[UPDATE 10:29pm]: Meeting recap and thoughts are at the very bottom.
[UPDATE 1:41am]: I’m told the meeting finally adjourned close to 1am. Though the council was expected to choose a 112th Avenue option, they did not do so, instead drafting yet another letter to Sound Transit reiterating support for B7. The vote was 4-3, as expected. A disappointing move, considering everyone else outside the magical world of B7 has moved on.
I’m currently at the Bellevue City Council meeting to cover the council’s study session regarding East Link discussion. On the agenda tonight will be reports from the independent B7 studies and some discussion of the 112th options. A large number of B7 supporters are here, and there is word that a petition is to be delivered supporting B7. Follow the stream.
6:14pm: Steve Sarkozy, city manager, introduces a briefing on the B7 studies, giving the context of the current stage in East Link planning. He reminds the council that all the new alternatives that have surfaced since the DEIS will be carried forward into more updated analysis in the SDEIS, and finally the FEIS.
6:17pm: Bernard Van de Kamp, regional projects manager, takes over and introduces the four contracts that were executed to study B7. Potential salmon impacts between B3 and B7 will also be discussed in a report from a Utilities department representative.
Continue reading below the jump.
6:20pm: David Evans, who provided the report for the B7 peer review, comes to the podium to brief the council. Here are a few notes from the slides and his comments: “Overall analysis balanced and consistent…methods generally consistent with industry standards.” There are a few concerns regarding accounting archaeological work and the DEIS’s design renderings. However, Evans states that the level of design is appropriate, and that the DEIS “cost estimate” is a good reflection of [the stage] of conceptual design.
There are also challenges with Mercer Slough challenges, including the depth of peat in the slough and the structural integrity of the older bridges near the I-90/405 interchange. Evans further expounds on challenges with the BNSF right-of-way, including its limited width and sleep slopes, requiring a cut along the ROW, retaining walls, and extensive grading and shoring. All adding “increased costs.” This is not good news for B7 supporters.
Evans also provides points where the FEIS can expand upon.
6:27pm: Don Davidson poses the city’s belief that B7 was not adequately studied, at least to the point B3 was. Evans responds by repeating that his peer review says the DEIS “fairly compares” the alternatives.
6:30pm: John Chelminiak raises concerns about structural movement among the older I-90 bridges if a B7 elevated guideway is built. There seems to be a lot of gray area regarding this issue. Again, bad news for B7 supporters.
6:34pm: Grant Degginger, former mayor and early B3 supporter, clarifies the negative aspects of B7 from Evans, including limited access to the park and ride and the difficulty of rebuilding the BNSF ROW. Evans confirms.
6:37pm: Kevin Wallace tries to pit the homes along Bellevue Way/112th against the homes along 118th Ave (B7) by asking if noise mitigation analysis and cost estimations are fair between the two. Evans doesn’t know much about what ST has done on the issue.
6:39pm: Wallace tries to make B7 look more attractive by relaying information from his “geotechnical engineer advisor”: “Of course you can build through the peat. You just drive piles.” Not surprising, considering there’s a massive freeway through there. Evans responds by saying any construction will be challenged. We know B7 can be built. The question is whether or not it should be.
6:42pm: Conrad Lee makes a big very blanket statement by saying there are still a few things that are “make or break” issues, and that there’s still not enough information.
6:44pm: Lee talks about the downturn economy. Something about not being considered with 10% unemployment. I haven’t a clue what this has to do with B7.
6:45pm: Claudia Balducci addresses the incorrect notion that people thought B7 was unfairly analyzed, calling it good news.
6:49pm: Evans says that the ST DEIS is an “extraordinary EIS” and that he has never seen anything “of that scope.”
6:50pm: Jennifer Robertson asks if the grading, retaining walls, etc. (and subsequent costs) would be necessary if the BNSF ROW was to replaced exclusively with a trail. Evans responds by saying that all you need to do is rip out the ballast and ties, and make access points. Robertson does not seem familiar with rails-to-trails conservancies.
6:53pm: A representative speaking on behalf of the report on the Mercer Slough environmental impacts comes to the table. Trying to get the name. She says B7 is only at about 5% engineering, and B2M at 30% now. She also defines different categories of impacts, between “permanent direct”, “permanent indirect”, and “temporary” impacts. A temporary construction bridge parallel to the elevated guideway would result in a permanent direct impact if in place for more than a year.
7:00pm: The rep emphasizes direct and indirect impacts for both B2m and B7, but the latter would have a huge construction footprint, resulting in numerous permanent direct impacts.
7:03pm: She says that there is a “great deal” of earth cutting if the BNSF ROW is to be renovated for light rail, affirming Evans’ report.
7:05pm: Not surprisingly, the rep cannot say if one alignment is better than the other. This is partly due to B2M being more advanced in engineering.
7:07pm: Mayor Davidson asks if ST has done a good job assessing the wetlands. The representative responds that ST did a “perfectly fine” job.
7:15pm: Claudia Balducci asks if B7 and B3 are being fairly compared, in terms of environmental impacts.
