East Link

On Tuesday Monday night, the Bellevue City Council met once again to continue ongoing East Link discussion, albeit mostly revolving around the B7/BNSF route.  Oral communications were taken initially with comments from Will Knedlik, a longtime Sound Transit critic, and three other citizens who more or less testified against the City continuing to pursue B7.  Knedlik did not talk specifically about East Link, but urged Bellevue to take the lead on subarea equity in refunding $350 million of prematurely issued bonds which would ultimately scrape more money into the East subarea.  The real fireworks did not start until council discussion, which is below the jump.

For rough notes and minutes taken in real-time, I’ve attached a spare PDF here.  You can also view the meeting in its entirety on BTV.  You can find our background and rundown on East Link here.

The study session was potentially one of the most divisive and heated discussions about East Link to date.  It was quickly revealed that the study session packet’s (PDF) “scope of work” (Attachment 9) originally intended to act as a framework for discussion was actually part of a larger proposal submitted by Bill Popp, a longtime critic of Sound Transit.  Both John Chelminiak and Grant Degginger, pro-B2 councilmembers, became visibly frustrated at the idea of outside consultants writing the study session packet materials, let alone transit foes.

When Degginger asked who specifically requested the proposal, it turned out that Kevin Wallace had been in “ongoing discussion” with Popp.  Part of Popp’s proposal also included a letter, which also happened to mention a Jim MacIsaac, who some of you may know has been a blatant opponent of light rail.  Neither Popp nor MacIsaac’s names were mentioned in the “scope of work” that was ultimately included in the study session packet, causing both John Chelminiak and Claudia Balducci to question why the identity of those individuals were not revealed.

For the rest of the study session, the pro-B2 councilmembers continued to express concerns about the “scope of work” ultimately leading to Degginger’s questioning of whether or not the alignment in question was still B7.  Several elements of the alignment include:

  • Addition of A-2 Park & Ride (our concerns here)
  • Possible suspension bridge over Mercer Slough in place of pile-supported bridge
  • Elimination of a BNSF corridor trail to make B7 easier to construct
  • Potential accommodation of future freight service

None of these concerns were addressed directly, as the pro-B7 councilmembers simply continued to either praise the idea of B7 (avoiding neighborhoods) or desire further study.  By far, councilmembers Balducci, Chelminiak, and Degginger had the most substantive questions regarding the “scope of work,” many of which went unanswered.

Degginger continued to ask how much an “apples to apples” comparison would cost in bringing up B7 to B2m level engineering.  City Manager Steve Sarkozy answered that a basic adoption of the scope of work would cost roughly $200k, whereas a full advancement of engineering would cost up to $3 million and potentially 9 months work.  That’s neither time nor money the City has.

Despite the tentativeness of information and discussion, the Mayor ultimately called for a vote of a motion that would instruct the staff to come back with scope of work that looks at “B7-C9T with modifications that would improve ridership, analyze cost, look at the A-2 station, move the alignment east off the Greenbaum site, eliminate that station, run along frontage road with at-grade and elevated options, with a tunnel portal at Sheraton if at-grade or at 111th Ave if elevated.”

The motion passed 4-3, along the same lines as previous votes.

Whether or not the council pursues further study may not matter, considering that the City is using information prepared by individuals known to oppose Sound Transit.  Should the agency take it as a slap in the face, the City will likely lose its chance of getting the C9T tunnel, the only thing the council unanimously agrees on.  Bellevue only has $270K remaining in its East Link study fund, precious money that could be well spent on mitigation efforts over fantasy alignments that will likely not happen.

28 Replies to “ST Critic Helping Direct Bellevue’s East Link Discussion”

  1. How does this relate to the previous accusations of violating open meetings laws? Could outsourcing the creation of material intended to guide discussion be construed as an attempt to circumvent open meetings laws and hide the city’s dealings?

    1. I’ve been trying to look up any violations this might constitute, but it’s out of my field of expertise. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a third party provide materials, but it’s certainly not ethical, not when that third party has, in the words of John Chelminiak, “an axe to grind” against ST.

