If you thought Bellevue’s light rail saga was over, think again.  Over the next two weeks, the city will host two public meetings – an open house next Tuesday and a public hearing the Monday after – all on the subject of East Link, namely mitigation for the B2M route and terms of an MOU with Sound Transit to fund the downtown tunnel.

With ST’s adoption of the final preferred alignment, these meetings shouldn’t end up being about routing or mode choice, but that won’t stop Link opponents from using any tactic possible to drag this process on longer. The City Council’s latest complaint? That the timeline for the October 24th MOU deadline is “unrealistic,” according to City Councilmember Kevin Wallace. We’ve heard rumors that the pro-B7 council quorum might try to push this deadline out, possibly even after the council changes next January.

If anyone’s at fault for the short timeline, it’s the City, which has had plenty of time to execute an outreach process and work out an agreement with ST – but instead, it’s been wasting its effort and money pushing for options that are already clearly not cost effective, like B7-R and the Vision Line. Pinning the blame on ST certainly won’t make Bellevue look any better. If the City Council wants to get serious about collaboration and getting the tunnel it wants, it would do well to stick to ST’s timeline, which it has already impacted.

The upcoming meetings, especially the public hearing, are going to be an important chance for Bellevue citizens, the majority of whom voted for East Link, to stand up against these tactics and join other key regional voices in pushing for mass transit now.

84 Replies to “East Link Isn’t Foolproof Yet”

  1. By Bellevue law, an open hearing requires the Council to listen to everyone who wants to speak. The 20th is more of an informational session while the 26th is a big deal.

    Maybe a meetup right before the hearing on the 26th? It starts at 8PM…

      1. That’s for comments during the general public comment period that they have on their agenda at the beginning of every meeting. During a public hearing, any and all persons wishing to speak must be heard.

  2. The East Link saga is far from over. KF is once again supporting a slate of anti-LR candidates for the Bellevue City Council, and a “newly reformulated” council will be sure to revisit any and all agreements with ST at every opportunity. Expect a high degree of dysfunction from the Bellevue City Council if (when?) KF gets his way.

    But the real fun will begin when Bellevue tries to figure out how to pay for their share of the tunnel. Bellevue tax receipts are down, and raising any sort of new taxes will be at odds with their conservative anti-tax values.

    I fully expect Bellevue to renege on their funding commitment for the tunnel, and if they do that it will get really messy.

    1. Bellevue as a whole is not as conservative anti-tax as some exurban places. A lot of residents just want good governance, and they realize they have to pay for infrastructure, which is why they overwhelmingly voted for ST2 and support the 520 project. Their idea of good governance may be more automobile-oriented than we would wish (widen 405, widen NE 8th), but it’s not a knee-jerk anti-tax sentiment.

      1. Then they need to show it by resisting KF’s corrupting influence in their elections.

        They need to recognize that the choices they make have tremendous consequences for the future.

      2. What choices did “they” make? They aren’t throwing their money into Kemper’s crusade. The Bellevue City Council has an anti-rail majority but I didn’t follow the election so I don’t know if that’s the sole reason they won. Also, you have to separate the pro-car position which many people sympathize with, from an anti-tax position and Kempe- all-the-way position (which few support). How is Kemper corrupting? Wallace has some questionable relationships between his Vision Line and his properties, but Kemper is just putting money into his favorite campaigns as is everybody’s right. And it’s hard to see how Kemper benefits financially out of it. His anti-transit crusade is more of an ideological thing than a financial thing. People aren’t going to stop shopping at Bel Square no matter if Link is or is not built. (The idea of Link causing gridlock in downtown Bellevue is ludicrous, and Kemper’s target market is not going to even pay attention to the light rail line as they drive past it.)

      3. The biggest hit to Bell-Sq shopping is the ST sales tax. People shop online, take shopping holidays or just scale back purchases. The other big factor is the construction disruption that may drive some shops out of business and force down rents. The fact that I-90 will also trade peak commuter capacity for all day trips is a lesser issue as it will keep more people from going into Seattle than it will decrease shopping in Bellevue. Traffic congestion from a DT surface alignment isn’t likely to ever happen. The crying shame is the money could be much more effective if used to build on the skeletal bus service the eastside currently has. East Link debt will suffocate any ability to address north south demand which already exceeds that for Seattle/eastside.

