Tonight, the Bellevue City Council will discuss the results of a few independent studies it contracted out regarding further analysis of East Link’s B7/BNSF alignment, the City’s “preferred” alternative. Though not an unexpected move, I last balked at a few decisions, including the feasibility of moving the South Bellevue Park & Ride further south to connect with B7 at I-90. As if that was our only concern. Over the weekend, Bellevue city staff released documents that highlighted the reports of these studies. While there was some new information brought to light about small-scale concerns with B7 and the DEIS, the fireworks that the City may have been expecting to launch B7 to stardom were not there.
I think the two studies that are most pertinent to the case for or against B7 are a peer review (PDF) of ST’s B7 analysis in the DEIS, and study of alternative locations (PDF) for the South Bellevue P&R to connect with B7. The first, which essentially scrutinized how equitable of a job Sound Transit did in the DEIS, was prepared by David Evans and Associates, which I’m told is a reputable firm that is actually based very near where a B7 line would run.
The few concerns in the report focused on the station sizes, anticipated demand, and subsequent impacts. Because the DEIS based its park-and-ride sizes off development potential, and not ridership forecasts, the 118th/Wilburton (B7) Station would be oversized, and South Bellevue undersized. In turn, “underestimating impacts” would result at the latter station. Unfortunately, the Evans report assumed that most ridership demand would be generated primarily by auto trips. Because a far greater number of residences are within South Bellevue’s walking buffer, a greater share of ridership at that station would be accounted for by walking and biking than at the 118th station.
We’ve also heard a lot of fluff about the DEIS being flawed intentionally to cast bad light on B7. Here’s what the Evans report had to say:
DEA’s review finds that Sound Transit’s East Link DEIS fairly compares the B7 alignment with other Segment B alternatives. The technical approach and methodologies used to evaluate the environmental impacts of B7 are generally consistent with professional standards in the various disciplines. However, several specific items were identified as lacking, which DEA would typically expect in an EIS analyzing a project as large as East Link……the level of design work appears similar between the B7 and B3 alignments.
The second report, prepared by KPFF, analyzed six different alternatives for a new park-and-ride that would connect to a B7 station at I-90, two of which were carried further for additional analysis. Bear in mind that this would be sited no more than 2000 feet from the existing park and ride at South Bellevue.
The first, Alternative A-2, would stick a $170 million park-and-ride into a pocket of hillside between 113th Ave SE & the Bellevue Way ramps, requiring the displacement of 12 residences. A walkway would connect the garage to the station platform, resulting in moderately long and very long walks between the platforms and both the bus connections and the north end of the garage, respectively.
The second, Alternative C, would be a wild nonstarter from Sound Transit’s perspective. The $210 million station would site a park-and-ride right over WSDOT’s current Bellevue Way ramps, which would add “substantial unplanned costs”, “unpredictability and expense”, and greater environmental impacts due to the “proximity to Mercer Slough Park.” Anyone who has ever biked through the Slough up to the East Channel Bridge also knows that this monster would take the joy out of any ride through the area.
The report has much much more information, which is truly not worth getting into. You can view the full analyses of the other alternatives, along with the technical appendices here (PDF).
While there is a lot of new and re-processed information in these reports, it is clearly evident that there’s nothing stunning that would make B7 any more attractive to Sound Transit than it already is. In particular, the agency has no incentive to luxuriously spend more money on building high-impact stations mere feet away from the footprint of an existing one.
Tonight’s meeting (study session agenda here) will be an important one as it will likely contain discussion revolving around these findings. Furthermore, the council is also expected to discuss the 112th Avenue options, which may inform the Board’s preferred choice on Thursday. Bellevue residents who care about transit have a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate that many residents have moved forward on B2M, and that the city can do the same as well.