Poster Board

Last Wednesday Sound Transit and the City of Bellevue held an open house to share some of the preliminary ideas they have come up with to reduce East Link construction costs through the city. Now that ST and the City are partners, both have a financial stake in the project, and thus more buy in as well as more critical attention about the cost of mitigation that the City previous pushed for.

The biggest cost saving ideas unsurprisingly had to do with the Downtown Bellevue station and tunnel. Four alternatives designs were presented at the open house. The first keeps the station under 110th Ave NE and NE 4th St but eliminates the mezzanine, thus allowing for a shallower station and reducing access time for riders. The other underground station idea presented was at the same location, but stacks station platforms on top of each other. This reduces the width of the station, possibility reducing cost and utility impacts. Both of these station designs would have two station entrances, one on the east side of 110th in front of City Hall and a second on the east side of 110th south of NE 4th.

The two other station designs reorient and daylight the station East-West between 110th Ave NE and 112th Ave NE along NE 6th St or  diagonally across the plaza in front of City Hall, with one primary access point at NE 6th and 110th Ave NE or in front of City Hall. These alternative would reduces station costs by eliminating underground station construction but requires more spaces above ground and pushes the station closer to I-405. The current location at 110th Ave NE and 4th already is a cost saving compromise (the ideal station location would be in the center of downtown, between 106th and 108th along NE 6th) and further relocation reduces access to the south half of Downtown Bellevue.

None of the alternatives provide a fully grade separate transfer between the Link platform and the Bellevue Transit Center bus island, which I see troublesome in the long term and is far from ideal for the highest ridership and highest transfer East Link station.

Cost savings ideas elsewhere on the corridor were also present. One ideas was to shift Bellevue Way west or move the historic Winters House to a new location. Both of these ideas get rid of the previously studied retained-cut alignment which required a steep dive just north of the elevated South Bellevue P&R. Similarly on 112th Ave SE, a cost saving idea presented would eliminate the retained-cut alignment, which was necessary to maintain access to Surrey Downs, by relocating access to 112th Ave SE further south where the guideway is already elevated as it crosses from the east side of 112th Ave Se to the west side.

Downtown one cost saving idea was to make the “tunnel” between Main St and NE 2nd retained-cut, rather than a cut and cover tunnel. This would may reduces costs by reducing the length of the cut and cover tunnel and reduce ventilation related costs, but would require additional property acquisition.

Go here to see details about other cost saving ideas presented at the open house.

37 Replies to “East Link Cost Savings Open House”

  1. Adam, could you elaborate on what you mean by this: “None of the alternatives provide a fully grade separate transfer between the Link platform and the Bellevue Transit Center bus island”

    1. All the design require transferring riders to cross 2 legs of of the intersection of 110th Ave SE and NE 6th St. With all of the designs ST will be digging up a considerable portion of the roadway, and if it can be fit in, I think ST should design this station correctly and add a pedestrian tunnel connecting the two, with no vehicle crossings and signalized intersections.

    2. In all of the alternatives, users have to cross at least two crosswalks to get from a Link station entrance to the BTC bus island, though the second crosswalk is just across the bus lanes at BTC. The other is to cross 110th Ave NE. One of the staff (I think ST) at the open house said they were considering making the 110th/6th crossing a “scramble” where there is a dedicated signal phase for pedestrians to cross in any directions, as is already done at the west end of BTC at 108th/6th.

      1. A scramble could be an improvement, but it depends on the signal cycle length since pedestrians wanting to cross have to wait for a walk sign, even if they want to cross in the direction which vehicle can travel. I used to like scrambles more, but in my opinion they only are really warranted in locations in which you have high pedestrian volumes and high vehicular turning volumes.

    3. You’ve got to wonder why the station entrances would be on the east side of 110th instead of the west where not only the transit center is but the whole rest of DT. The shallow station idea sounds like a better design and less costly. The other ideas are just cheapping out; especially the NE 16th St configuration. Of course the biggest cost reduction is the no build option :=

      1. It looks like the two garage entrances on the west side of 110th are in the way.

      2. That would make digging a westside platform harder, but not impossible.

        Any cut-and-cover tunnel will pass at least a couple of garage entrances, and there are ways to maintain access above as you dig beneath.