      4. How much is ST’s sales tax? $3 on a $100 purchase? That’s going to dissuade people from buying a $50 sweater or jeans? They could save more than $3 at Target or Ross. And online shopping loses the sales tax but gains shipping charges, so it’s a wash unless shipping is free. Downtown Bellevue is not mom-n-pop barely-making-it businesses like MLK. Most of them are not on the street the line is being built on. And ST can’t close all the streets from east Bellevue to central Bellevue simultaneously, so people will just have to drive a few blocks to the nearest open street and avoid rush hour (which they already have to do in downtown Bellevue).

        As for north-south Link having a greater need than East Link, I agree, but East Link is what voters approved because they thought it a higher priority to tie the region together. Or in other words, the Bellevue-Seattle connection may be becoming less important regionally, but it’s still a significant need and think it would be silly to not address it first before anything else on the Eastside.

  3. I appreciate the bending over backwards ST has done to work with the neighbors of the light rail line in south Bellevue, and the willingness of most of the Bellevue City Council to sit down at the table to work toward solutions.

    I also appreciate the rumored willingness of some of the Snohomish members of the ST Board to consider an inter-area loan to move up the completion timeline for East Link.

    It would be cool if the eastside and South King County legislators could join the rest of the region in a united front to get state funding to speed up the construction of Link, starting by defining trains as “vehicles”. I hope the Federal Way City Council and Bellevue City Council show up in Olympia to help get more money for Link.

    If it takes until 2025 or later before East Link opens, I’m afraid Microsoft will throw up its hands and “oversea” its whole operation.

    1. It was a big deal for Microsoft to lease some space in Bellevue. Do you really think they’ll pack up and move overseas?

      More importantly, the reason why big companies like Microsoft/Google/Amazon/etc. continually open up new campuses is that they want to attract the most talented people, regardless of where those people want to live. If Microsoft just packed up and moved to a new city, even somewhere as close as Portland, most of their employees would not follow them. Moving the whole operation overseas would entail replacing over 40,000 employees, almost none of whom would voluntarily relocate their families to India/China. That’s not happening.

  4. “East Link Isn’t Foolproof Yet”
    Only a fool would stand in the way of a billion dollar a year agency at the helm of massive trains, barreling full speed down the tracks, with horns, bells, and lights ablaze.

  5. Why do they even need a public hearing on the MOU? Isn’t that a matter of private negotiation between ST and the city?

  6. Sound Transit should consider charging them for any cost over-runs caused by them.
    Maybe the other towns affected by East link should tell Bellevue to stuff it.

    1. Alternatively, ST could decide to pull the 550 out of the tunnel, and save on tunnel bond-debt payment. I realize it isn’t the bus riders who are opposing East Link, but if enough of them are inconvenienced, they may take notice of what some on their city council have been doing to thwart the will of Bellevue voters.

  7. There is alot of debate about the routing though Bellevue. I havn’t anything about the section of the line that’s scheduled to travel over the floating section of the I-90 brigde. Is the bridge designed for light rail? I’m -not- an engineer, there are alot of questions how light rail is going to work on the bridge.

    1. The results from the expansion joint testing are expected soon, and word has it the results are within the safety margins. The thorn in the rose of the metro-light/1500v cars selected in 2001 is the heavier catenary and track-supports needed.

    2. The bridge was planned for light rail, but it wasn’t designed for it. The good news is that there appear to be viable design solutions for modifying the bridge to accommodate light rail.

      1. I think Brent was confused and thought Chris was referring to the SR520 bridge, and was making a sarcastic quip about how McGinn’s persistence ensured there was a viable upgrade path to supporting light rail on that bridge in the future.

    1. Actually, it’s looking more and more like we should.

      Perhaps this is a case where we need to take one step back to take two steps forward.

      I would flip-flop and focus on using 520 as the initial LINK corridor.

      It’s simpler and would get us lots of transit traffic from Microsoft commuters between North Seattle and Redmond…a huge audience.

      This would give LINK a “big win” rather than hoping to re-engineer all of Bellevue.

      1. Even putting all of these issues aside, how is the 520 routing simpler? There’s been no engineering study of that route that I know of, whereas East Link via I-90 is almost ready to advance to final design.

