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As the Bellevue City Council begins to accept that light rail will run down Bellevue Way and 112th Ave SE, the focus of negotiations is turning to mitigation of the neighborhood impacts. The biggest one is associated with the three at-grade crossings that exist in the preferred “B2M” alignment. There are two street crossings at SE 4th St and SE 8th St; these have bells and crossing gates, disruptive to cars and pedestrians as well as generating noise for safety signals. Where light rail will cross from the east side to the west side of 112th Ave, there is a traffic light and warning bells.

In response to these concerns, Sound Transit came up with revisions to eliminate all the at-grade crossings. The crossing of 112th will move down to SE 15th St and use a flyover, eliminating the at-grade crossing of 112th and also no longer crossing SE 8th at all. At SE 4th, Link will dip into a retained cut, eliminating traffic conflicts. If there’s a tunnel through downtown the stop at SE 8th will have to move to a below-ground location near Main St.

According to ST spokesman Geoff Patrick, this will have the salutary side effect of making the entire East Link alignment grade-separated from the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel to as far as Hospital Station if the downtown tunnel is built. Due to some curves in the track, trains will average around 45 mph through the B segment, but will exceed the street speed limit. It also means that trains in this segment are only limited in frequency by sharing space in the DSTT with Rainier Valley trains, rather than by the limitations of at-grade signaling.

The bad news is that this will add to project cost, although ST staff hasn’t worked out the precise numbers yet. This aggravates the value engineering that ST is already doing to match costs to revenues. These changes may be approved at the July 28th Sound Transit board meeting.

55 Replies to “Minor Changes to the South Bellevue Link Alignment”

  1. of course this is all moot if the Eynman / Freeman initiative passes right?

    1. Maybe. If it does — and there are a LOT of big-hitting groups coming out against it — expect years of litigation culminating in it being struck down at the Supreme Court.

      I would actually be more concerned about a future McKenna administration refusing to lease the lanes to ST.

      1. I think my friend’s boss RMK will have a lot more to worry about in 2013 than micromanaging Sound Transit. Besides, he’s not anti-transit the way Lieyman is.

        Frankly, I expect Lieyman’s initiative to pass, the courts to kill it and the pussialianimous (sp?) legislature to override the courts. Although I’ll vote against Lieyman, that’s how the system works.

      2. pusillanimous is the proper spelling of the word. It means, “lacking courage or resolution; cowardly; faint-hearted; timid.”

        Perfect for our excuse of a state legislature. No guts to face voters on taxes, no guts to stand up to Tim Lieyman, no guts to set priorities, and so on.

      1. Sue until they get put back on-limits. Eyman has a pathetic track-record of his idiotic initiatives being thrown out by the courts.

      2. This would be a good opportunity for the phase gates mentioned on the S 200th St post. ;-)

        East Link has to be on I-90. There’s not nearly enough funding (or voter approval) for a new bridge, and taking 520 would be a completely different alignment for the entire system. Same problem with going south to Renton and then north again to Bellevue. If it can’t be built on I-90, it can’t be built. I’d assume that’s why Kemper Freeman is attacking it there.

    2. What I am hearing from my sources at WSDOT is that WSDOT and ST officials are not concerned about the initiative because of the memorandum with the federal government. The court is highly likely to invalidate the initiative.

  2. I can’t view the linked document.

    112th seems like a perfect candidate for at-grade running. Does Bellevue not realize they have to pay for this unnecessary placation?

  3. This is not “unnecessary placation”. How many of you HATE the slow at-grade running on MLK? I know I do. It would be GREAT to have an at-grade transit corridor on MLK, just not this particular one. It’s much more suitable to a street-car/tram sort of service, not a regional Light Metro trunk line.

    The same sort of “why in the world are they making me stop for random signal malfunctions on this detour when I’ve ridden from Federal Way” will be raised for people riding from Redmond on 112th.

    These are significant improvements.

    1. “How many of you HATE the slow at-grade running on MLK?”

      Less than I’d hate like not being built at all, or being built down 99 through the Duwamish.

