The Sound Transit board on Thursday officially selected an alignment for East Link, which services the South Bellevue Park and Ride, and also tunnels under downtown Bellevue. The line will be entirely grade-separated from the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel to Hospital Station in Bellevue.
There are still some gates to pass through before we can be sure that this alignment will happen. The City of Bellevue and Sound Transit have to sign a final, binding agreement. Bellevue has to actually produce the $160m they’ve committed to the tunnel, and Sound Transit has to find about $150m.
The uncertainty about how ST will fund its share prompted the two no votes in the 15-2 decision, King County Councilman Larry Phillips and Mayor Mike McGinn. One possibility brought up in the meeting is to find funds in the North King (Seattle/Shoreline) subarea, where tax revenue is bouncing back strong and projects have come in under budget.
I’m hearing murmurs that some Seattleites are outraged. There are two questions here: what are the impacts on North King projects, and what are the legal and “justice” issues of using North King money to pay for East King projects? In short, the answer to the first question is probably “not much, but be careful;” to the second, “none at all.”
In terms of project impact, it’s really impossible to say at this stage. To state some principles: Northgate to Downtown is the biggest slam dunk transportation project in the state and ST should not compromise there on scope or schedule. Taking money obviously increases risk, but there’s lots of project to cut before Northgate is threatened even if things go terribly. Cleaning out North King’s petty cash may eliminate consideration of Seattle’s desired add-ons, like a $30m Aloha extension to the First Hill streetcar.
As for the justice of it all, I’m entirely unmoved. There’s a lot of ambiguity over what is an “East King” or a “North King” project, and typically that ambiguity has favored North King because East has the money and North has the demand. For instance, East King is paying (for now) for the entire East Link project, starting at the DSTT and including the Rainier/I-90 station. Similarly, spokesman Geoff Patrick confirms all Eastside ST buses – 540, 542, 545, 550, 554, 555, 556 – are paid for entirely by East King, even though Seattle residents definitely get more than zero benefit out of them.