        Not to mention the fact that the rebuild of 520 is already under construction, so any light rail addition would require rebuilding it again in a few years…

      2. Although I totally disagree with JB’s lonely call for not having East Link serve downtown Bellevue, it really isn’t the case that SR 520 would have to be rebuilt to carry light rail trains. Thanks to the engineering fixes Mayor McGinn requested, it really just requires slipping more pontoons under the bridge.

        Also, the portion that is under construction is the eastern portion away from the water. The lege decided to rebuild the portion that forced more lanes to the west first rather than dealing with the least safe portion.

      3. John,

        Have you ever ridden the 545?

        I just exited a 545 bus about 30 minutes ago. It was not very full — I’d guess about 20-25 riders. That’s a pretty typical load for the trip out to Redmond at mid-day.

        It sounds like what you’re proposing is to replace the 545 with Link, rather than the 550 (plus the extension to OTC). But the 545 corridor simply doesn’t need the capacity that rail would provide.

        There are three frequent, all-day buses which travel over the 520 bridge: the 545 to Redmond, the 271 to Bellevue, and the 255 to Kirkland. These three destinations each have roughly equal demand, though Bellevue possibly has a bit more.

        In other words, any rail line over 520 that didn’t go to all three destinations — Bellevue, Redmond, and Kirkland — would be useless for 2/3 of all travelers across the 520 bridge, at minimum.

      4. Ben,

        As a rule, I don’t respond to trolls. But John’s argument here — that we should build light rail over 520 instead of I-90 — is a very common theme that I’ve heard among people who are otherwise ardent transit supporters, but who are biased by working for Microsoft and not going to Bellevue very often.

        If you live in Seattle, and your only contact with the Eastside is Microsoft, it’s easy to forget that Bellevue is by far the biggest city there, and that most people on 520 are *not* going to/from Microsoft.

        (The disperse demand pattern of 520 is a point that the “Why Link Will Cross I-90” page doesn’t touch on, and I wish it did.)

      5. I think the other issue of 520 vs. I-90 is, even if you are going to Bellevue, if you live in north Seattle, I-90 is out of the way and requires going all the way through downtown, while 520 would be a much more direct route.

        An I-90 based routing to Bellevue is more useful for people in South Seattle, but the Link routing was never designed with that connection in mind, with the Mt. Baker stop a mile away from I-90. Backtracking all the way to the international district, then going up the stairs and back down the stairs is a huge time drag, and waiting for the 7 to go one mile isn’t much better. So, the only people an I-90 routing to downtown is really useful for are people who live in Bellevue and work in Seattle.

      6. Link light rail across 520 would work best in conjunction with a north-south route and an easy transfer point. The north-south route should serve Totem Lake – downtown Kirkland – S. Kirkland – Bellevue, and the 520 route should serve Overlake – Redmond. It could even be accomplished as a modification, in time, of East Link, with East Link continuing from Hospital station toward Totem Lake, and 520 Link taking the eastern portion of East Link.

        It also requires figuring out where East Link continues on the west side of the 520 bridge, and if/where there is a transfer to North Link.

        The WS-DOT engineers claim that the 520 construction between Evergreen Point and Bellevue Way is being done with potential conversion to light rail in mind. I think that means that the transit stations at Evergreen Point and Yarrow Point (92nd) are designed to be able to accomodate light rail, and that the reason the new roadway is being built wider than needed is that they can accomodate light rail in the center and still keep 3 lanes of traffic (e.g. 2 GP and 1 HOV)

        Light rail on 520 is still a long way off. The only reason to offer it as an alternative to light rail on I-90 would be to hope to delay or kill light rail on I-90, and that is not worthwhile.

      7. An I-90 based routing to Bellevue is more useful for people in South Seattle, but the Link routing was never designed with that connection in mind, with the Mt. Baker stop a mile away from I-90.

        I disagree. You’re correct that the trip from South Seattle to Bellevue won’t be as easy as you could imagine it to be — you could imagine having a rail line which went north from Mt Baker to I-90/Rainier, then immediately continued east. But it’s still much shorter for someone from South Seattle to transfer at ID than to continue all the way through Seattle to Husky Stadium.

        So, the only people an I-90 routing to downtown is really useful for are people who live in Bellevue and work in Seattle.