    2. The at-grade slowdown is a couple minutes. The detour to Rainier Valley via the Beacon Hill tunnel is five minutes. If Federal Way and Tacoma riders eventually insist on a faster trip, it will more likely be accomplished by a SODO bypass track than by redoing MLK.

      Still, if the new south Bellevue plan works out, many will be kicking themselves that they didn’t come up with similar solutions for MLK, if only to allow more dependable headway in the tunnel and to allow it to be used for other lines.

  4. This is GREAT news. Link is our transit system for the next 50 years. We shouldn’t be afraid to spend money now to build it right.

    1. Except 20-30 years after Link opens it will be time to replace the floating bridge. That is if it doesn’t sink during construction which is the most common mode of failure for these temporary pontoon bridges.

  5. If these changes reduce travel time through south Bellevue by a couple minutes, then it is not really increasing the cost of the line. It is saving operating costs by spending more on the front end in capital costs. Why would such a pro-ridership tradeoff be bad?

    1. The downside is that we’re already short on front end capital to pay for it. I agree that it’s better in the long term, but we have to find the money now.

  6. I love grade separation and think these are solid changes, but I have to wonder if S Bell residents will really prefer the aesthetic blight of a 112th flyover to the noise of bells. How long before they come out against this too? And if these changes raise costs almost to B7 levels, that backhandedly rewards Bellevue’s recalcitrance by undoing ST’s good work in matching costs and revenues. If forced to choose I’d rather work for C9T than blow extra money on B2M.

    1. If Bellevue wants these changes and a downtown tunnel badly enough, don’t you think they’d be willing to pass an $80 car tab to pay for them. ;)

    2. I’m most concerned about the noise of 45 mph elevated trains on Surrey Downers’ sensitive ears. Noise has been the biggest problem in the other elevated segments, and while ST has supposedly mitigated it (I don’t live in those areas so I can’t say), it is requiring the regular spraying of lubricant, which is both non-durable and presumably made from petroleum.

      1. While there has been some problems with grinding or “screeching” on curves in various places, overall the noise emitted by Link is very low and is lower than the road noise from 4 lanes of traffic.

      2. The noise issues is mostly at sharp turns, which this segment won’t have minus the turn into downtown Bellevue, which under either C11A or C9T would likely be well mitigated due to the hillside.

      3. The other big problem in the the RV was putting switches in unballasted track. ST publicly ‘fessed up to that one and publicly stated it was a “design that would not be repeated”.

    3. aesthetic blight of a flyover

      Eh? They won’t even notice it in five years — whereas they’ll certainly still notice the bells…

  7. Accounting exercise: add the entire cost of dealing with grade-level crossing collisions on the MLK stretch of Central LINK for the last two years, and project them through project life.

    Result will be less complaint about grade separation for Bellevue and more effort to find money to build flyovers or undercuts between Mt. Baker and Rainier Beach stations.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Of course, if you project any significant ongoing cost over 100+ years you’ll find that any up-front capital cost is cheaper. The question is what we can afford now (or, in the case of Central Link, could afford in 2005-2009). Also, in the case of the RV, the Save Our Valley people weren’t going to let ST build elevated, and there was no option to build at-grade but separate from the road, as there is in Bellevue. The alternative was elevated down 99, which is an outcome no transit advocate should want.

      In the spectrum of doable possibilities, at-grade down MLK was the least worst at the time, and it will do fine for a couple of decades until the RV becomes dense enough and/or South King ridership becomes strong enough to grade-separate MLK or build a bypass down 99.

    2. Grade separation should be a basic requirement in the planning, or at minimum the at-grade cost estimate should include the cost of future collisions and wasted time. That’s the only way to compare the various alignments fairly.