7:17pm: The rep says that it is difficult with any DEIS to make conclusive statements of impacts. She emphasizes that there is no criticism with the EIS, but simply at that stage of planning/engineering, it’s hard to quantify impacts, as with any EIS. A good quote: “This is not Sound Transit trying to skate by.”
7:19pm: Kit Paulsen, a city environmental scientist, takes over to talk about salmon impacts from B2M and B7. Paulsen cuts to the chase and says that while neither is fatally flawed, B7 has more direct impacts than B2M.
7:21pm: Paulsen takes about the seasonal salmon cycles. B7 would have direct impacts near the fish ladder and the south entry of the Slough. B2M would only have direct impacts on a small area in the secondary channel, some kind of an alternative salmon corridor (apologies for the transitspeak).
7:30pm: The council asks a few questions that are more or less not earth shaking. Paulsen goes over the movement of the salmon in the slough in response to a question from Balducci. B2M would only affect a juvenile portion of the fish, while B7 would affect all species.
7:35pm: Van de Kamp turns it over to Ron Leimkuhler, who will talk about the relocated South Bellevue station. He goes over the process overview, which yielded six alternatives, two of which have been selected for additional analysis. All of the alternatives were reviewed with the City, ST, and WSDOT.
7:39pm: Leimkuhler talks about the A-2 Alternative, which would tuck a park and ride into the hillside between 113th Ave SE and the Bellevue Way ramps. It would displace 12 residences, 13 parcels in total. My very brief comments from this morning.
7:41pm: A roundabout north of the park and ride would help “facilitate” traffic access, due to WSDOT restricting a signalized intersection.
7:42pm: Leimkuhler admits that the ideal rail-to-bus connections are impossible with Alternative A-2 and moves on to Alternative C.
7:44pm: Wallace jumps in and tries to compare the fact that the downtown station would not be right under the existing transit center. He hints that a moderately long walk wouldn’t be a huge issue. Why? Of course, but there’s always the Vision Line!
7:45pm: Leimkuhler moves on to Alternative C and talks about how bus-to-rail connections would be made easier, but there would be huge uncertainties. Because the garage would be right over the WSDOT ramps, the ramps would have to categorized as going through a “tunnel,” requiring ventilation, lighting, and other safety measured associated with such. The proximity to the Slough would also result in greater impacts.
7:48pm: Claudia Balducci says that the addition of the station would increase the cost differential between B2 and B7 to close to $200M. Don’t know the exact math, but it’s something huge like that. Bernard Van de Kamp confirms that the number is more or less correct.
7:50pm: Grant Degginger says that the Alternative C parking garage is more or less as big as Bellevue City Hall (7 stories, 400K square feet). He gets up to examine a board with the Alternative C plans and says that it would be pretty much like “building Bellevue City Hall” on top of the ramps.
7:53pm: Degginger asks if the alternative South Bellevue station would slow things down or speed things up with B7. Leimkuhler says that it would 2.7 min for Alternative A-2, and 2.2 min for Alternative C.
7:55pm: Leimkuhler says that Alternative C would have significant impacts on views from homes in Enatai. Even B7 supporters don’t like it.
7:57pm: Don Davidson is requesting that the discussion moves to the larger council chamber to talk about the noise analysis.
We’re breaking to move to the council chambers. Stay tuned.
8:07pm: We’ve all reassembled in the council chambers. The discussion around the noise analysis will be moved to the regular session.
8:11pm: A volunteer of the year award is being presented.
8:14pm: The regular session is commenced with continuing discussion of the South Bellevue alternative locations.
8:15pm: Jennifer Robertson asks if the P&R garage sizes are all comparable. Both alternatives and the plan for the SBPR expansion would all have 1400 parking spaces. She asks how long it would take to build the B2M South Bellevue P&R. Leimkuhler responds roughly 18-24 months. Whether or not the park-and-ride would be fully closed or not during construction, we haven’t confirmed.
8:18pm: John Chelminiak asks for clarification if the new alternatives would be closer to the primary Slough channel than the existing PR. Leimkuhler confirms.
8:20pm: Conrad Lee asks what would happen to the existing park and ride if an alternative was selected. Leimkuhler responds by saying that it is a separate issue that was not covered.
8:30pm: Bernard Van de Kamp goes over segment costs with the new alternatives: The cost differential would be increased by $55M with the A-2 alternative, and $95 with the C alternative. This is assuming the 118th Ave B7 station is dropped. On the other hand, Options 2 and 4 of the 112th/B2M options would save $85-150M, and $75-130M respectively. These are all relative to Sound Transit’s original base costs.
8:35pm: Further discussion revolving additional road lanes to mitigate traffic impacts are being discussed. None of which change the scope of the discussion.
8:36pm: Davidson moves the discussion forward to the noise analysis. Because information has changed since the DEIS, B7 is not included in the review. The DEIS also used noise level models from MAX in Portland, which are lower than what has come from Central Link.