        Whoa. Hold on there. First, you’ve ignored the *huge* category of people who live in downtown (or nearby), or anywhere else for which it’s easier to get downtown than to Montlake. That includes Queen Anne/Magnolia, Uptown/Belltown/LQA, Ballard, the CD (arguably), West Seattle, Rainier Valley, and all of South King and Pierce. For all of them, an I-90 route is equally as good as a 520 route, if not better.

        And second, you’ve ignored all the people who want to go to a destination other than DT Bellevue or Redmond. For people who want to get to Mercer Island or South Bellevue — two huge destinations of the current 550 — a 520 route is useless. In fact, the number of destinations on 520 between Montlake and 405 is approximately zero. The closest to a useful stop would be 108th (as a transfer point to Kirkland), and once East Link comes online, you could easily imagine any of the B-segment stations becoming the main transfer point for Kirkland buses.

      8. “An I-90 based routing to Bellevue is more useful for people in South Seattle, but the Link routing was never designed with that connection in mind,”

        People will probably ride the 7 to East Link, and find that quite acceptable. Link can’t be everywhere. While they’re trying to strengthen the connection between south Seattle and the Eastside, it’s still not the primary destination for either region.

      9. The WS-DOT engineers claim that the 520 construction between Evergreen Point and Bellevue Way is being done with potential conversion to light rail in mind. I think that means that the transit stations at Evergreen Point and Yarrow Point (92nd) are designed to be able to accomodate light rail, and that the reason the new roadway is being built wider than needed is that they can accomodate light rail in the center and still keep 3 lanes of traffic (e.g. 2 GP and 1 HOV)

        It boggles my mind that some people think Yarrow Point is even worthy of a bus stop, let alone a freeway station, while other people think that South Bellevue P&R shouldn’t exist.

        Yarrow Point has about 100 riders per day between all of ST’s routes. It’s listed as performing marginally, and performs 1-2 orders of magnitude worse than Evergreen Point and Montlake, in almost every case. The only exception is the 555 eastbound, which actually seem like an anomaly, since the 556 eastbound, and both buses westbound, see the usual amount of usage at Yarrow Point (i.e. almost none).

        In contrast, South Bellevue P&R has about 1,500 riders per day.

        IMHO, the fact that we’re building a lid stop for Yarrow Point, instead of deleting it, is *already* too much investment. (Personally, I’d prefer if we had built a lid at 108th, and a stop there. Building a train station there, when Central Link is as “station-lite” as it is, would be beyond crazy.

  8. How are opponents of East Link any different than opponents to the Seattle waterfront tunnel? This blog seemed to support any action designed to stop it. East Link opponents have their own mind on the matter. Why wouldn’t they take any opportunity to stop something they oppose? You tunnel opponents did….

    1. Many of the Bellevue tunnel opponents don’t admit they oppose Link. They support other ridiculous alternatives, but won’t come out and say they really just don’t want it. (Kemper Freeman is the clear exception.

      In contrast, this blog has been forthright in its position on the tunnel.

      1. But a lot of people thought surface / transit was ridiculous!

        I’m a big East Link supporter, but I think it’s a bit much for one of the leaders of the anti-tunnel campaign to denounce tactics not dissimilar to the ones used by his camp. At least the east link opponents aren’t putting the route up to citywide vote. (and if they did, what could you say?)

      2. Also, I’ll make a bet that a majority of the projects listed in “Surface/Transit” end up getting built anyway.

      3. I support the tunnel through downtown Bellevue. My point was about Ben denouncing tactics similar to the ones DBT opponents. I guess I don’t see a lot of difference between each group of nay-Sayers.

      4. Mike,

        I meant which alignment through South Bellevue do you prefer?

        BTW, the vulgarity aimed at the guy who keeps making ad hominem baiting posts came from an anonymous poster, certainly not me. I’ll beseech the moderators to be less lenient on deleting his posts until he starts engaging in civil discourse.

    2. Plus, most of the posters on this blog seem to be gracefully accepting the result of the DBT referendum. I’ve seen much less grace from those in Bellevue who opposed ST2 and lost the election, including within Bellevue.

      1. Jake, they are WONKS- and that’s NOT actually an acronym. But there is a “Seattle Transit Glossary” on the right-hand side of the page if you can’t keep up. I know I needed it at first!

    3. East Link has been voter approved. These LR critics should accept the will of the voters and not try to fight East Link.