      However, I must say again that the MLK segment is performing better than I feared. Trains rarely stop outside stations anymore, and they’re travelling almost as fast as cars. Given that MLK is built, it’s better than not having it. But that doesn’t erase the fact that it prevents Link from reaching its potential, both in speed and in frequency. North Link by my estimate will reach Lynnwood and Everett faster than ST Express. South Link reaches TIB just as ST Express reaches Federal Way. South Link scores better if you grant it an 8-minute handicap and recognize that it makes up in frequency what it loses in speed. Still, the impact of surface alignments is greater than people admit.

      If a Duwamish bypass track is built, presumably Link will switch to it, and the Rainier Valley segment would be replaced by an ID-to-TIB “express streetcar”.

      1. Or, for rather less money than miles of guideway down the Duwamish, you could close the non-arterial streets crossings across MLK, build accessible pedestrian bridges at those places, and then grade-separate the arterial crossings, giving you higher ridership at lower cost.

      2. Reply to Bruce,

        If you do those things you build a wall through the community. My sister used to live in Lombard Illinois in the 1950’s. We went to visit her several times from our then home in Minneapolis and even as a young boy I noticed the way that the CA&E interurban split the town.

        Because it used third rail but was at-grade like Link it too had fences on both sides and infrequent pedestrian crossings. The town definitely had an “other side of the tracks” even though it was a suburb.

        It’s already hard to cross MLK on foot; if you build “accessible pedestrian bridges” you’ll make it all the more difficult and circuitous.

        MLK is a great infrastructure for a relatively speedy tram system which can operate with grade crossings. If you do what you propose, though, you’ll harm the community.

      3. MLK & Rainier already has pedestrian bridges. Spend an hour or so watching to see how many pedestrians use it, vs. the number crossing at-grade.

      4. I see what you’re saying. If we did build a bypass, a fast tram on MLK would be very awesome, especially if it meant we could finally fill the gaps at Graham St, and 133rd in Tukwila, being relieved of the need to provide fast service to downtown for commuters.

      5. Graham and 133rd mainly come down to money. Two more stations there won’t make much difference to the travel time; it’s if you add several more stations to Link that it becomes a problem.

    3. I’ll remind you there have been far fewer collisions on the MLK segment than predicted in the EIS and operating plan.

  8. Doesn’t this mean we could order driverless trains if the DSTT becomes rail-only? (For the North-East segment).

  9. This is great news! Now let’s just get the Bel-Red corridor grade-separated, too, and we’ll be on our way to a completely grade-separated line! (We can worry about the Redmond portion later)

    1. Only part of the Bel-Red corridor is at-grade running, and I think it only passes through 3 or 4 signals.

      1. That’s 3 or 4 signals too many. Especially if we expect it to become a dense, vibrant neighborhood in the future.

        Even if Bel-Red doesn’t happen, I’m happy that it may at least be completely grade-separated all the way from Downtown Seattle to Downtown Bellevue.

  10. I like it, build it somehow and find the money. This is one of those situations that if you don’t build it initially you’ll be doing a Homer Simpson DOH! for the next 30 years. Sometimes I’ll be buying something and I’ll save $50 by going with a cheaper version but ultimately replace it by the other one anyway as I find out after using it that it was worth it. Build it right to start with.

  11. That’s not true. There is no need for an elevated right of way through the Duwamish area. The strip of land between freeway and the BNSF tracks is PERFECT for a high-speed at-grade trackway. There is only one level crossing between Albro Place and Boeing Access Road (at Rose Street). The street is already a little depressed to get under the freeway so it’s not a difficult thing to either depress it further or raise the tracks a little. The rest of the 2 and a half miles is all free at-grade operation.

    Grant, it doesn’t serve the Boeing facility; I’m thinking of it more as an express access for deep South King County and Pierce County riders. It also provides a great way to use the capacity from North Link more efficiently. The current plan is to run “turn-backs” to and from Henderson, but there is no need for more than one four car train every 15 minutes on MLK if the south end and airport riders are taking the express route. Now there are certainly people who want to ride from the Rainier Valley to the airport, so the trains that serve MLK should continue to Sea-Tac while the expresses to South King take the Airport Way shortcut.