      3. It looks like with the stacked platform configuration they would be able to put the entrances on the west side of 110th by shifting the street to the east, or taking a lane. It also might be possible to get the north entrance closer to the BTC by extending the platforms.

  2. Interesting that Cap Hill gets an underground tunnel crossing a busy street yet this Bellevue station will not get a similar treatment (as noted by the author). A lot of people will be going bus-Link and there are already lots of pedestrians in the area. It’s only a half-a-block and a traffic light away, but it seems rather far for such a critical connection. As we’re in cost-cutting mode, I doubt ST will want to think about such a structure, but hopefully the station will be designed with considerations for a future ped tunnel under the street.

      1. How deep is the top of the tunnel from surface level? As long as that is greater than maybe 15-20 feet I think a pedestrian tunnel could be fit in. It certainly would be tight. I asked a few times about this and besides general answer that it would be hard to fit in I didn’t get a response that it wasn’t possible. I’m not sure how much ST has looked at it.

      2. Looking at the profile drawing of the first station option it looks like it might be possible to fit a tunnel in at the north end of the station. If there’s room, I’d like to see them move the north entrance to the middle of the the transit center and connect it to the Link platform via a tunnel and small mezzanine.

      3. It looks like there’s room for a small escalator at the north end of the platform (to a “mezzanine,” if you prefer), a bridge over the tracks, and exit to the transit center going west/northwest.

    1. I find it highly unlikely that ST would ever go back and do something like this. Even in systems with pedestrian tunnel capacity issues their transit agencies aren’t looking back to see what they can change. Underground stations are simply one of those things you have to do right the first time or you’re stuck with it.

      1. Well, London is installing new pedestrian tunnels in >100-year-old stations, but I don’t think you want to wait that long…. :-)

  3. If they move the downtown station to 6th or the City Hall plaza, there is no reason to have a tunnel. I mean, why bother at that point? These options move the station further toward the freeway and away from the jobs. Why not just run an elevated line up & down 112th and forget about pretending to actually serve downtown? Never mind, it’s a rhetorical question.

    1. You’re right, elevated on 112th would be better than tunnel light and a NE 6th station location. The biggest issue with the City Hall or NE 6th ideas is the loss of the south station entrance on 110th. I’d put the importance of that entrance ahead of any of the South Main Station locations I’ve see proposed.

    2. It’s not “further toward the freeway” in any significant sense, it’s just midblock like all non-corner stations are. If you draw a circle from the bus plaza, the station entrances are the same distance for either NE 6th and 110th. One significant advantage of 110th is that you can see the bus plaza from the station, so you can see whether your bus is there or about to leave. That makes it psychologically more “one station” rather than two.

      The hillside slopes down on 6th, meaning the track can remain flat while it transitions from underground to elevated to cross 405. The entrance is before the daylight point, and the platform is either just before or just after it. So it will likely be an open-air station like Intl Dist, but with a rain-canopy over it.

      The disadvantage of the 110th alternative is that the slope would make it harder for disabled people to walk to the bus plaza. But I think that could be mitigated by building a raised sidewalk to the station entrance so that it would be a flat walk.

      As for 6th being “farther from south downtown”, it’s closer to north downtown, so what’s the difference? It’s closer to the Bellevue regional library, for instance. And Main Street will have a station in some of the scenarios, so that serves south downtown.

      1. “One significant advantage of 110th is that you can see the bus plaza from the station”

        One significant advantage of 6th is that you can see the bus plaza from the station.

      2. You won’t be able to see the transit center from either location until you get up to street level and you can’t see want buses are waiting except for the first couple of bays anyway. The access is virtually identical to the shallow station on 110th. But losing the entrance south of NE 4th is a huge price to pay. NE 4th is probably second only to NE 8th in traffic and it’s going to get worse when the City pushes it through to 120th. Pull up the google map images and look at all the highrise residential just south of NE 4th! This station entrance will be even more important as Wilburton is built up. Auto row won’t be empty parking lots forever. An Old Main or South Main Station doesn’t cut it because south of Main is going to remain low density.