      This is no different than with the DBT where most of the critics have accepted the results of Ref 1 and are now willing to move forward.

    4. In addition to what everyone else said, don’t forget that until recently, Seattle voters had never approved the deep-bore tunnel (in stark contrast to East Link). To the contrary, the state’s EIS actually rejected the deep-bore tunnel as not worth the cost.

      That’s all moot now, but the point is that most DBT opponents gracefully accepted the ballot measure immediately after it happened, while East Link opponents are still fighting, 3 years after it was approved by the voters.

  9. After reading this blog for the past couple weeks, I’ve decided to do something I have never done before: Vote for a Tim Eyeman proposition.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Jake. I know everyone here has been on the edge of their seats waiting to hear how you are going to vote.

      1. I know you won’t believe this, but fact is that I’m over 50 years old and have voted for only two Republicans in my life. Never for an Eyeman proposition either. But ever since the two bicyclists were recently killed through their own negligence, I’ve been checking out various blogs.

        I am just stunned by the self-righteous, insular smugness I am finding, and by the general lack of common sense. You won’t make me into a Republican any time soon — if they couldn’t do that, you won’t — but when it comes to your various pet projects, you’ve lost someone who was once a supporter.

        Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m one person. You’d be nuts to kow-tow to me. But if you’re losing people like me, some of you who fancy yourselves political strategists ought to be doing a double-take.

      2. Jake, for everyone we might lose like you, we gained two new transit voters from Central Link – and another five from U Link, when it opens. If you’re having problems dealing with how politics works, that’s your issue, not ours.

    2. What are you for, Jake? If we widen 405, finish the DBT and 520 projects, cancel light rail, don’t add any BRT, and erase the bike lanes, would that make you happy?

      1. Mike, you’re the same one who wrote in a different thread that an SUV takes up 1-1/2 parking spaces. That was a lie that you invented to convey your smug superiority. What am I for? Telling the truth, for starters. Try it. You just might come to like it.

      2. You didn’t answer my question, which is more on-topic than your snarky comments. What transit-related proposals do you favor?

        I’m not going to go measure the lengths of different cars, but I can see more cars parallel-parked in a block when they’re compact than when they’re SUVs, and sometimes the SUV leaves a space too small for another car to fit in, when if it were a hatchback the other car would fit. In any case, you took one very minor remark out of my whole comment and blew it out of proportion, while saying nothing about my main point, and now you’re doing it again. You also decided I’m “smug” because I have a distaste for SUVs. How do you know if I’m smug nor not? And why does it matter for transit policy debates whether I’m smug or not? What is smug anyway?

      3. “I think you people need to understand just why you’re losing the argument with the public.”

        Ah, now that statement seems heartfelt.

        What would you suggest?

  10. Meanwhile…you can be sure that the Build a Better Bellevue people are going to have at least a hundred people at the public hearing on the 26th to tell the Bellevue City Council to delay, add scope for mitigations, delay, add cost for mitigations, delay, reconsider B7, delay, reconsider Vision Line, etc.

    If you support East Link, if you want to see it built in your lifetime, you need to show up at the Public Hearing on the 26th at Bellevue City Hall and you need to tell the Bellevue City Council to stop delaying, finish the MOU, figure out how to fund the tunnel, be reasonable about scope and cost of mitigations, and get started on building the thing.

  11. I am spoiled: I live two blocks from the Beacon Hill Link station, and work two blocks from the Pioneer Square station. Plus, my employer buys my transit pass. But this morning, I had to drive across 90, and then up 405 to Marysville during the morning rush, and then from Marysville back to Seattle in the afternoon rush.

    Even in a brand new luxury model sports car, it was both slow and tedious. Anyone who thinks we don’t need reliable, separated-from-the-highway mass transit is either a shut-in, or certifiably insane.

    1. More likely insane- even a shut-in would hear a lot of complaining about traffic from their caretakers!!! :D Great post.

  12. “East Link Isn’t Foolproof Yet”. And appropriately. We don’t yet know if Grim “No!”Man’s initiative will pass, and if it does whether it will force a halt to center lane conversion.

    No one knows where Bellevue will get its “contribution” to a tunnel, and no one knows whether the very much bought and paid for Washington Supremes will axe the conversion without Timmy’s help.

    So, “No, East Link is by no means a done deal.” (by which it seems likely you mean “Foolproof”).

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