by JOHN CHELMINIAK
One of the most mentioned advantages of East Link’s B7 (cross-slough/BNSF route) is that it provides the guideway for a future connection to the Eastgate Park & Ride and Issaquah. It’s a common theme at open houses, testimony to government boards, and a favorite talking point of the Build a Better Bellevue crowd, both citizens and Bellevue City Council members alike. Frankly, it’s one of the few strong arguments for the BNSF route. Build one guideway and you are ready to go east in the future.
However, the east side of the Mercer Slough is a steep ridge. It starts with 118th Ave SE, goes up to the BNSF ROW, and then climbs in a set of tiers containing the I-90 and I-405 ramps and finally I-405 itself. Standing near the BNSF right of way and looking up, it finally hit me.
You can’t get across from there.
Light rail is limited to a grade of about five percent or one vertical foot per twenty horizontal feet. I asked city staff to look at what it would take to get light rail from the new B7-R proposed park-and-ride (A-2) in the South Enatai neighborhood across 405. The LRT tracks would tower 153 feet above the eastern edge of the Slough to clear the freeway. That’s the height of Bellevue’s first high-rise structure, the Paccar Building.
I then asked– could you tunnel from the proposed B7-R guideway? There is only 330 horizontal feet from 118th Ave SE to the BNSF ROW. Quick math says the track could descend about 15 feet, which would plow right through the ROW. Quite the speed bump for new GNP trains! So that would mean going back west, almost all the way across the slough, and building a second guideway to hit the sweet spot for a tunnel portal between 118th SE and the BNSF ROW. Oops, there’s a major Metro sewer line from the Eastside to the Renton Treatment plant buried right in that area.
The bottom line is it’s impossible to go directly east on the proposed B7 guideway. So let’s take the Issaquah connection out of the talking points. Using the BNSF still goes a mile-and-a-half out of the way to use a mile-and-a-quarter of railroad bed. And it still costs $140 million more than the Bellevue Way route.
Let’s concentrate on what’s already been promised: a line serving Mercer Island, South Bellevue, Downtown Bellevue, Bel-Red, Overlake and on to Redmond. The Eastgate and Issaquah markets might be better served by an Eastside route connecting with Bellevue, Kirkland, and the Totem Lake area. And let’s be thinking where a great transfer point would be to connect up new lines. That’s a vision grounded in reality.
John Chelminiak is currently completing his second term on the Bellevue City Council. He lives in the Vuecrest Neighborhood just west of downtown Bellevue.