      1. While it is certainly sleazy to be shaping “unbiased” public policy by meeting in secret only with avowed critics of said policy, it probably isn’t a violation of the open meeting laws (Unless, of course, a majority of the council attended these secret side meetings).

        However, if certain council members are meeting and/or communicating with these critics in order to shape public policy, then those meetings and communications are public records and are subject to public record requests.

        An interested reporter or citizen has every right to request the records of all council calls, call logs, texts, etc related to planning B7. It’s a matter of law.

      2. The attachment 9 in the above link mentioned by you refers to“B7-C9T with modifications” it does not mean anything about C14E.

        But your explanation or the degginger, chellminiak explanation is portraying like the scope of work is for C14E .EXAMPLE from the pdf provided above:(“Refers to a bunch of failed proposals: C14E, B7M, A-2, etc”).

    2. Interpreting the Open Public Meetings Act is somewhat difficult due to it’s vagueness in some areas and the large amount of case law involved. However it does not appear that the OPMA has been violated in this case. OPMA only requires notice of a meeting to be published, not for an agenda or meeting materials to be published. Also, so long as the Council does not take action outside of an open meeting, or a quorum does not discuss Council business via email or telephone (i.e. not in a public meeting), then no violation occurs.

      So in this case there doesn’t appear to be any kind of legal issue. As Sherwin points out though there certainly appears to be an ethical issue. It is also possible that the way these materials were presented may have violated the Council’s Rules of Procedure, but I don’t know what those are exactly.

      The WA Attorney General’s office maintains a nice little website concerning Open Government.

  2. Everybody knows about Will Knedlik’s oftentime bizarre antics. But it looks like Bill Popp also engages in “full contact” transportation planning http://www.newcastle-news.com/2008/06/05/seeligs-city-remain-at-odds-over-land-for-transit-center

    “She made one more attempt, but he pushed her again, nudged her aside,” Starbard said. “At that point, we asked an officer to come into the room and explain to Mr. Popp that there was the potential he had committed a misdemeanor and was disturbing a peaceful assembly.”

  3. This is just getting stupid. Are these public servants honestly representing their constituents? I mean, look! The train is coming up Bellevue Way to 112th ….

  4. If you look through attachment 8 on the PDF detailing Bellevue’s expenditures there sure are a lot of $49,xxx amounts. Is there a 50k trigger for some sort of increased contract review or approval?

    Also, the “scope of work” is hilarious. Regarding potential contamination of the existing BNSF railway: “Reestimate or eliminate the $2.8M Hazmat allowance in B7 capital cost esimate”. That’s one way to reduce costs! Just instruct the consultant that it won’t exist.

    1. “If you look through attachment 8 on the PDF detailing Bellevue’s expenditures there sure are a lot of $49,xxx amounts. Is there a 50k trigger for some sort of increased contract review or approval?”

      Patrick, this stunt has been used by unethical politicians for years. Back in 2001, rail critic Maggie Fimia pulled the same stunt to manufacture the numbers KC Council Republicans + Fimia wanted to keep Link out of the DSTT. Interesting to note that the same kingmaker (Kemper Freeman) was pulling the same strings back then:


      People for Modern Transit (PMT), an organization of transportation professionals and advocates blasted the Chair of the King County Council’s Transportation Committee, Maggi Fimia, for authorizing a deeply flawed report at taxpayer expense. PMT released an analysis of the report that was authored by DMJM+Harris, a New York-headquartered engineering firm. Entire report is available at the bottom of this page.

      Fimia authorized the contract for one dollar below the $25,000 threshold that would have required full Council approval. The report ignored safety considerations, failed to analyze accident scenarios and completely ignored requirements for loading passengers with disabilities. Handicapped passengers are required to be accommodated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In addition, over a dozen errors in calculations were discovered in the report.