      3. @Mike The two east-west stations are only closer to the very northeast corner of downtown along 112th Ave. The Southern entrance for the north-south stations will be roughly a block south of the northern entrance. Everywhere else all stations have roughly the same exit point on 110th and NE 6th.

  4. Once again, I caution heavily against capital-cost saving measures. Building things right the first time (even over-building) will save money and time in the long-run.

    1. Overbuilding can also mean giant empty gated mezzanines and closed station exits, like on the C train in upper Manhattan.

      That said, I’d agree that under-building is the more likely risk.

      1. Well, the IND in NY was in a class by itself when it came to overbuilding; this was due to the quixotic behavior of Mayor Hylan. I’m not sure there’s anything comparable in terms of truly useless overbuilding in any other mass transit system; perhaps extreme suburban BART.

  5. Will the East Link portions that are at-grade be similar to the Rainier Valley portion in design and fucntionality. Or are we talking about a different kind of “at-grade”?

    1. That’s the question and it hasn’t been answered. “At-grade” is only a problem if there are traffic crossings. So we need to know how many traffic crossings there would be. There are two problems with traffic crossings: (A) trains actually waiting for a green light, and (B) trains having to slow down to car speed in the entire segment.

      At one point all of the ST2 extensions were going to be separate from traffic (whether technically “at-grade” or not). That would transform Link from a 50% separated system into a 90% separated system, which would significantly improve its potential to attract riders. But it sounds like some parts of the Eastside (Surrey Downs, NE 16th) may be sacrificed to pay for the downtown Bellevue tunnel. That may or may not be something we can live with. A limited budget is a limited budget, and there’s only so far it can stretch.

      1. I asked about this at the open house and the answer I got that the segment in Surrey Downs will not be slowed down due to surface running compared to the trench design. The Bel-Red segment will operate at vehicle speeds.

      1. B is the only valid plan here.

        It’s time for the age of compromise to come to an end. Level crossings would be ST shooting themselves in the foot.

      2. You’re a bit mistaken. In the documents you link, at-grade options A and C are described as with “vehicle and pedestrian gates”, running adjacent to and separated from the main road.

        This is full-speed at-grade à la Sodo, not limited-speed at-grade à la MLK.

        That’s not to say those gates won’t be stripped out in a later round of cost-cutting, though.

  6. Why am I not surprised? The time comes to build it and they don’t have the money they told us they would have. Now they want to do a retained cut on 110th, requiring “more property acquisitions.” I just rebuilt my house after waiting YEARS for Sound Transit to stop screwing around and make up their minds about what part of the city they’re going to blight. They made up their minds, I put a load of money into my home, and now they’re changing plans again?

    These people are worse than politicians.

    1. Talk to your city council who insisted on an expensive downtown tunnel. The Surrey Downs/BNSF/Vision Line/I-90 controversies also increased expenses. Basically, ST and Bellevue compromised, with Bellevue getting a downtown tunnel and ST getting its 112th alignment. The tunnel came with the stipulation that it wasn’t fully funded. Bellevue offered some money, and ST reassigned the Rainier station (shifting some costs to Seattle to free up money for the Bellevue tunnel), but I think it still wasn’t enough. So these cost-cutting measures are ways to pay for the tunnel. Replace the tunnel with a surface segment in downtown Bellevue (as might happen if the tunnel remains unaffordable), and suddenly ST wouldn’t need to consider these other changes.

      1. Seattle got tunnels, why should downtown Bellevue get the shaft? I know how to save a whole bunch of money on the East Link: wait until we can afford it to build it right.

  7. Looking at the current downtown alignment diagram, I thought the tunnel looks almost unnecessary, being that it doesn’t bring riders to the “core” of downtown. Why not forgo the tunnel altogether and just have a stub stop on NE 6th and 110th? Location wise, it’s the same as the tunnel stop.

    The train would run on 112th all the way to 6th, pulls in, then reverse direction back out and across I405 toward Redmond.

    Down side would be that the driver has to change compartment from the back to the front. Can’t have back to back trains. One has to leave before another train can pull into the stop. However, there are separate eastbound and westbound stubs.

    The topic is cost savings, right?

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