8:38pm: Julie Wiebusch, from the Greenbusch Group, goes over the peer review for the noise analysis. Wiebusch mentions that with mitigation, sound from the trains will actually be lower than the “pre-project ambient.” It doesn’t mean that the trains won’t be heard, but simply that the net sound characteristic will be different.
8:42pm: Wiebusch states that the peer review concludes ST’s concept design report to be in line with “industry standards and best practices.” She goes over ST’s mitigation efforts, which seem “appropriate.” Residential sound insulation would be kind of a “last resort” effort that would insulate interior environment sounds, but not outside space.
8:47pm: Wiebusch believes that though it was “abbreviated,” there was enough study in the concept design report to select a preferred option for 112th. There are apparently no federal regulations regarding bells at light rail crossings. Wiebusch says that ST has the bells policy for safety, and would likely be applicable to East Link.
8:58pm: Out of the six options, Wiebusch believes that Option 4 (retained cut) would best mitigate the noise. ST could also turn off the PA system at night, which would reduce other noise factors.
9:07pm: The council is moving on to oral and written communications. I won’t cover comments unrelated to East Link’s B segment.
9:13pm: Dick Barbiere, executive director of the Red Lion Hotel, who spoke at last week’s capital committee meeting, is at the podium. The Red Lion favors the west-side running alignment (Option 2), which he believes will most fairly compensate everyone equitably.
9:29pm: A representative from the Surrey Downs Community Club complains about the 112th options and that B2M would be “unacceptable.” Interestingly enough, one of the “guiding principles” she lists states that stations should be sited at park and rides or dense employment centers. Hmm…
9:33pm: Mary Collete-Wallace, representative from the Carriage Hills Condos, is speaking in favor of a west-side alignment. She spoke in similar fashion last Thursday.
9:39pm: A representative from the Enatai Neighborhood Association’s light rail committee testifies in favor of B7. This is despite testimony from last Thursday’s Capital Committee meeting that no neighborhood group can fully represent Enatai.
9:42pm: A land use attorney representing the steering committee for the new pro-B7 group speaks about the noise problems with B2M.
9:47pm: Claudia Balducci asks for follow-up from city staff. Mayor Davidson asks her to stop interrupting the oral communications, but Balducci simply responds that factual clarification is necessary and is frequently done during oral communications.
9:47pm: Sharon Lee, from LIHI, who testified last week, speaks against the 2nd Street portal, citing the highest construction risk and impacts. She expounds on her testimony last week that LIHI’s acquired parcel would be taken from the 2nd Street Portal. Quote: “We believe that affordable housing and transit go hand in hand.”
9:51pm: Another representative from the pro-B7 “Build a Better Bellevue” coalition asks for more study, and that existing information is not enough to make a decision. A common motif from B7 supporters. Though she is the fourth person to speak B7, she snakes around the three-person-per-side rule.
9:53pm: Bob Bengford, a B2 supporter, speaks about equity for residents along B7/118th Ave since most of the discussion is about impacts from 112th.
9:55pm: Bill Thurston, from the Bellevue Club, is being cut off for being the fourth pro-Option 2 supporter.
9:57pm: Motion to extend the session to 11pm is approved.
10:05pm: A bunch of people are being cut off now. Rebecca Sears testifies further that the Enatai pro-B7 petition does not represent everyone.
10:07pm: Oral Communications are adjourned. That’s it for East Link discussion. Signing off. Recap is below.
Recap: After Oral Communications, the Council had not made a formal motion to recommend any options. It seems that much of sentiment was that we still need more information. This was particularly true from B7 supporters, as most of the independent studies did not heavily favor that alignment. As always, councilmembers spoke on behalf of their position using information that was relative to their cause. Jennifer Robertson and Kevin Wallace spoke at length about the noise impacts along 112th, as it is better ammunition, if you will, for the pro-B7 side.
For the most part, the studies did not yield anything terribly surprising. Both the B7 and noise analysis peer review concluded that ST was fairly studying each respective issue in line with standards. There was new information brought to light by more uncertain environmental impacts from B7 crossing the Slough, and the sheer amount of work that would need to be done to make the BNSF ROW suitable for light rail.
As far as the alternatives for the relocated South Bellevue P&R, it seemed that no one liked those options. B2 and B7 supporters shook their heads alike, and many Enatai residents who signed the pro-B7 petition were caught by surprise by these very intrusive new options.
As I’ve already said, B7 supporters mostly leveraged their arguments on the noise along 112th, particularly the “unavoidable impacts” that would result in outdoor areas. The noise analysis consultant emphasized that bells at grade crossings would be most problematic, not wheel squeals. While she said there are no current FTA or FRA regulations regarding that issue for light rail, Sound Transit’s policy is to ring them for safety. If that’s the case, this appears to be a case of policy oversight and could be addressed by looking for alternate methods of less noisy crossing signals, since most of us hate the bells anyway.
Overall, the meeting was long and did not yield any substantial information that would otherwise change anyone’s mind. Sound Transit’s Board meets on Thursdays to possibly select an option for 112th Avenue, and we’ll be there to cover it.