  5. According to the cost estimate, they consider 5200ft of existing BNSF rail line.But actually after the I-405 tunnel removal is only 2250 ft of rail track left behind.So, I think there is a significant chance of cost reduction there.

  6. Let them have their B-7 alignment, but let it be an electrified busway with dual-mode articulated vehicles. That removes the hassles about using the center lanes for rail but keeps it for a two-way busway. Let them collect and distribute on the Third Avenue wire downtown.

    Such a plan more closely aligns the costs for eastside trunk line transit with the likely sales tax revenues collected over the next couple of decades. (Don’t expect North Link to go farther than Northgate in your lifetimes, either). This recession is going to grind on long after the Republicans succeed in impeaching or defeating President Obama. And it’s going to cut deeper into wealthy suburbs like Bellevue as energy costs inexorably rise and people downsize out of necessity.

    Face it, people, Seattle waited too long to get on the train. The door is slamming shut with only the rump line down MLK to the airport and a little of the tunnel to the U-District dug.

    We here in Washington have weathered the recession better than other far western states, but the manure is about to hit the air impeller. Just today the Governor announced across the board cuts of seven percent in state employment. Of course Bailo is cheering but the people who actually understand what it means are looking at the smoking wreck that is California’s government and saying “OMFG! This is us in five years!”

    Besides, you don’t really expect Speaker TanMan to honor the Federal “commitment” to Sound Transit, do you? Even if Dino (long “i”) Rossisauer (the Senator from Concrete) wins, the hate with which the rest of the country views “The Peoples’ Soviet of Washington” means we will be at the end of whatever Federal gravy train remains. The gravy will be going to Mississippi defense contractors, Texas oil companies, and Iowa farmers, not “toy trains”.

    1. Thanks for the uplifting moment. Unfortunately, you’ve about nailed it as revenues whither and die, while expectations continue unabated. Just wait until helium is depleted in a couple of decades, and then there’s nothing left to keep the balloons up there, except hot air.

    2. “Face it, people, Seattle waited too long to get on the train. The door is slamming shut with only the rump line down MLK to the airport and a little of the tunnel to the U-District dug.”

      Say what? The funding for ST2 is in place. It may be delayed, but all the rail promised will be delivered. That’s how it works, no matter how much you personally might want BRT.

      1. No, it’s not. The local share has already fallen by 15% and is certain to shrink further. The Republicans are about to take over Congress, and these are NOT your father’s infrastructure Republicans. Any given Congress and any given administration is not bound by the actions of a predecessor.

        These new folks sincerely believe that nobody but white Americans with ancestors in the country for at least two generations deserve ANY sort of support from the government and damn little of that. They HATE collective action; public transit is that in spades.

        Why do you think they’re so anti public education? Yes, some of it is a sort of embarrassingly repulsive jealousy of the teachers’ unions. But most of it is simply because half the kids in school now don’t look like them.

        And just for the record I don’t want BRT. I know all the advantages of rail transit; lower labor costs, greater ridership attraction, more TOD. But the people on the east side seem Hell bent of keeping trains out of downtown and south Bellevue, so a BRT line with electric dual-mode vehicles might just be the right technology for them. It can have its own ROW between downtown Bellevue and downtown Seattle and run on surface streets east and north of the Bellevue CBD.

        It’s probably all that can be afforded, and at least it’s electrically powered.

        And not to be too ghoulish, but I think that with the permanently higher unemployment in store for the nation, the cost of labor is going to fall relative to capital costs, so the BRT/LRT cost-benefit equation will change.

    3. “Seattle waited too long to get on the train. The door is slamming shut with only the rump line down MLK to the airport and a little of the tunnel to the U-District dug.”

      None of us knows the future. The trends are bad but trends aren’t everything. Did you ever imagine in 2000 that 2010 would look like this? Did you imagine in 1990 that 2000 would look like it did? In any case, you have to know your goals and keep working towards them. If you do, you might achieve them. If you don’t, you definitely won’t. Yes, Seattle should have built rapid transit in the 1950s. But better late than never.

