!” If there’s anyone that the council has been bullied by, it’s their own constituents.

      6. On a more substantive note, you should be careful what you say about ST being a bully. The council has long known the terms of accepting a C9T downtown alignment, especially after the concept design report was published.

      7. This is not about the outcome of how the council voted. This is about the completely unprofessional behavior of the council on the way to that vote.

      8. Cindy I don’t understand your attacking Chelminiak, he just pointed out that light rail is going to affect people where ever it goes, so stop sucking up to Surrey.

        Since a train blocks away will destroy home values so much I will buy any home for half value now and save you the pain later… :)

      9. This is the one and only time that Chelminiak has made it seem as though he is concerned about neighborhoods. His statements were hypocritical at best. Again, my comments are not about the outcome of the vote but rather about the unprofessional behavior of the council. I voted for all the people on the council and I stand behind that vote however they need to be yanked up short as an entire group and be aware of the aweful behavior that they are portraying on the behalf of Bellevue.

      10. This isn’t about winning or losing. It is about unprofessional behavior on the part of the Bellevue City Council.

      11. Cindy: “Lee did a good job of moderating.” ” Robertson and Wallace had well thought out comments.”

        I am continually amazed at how people can see things differently. The Deputy Mayor is inept, stubborn and stupid. Robertson and Wallace are inexperienced and overconfident, but golly, they sure can stick to the line – provided, not doubt by their conservative, anti-transit lobby. All they’re doing, in the guise of working for Bellevue, is mucking up this system, or trying to advance their own personal cause (Wallace). How stupid can Bellevue people be to buy this as leadership?

        At least in the Bellevue schools, they teach the kids how to be independent thinkers. One should ask oneself, “why should we look to four people who steadfastly, consistently and passionately oppose Sound Transit and Link Light Rail for leadership on how to ensure that it succeeds and serves Bellevue citizens (current and future) well?” Why would one think that? Why aren’t we insisting that those four stand down, since they can’t keep their opposition from complicating and raising the costs of the system? It took them getting all the way to the brink of losing the tunnel for Davidson to come to his senses. There’s no excuse for the others in the majority who didn’t.

        These guys think they can play poker with Sound Transit. Someone said Monday night, they don’t have the cards. The Council majority needs to get over themselves and start looking out for the whole city – not just the loudest ones who wrote them campaign contributions.

      12. Wow Maven their given right to have a different opinion from yours and express it is guaranteed under the first amendment. Who died and made you the one and only person able to have any thoughts on this issue? Of course there are people who supported the candidacy of all of the Bellevue City Council members, right or wrong that is the way political races work in America. It does not however mean that these council members are unable to think for themselves. At least they are willing to think outside of the box. At least they are willing to stand up to the special interests of Sound Transit and say that blackmail and intimidation is unacceptable. By saying that the council will have to accept the term letter prior to the 22nd or the tunnel option will go away, blackmail is exactly what Sound Transit was up to.

    3. I believe he said something more like the role of the council in bringing light rail to Bellevue is to protect neighborhoods, protect roads and protect businesses. That is quite a difference.

  9. Cindy – You seem to favor “calm and professional” over quality and content. Lee seems continually confused and unfamiliar with the details of any of the plans or the many amendments that were introduced last night. Lee made the same statement a couple of times that what he needed to see in the “term sheet” were words to the effect that Bellevue needs to be able to select the routes into and through downtown. He may have input but not final selection. It also seemed to me that the speeches by Wallace and Robertson were pretty much the same, almost like someone else wrote their talking points. Delay seems to be their tactic. While Balducci did get a little “snarky”, she quickly apologized. She expressed her frustration about being at this stage of the process and having to listen to people who don’t understand the difference between a Environmental Impact Statement and an Engineering Study. I think that Bellevue and Sound Transit are very fortunate to have Balducci providing leadership on this important project.

    1. Balducci was wrong to LOL at Robinson but it is really hard to listen to them drone on about not enough info and protecting surrey every meeting. So far B7 looks to either cost the same or MORE than b2m.

      I really hope my city doesn’t spend millions of it’s own money to study b7, it would be a huge waste as Balducci said. I would bet when the FEIS comes out b7 looks even worse, and I can’t wait for Surrey to say the numbers were cooked against them.

      1. I don’t know why you guys are always harping on Surrey Downs. They have been part of this process for 4 years. The message that they are bringing is to get clear and concise information after it was proven and admitted by Sound Transit officials that much of the information in the DEIS was incorrect or incomplete.

        The fact is that there are 6 neighborhoods that will be effected by East Link through downtown Bellevue and no one seems to be mentioning anyone else except Surrey Downs. What’s up with that?

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