    The downside is that headways out of Sea-Tac would not be even, because the headways through the tunnel have to be consistent and in the middle of the day that will mean every fifteen minutes for each southern/eastern branch. Since it will take about seven minutes longer for the MLK trains to travel between the airport and downtown every fifteen minutes there’ll be an express and either two or twelve minutes later a local will originate. It would be better for the local to “clean up” people who miss the express rather than lead it by three minutes.

    To make this happen, though, ST needs to buy a strip of land north of Albro between the freeway and railroad tracks. There are only a couple of buildings near South Dakota that will need demolition, and they can certainly remain for a dozen years until South Link pushes south of Midway.

    The loop around the MF makes a great interlocking on the north and the south interlocking could be non-crossing by having the southbound track rise up to cross the railroad tracks and Boeing Access north of the interchange while having the northbound track break off right at the south end of the curve and drop down to hug the east to north roadway of the interchange, stay low under the rail ROW and then join the southbound track when it lands.

    If Boeing is still going strong at that time, a station at 115th could serve a shuttle. It doesn’t seem likely though. The old parking lot across the waterway is essentially abandoned now; it’s used to park derelict trailers. CAD software makes gives one engineer the productivity of five or six of them twenty years ago.

    1. Sorry. This was a reply to Bruce’s comment “The alternative was elevated down 99, which is an outcome no transit advocate should want”.

    2. The context of the original question was in the original build-out of Central Link. I stand by the idea that it would have been horrifying stupid to bypass the RV — it’s the only population center between the I.D. and Tukwila.

      I do see now that it’s cheap, and I stand corrected on the need for elevation, but if it doesn’t serve Boeing or Georgetown I don’t see the point in building it. Aren’t there better things we could do with North King money? Build to Ballard, for example?

      Looking towards the future, there’s a fundamental issue at work here, namely that demand to the south is weak. ST predicts 4.5k riders from S 200th St in the brochure. I can’t find it offhand, but assume those numbers are for full ST2 build-out, 2030. We shall still be working on Highline Station and the North Corridor by then, unless massive new taxing authority comes out of the legislature soon AND we manage to pass it at the ballot.

      But suppose we’ve somehow built out ST2 fully, you’re proposing we build a bypass to slightly speed up the trips of maybe 10k daily riders, when we could get more riders that to Ballard, which has no rail at all. I admit this poses operational challenges in further unbalancing headways between north and south. But that’s where the riders are.

      In 20 years, the urban and political landscape may look different. The city’s big plans for the North Rainier urban village may have paid off and that may have become a big job center, with Mount Baker providing solid all-day demand. If the current economic pattern persists, where the city is booming and the suburbs treading water, the importance of bypassing the RV may wane compared to other possible North King projects.

      Of course, something totally different might happen, but the more I think about it, the less I see a case for a bypass, absent unexpectedly huge ridership growth from the south.

      1. It occurs to me after writing all this that such a bypass could be done with South King money. In that case I have no major objection to a bypass, as it doesn’t detract from North King.

        You’re still going to need massive new taxing authority to build this section of track, plus all the track authorized in ST2 that isn’t going to get built due to the collapse in South King revenues, PLUS all the extra track to Tacoma that provides the ridership for this bypass to pencil out.

      2. Bruce,

        You make very good points about the need for passengers. However, the predicted growth in the Puget Sound region has to go somewhere and I believe the relatively empty area from 220th to 288th is a great place for it to occur. But I really don’t think it will happen there without a speedy line to link it to places north. A bypass will provide a similar experience for South King and Pierce riders that North King riders will get south of the University and east-siders will have across the bridge: a long run whizzing by cars snagged in traffic. Link cannot be both an urban tram and a regional Light Metro. It simply doesn’t work to mix the two jobs.

        Now, MLK is a great place for some of that buildout to happen, too. Since the structure for Link exists there is good cause to build out the nodes along it. You mention the possibility of offices around Mt. Baker Station. Perhaps that will happen because of the proximity to I-90.

    3. Hopefully Boeing will be building our trains by then. If Bombardier can build trains, so can Boeing.

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