      There are two different problems: one is the lack of jobs, and the other is the right wing’s bent on destroying government and going back to the wild west. The jobs thing is solvable as soon as people realize the necessity of building renewable energy plants on a massive scale, retrofitting houses for efficiency, and building the transit infastructure that Europe and Asia have been building since the 1970s (the last oil shock). As for the right wing’s fantasy, one can only hope it’ll fizzle out someday. It’s one thing to vote against other people’s cancer treatments. It’s another thing when you get cancer.

      The real big problem will be if oil gets too expensive too quickly, before we can build an alternative-energy, local-food, high-capacity transit, and dense-neighborhood infrastructure. Because all of these things depend on oil to build. Otherwise, if they can’t be built fast enough, then you have a collapse of civilization and perhaps the US will be no more. But let’s wait until this proves itself more before assuming it will happen.

      1. Actually, in 2000 I did expect the bust. Not just because of the Nasdaq crash, either. Grant, I’m a bit of a perennial pessimist, but there’s a lot to the old saw “if something is unsustainable, it won’t continue”. Our import-obsessed economy is unsustainable. In fact, I’m surprised it took eight years to implode. And no, it’s not because Bush was president, though he was pretty much asleep at the switch.

        The real reason for the bust was debt, debt, debt all over. Debt, debt, and more debt.

        It has to be paid back or inflated away. Now grant, inflating it away is mighty enticing, but it produces permanent distortions that thwart healthy incentives for people to save. So we need to pay it back and it’s no longer “just owed to ourselves”, unfortunately. The money to amortize the debts for those big-screen TV’s and the wars of retribution in the Middle East will permanently leave the country. The burden of that debt will produce the same sort of grinding recession that has held Japan in its grip for two decades.

        Now Japan was an incredibly rich nation in the private sector when its depression started — and it included nearly everyone in the country — so they have been able to weather the downturn in pretty darn good shape. The US, not so much. A significant portion of our society has little to negative personal wealth so there’s nothing to tide them over. The government is pretty much tapped out and people are hostile to further support, so a good part of society with become homeless and face difficulties feeding themselves. The homes they used to inhabit will drag down everyone else’s. That’s a major reason that deflation is so debilitating.

        So all those extremely valuable and desirable actions you outlined that we could be and should have been taking will get squeezed out by the needs of day to day existence. If we couldn’t or wouldn’t invest the money to remake our energy economy when we were rolling in dough, what in the world would make the selfish half of our population agree to it now?

      2. Yes, I knew in the mid 2000s that the bubble would burst (and it’s incredible that Alan Greenspan didn’t), but I was not alive during the Depression and my parents were just born near the end of it so I didn’t know what a bursting would look like or what would be affected, and none of us knew exactly when or how. As for 2000 itself, there was a dotcom recession in 2001, and I believe it would have resolved itself in a couple years if the real-estate/low-interest bubble had not prematurely superceded it (which made the eventual crash worse). But there were still long-term problems building up from the 1990s of course.

        As for electric BRT on the East Link line: what’s really missing in the 550 is 15-minute service evenings and Sundays, and a fast path through the bridge traffic. South Bellevue Way is not that big a deal traffic-wise. Neighborhood streets would slow down a bus significantly from SE 8th to Redmond (except on Bel-Red Rd itself which is pretty reasonable), but if the bus were truly frequent, it would be better than the Eastside has ever had. Although maybe the Bellevue-Redmond segment would be abandoned because RapidRide B is nearby, and because buses on long lines tend to be late. That would throw cold water on Bellevue’s Bel-Red development plans, but those are still unbuilt anyway and can be handled with future transit.

        Surrey Downs would object to trolley wires in their neighborhood (!), but maybe we could send Wallace to them with some cupcakes to say, “It’s not a train.”

        But the roadway under the bus wheels would have to be maintained, and ashpalt comes from oil. As do the buses’ rubber tires, by the way…

    4. Changing from rail to bus would probably require a revote, as it’s substantially different than what the voters were told. Would East Link just be on hold until ST3?

  7. Just build it already. Ultimately the local politicians and blowhards in Bellevue don’t matter. We The People regionwide voted for the rail system regionwide, and that includes Bellevue. Start laying tracks so it becomes too big to stop!

  8. Does anyone have any insight into the move by GNP Railway to re-establish freight on the corridor and its link to Wallace Properties?

    It would seem to me that GNP is looking to leverage the anti East Link feeling in Bellevue to obtain freight rights on the corridor AND the anti East Link crowd in Bellevue is looking to leverage GNP’s position as a common carrier to force Sound Transit (and regional officials) to the B7 alignment. Additionally, GNP could benefit by qualifying for the $50m private/public partnership money in ST2.

    Why do I think this?

    In its petition to the Surface Transportation Board (STB) for Vacation of Interim Trail Use (the first step in reactivating freight on the corridor), GNP includes a letter of support by Robert C. Wallace, CEO of Wallace Properties. As many of you are aware, Kevin Wallace President of Wallace Properties and outspoken East Link B7 advocate, is Bob Wallace’s son. It would appear that GNP is looking to become gate-keeper for the eastside rail corridor and the Wallace family is using them to control any/all Sound Transit investment in the corridor.

    Given his company’s now stated interest in the corridor, in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety, wouldn’t it be appropriate for Council Member Wallace to recuse himself from further discussions of the B7 alignment.

    (The petition for Vacation of Interim Trail Use be found on the STB website under filings for docket #’s AB_6_463_X AB_6_465_X – Wallace’s statement can be found under Docket # FD_35407_0. There has been conjecture that it is only a matter of time before GNP petitions the STB for reestablishment of freight service all the way to Tukwila.)

    1. (There has been conjecture that it is only a matter of time before GNP petitions the STB for reestablishment of freight service all the way to Tukwila.)

      Realistically, the only way a freight rail bridge over I-405 will ever be constructed is if BNSF or WSDOT decides that bypassing freight traffic around Seattle is absolutely necessary; it’s more likely that Stampede Tunnel would get enlarged for double-stack traffic before the entire Woodinville Sub is reconstructed to 286k mainline standards. BNSF already serves the Tukwila-Renton segment of the Woodinville Sub and there are no existing industries — nor any areas to develop new ones — between Renton and Bellevue, so it’s pointless for GNP to attempt to provide service south of Wilburton Bridge.

      1. Wasn’t the Port’s interest in the BNSF corridor so that the railroad could use the money they got to work on the Stampede tunnel clearance issue?

        I don’t think there were any industrial users south of Bel-Red Road/NE 12th Street, so GNP wouldn’t have any need to go through most of the ROW that ST wants to use.

        According to the STB, the Wallaces are involved with one of the industries in Redmond:

        includes a statement in support of its petition from Wallace/Knutsen L.L.C., owner of the
        industrial park located on the Redmond Spur. In anticipation of reactivation of rail
        service on the Redmond Spur, Wallace/Knutsen L.L.C. has leased to GNP an unused rail
        spur that crosses the industrial park and connects to the Redmond Spur.

      2. Wasn’t the Port’s interest in the BNSF corridor so that the railroad could use the money they got to work on the Stampede tunnel clearance issue?

        Initially, yes, but then the economy soiled its collective diaper, railroad traffic volumes plummeted, and BNSF found that they no longer needed to relieve capacity on the Scenic and Fallbridge Subs (Seattle-Everett-Wenatchee and Vancouver-Wishram-Pasco, respectively) by increasing clearances through Stampede Tunnel. Is it still a long-term goal to do that? Yup, but short-term it’s going to take investment of state funds to make it happen because right now BNSF no longer has any profit motive for doing the work themselves.

  9. Look back at the history of the East Lake Sammamish trail and you will see that a similar move was tried to block construction of the trail there.

    I’ve heard, but can’t confirm, that all the former BNSF users were paid by BNSF as part of the abandonment of the corridor. So this seems like a double-dip.

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