The saga of East Link has been long. Originally voted down as part of the Forward Thrust plan in 1968 (a familiar map), the I-90 floating bridge was designed to handle rail in the future. In Sound Transit’s 2008 Proposition 1, we funded cross-lake rail, and since then, planning and dependent construction work has been chugging along, even in the face of all sorts of legal and activist opposition (that clearly doesn’t represent the voters).

Eventually, the Bellevue City Council worked with Sound Transit to demand (and partially fund) grade separation through downtown Bellevue. Unfortunately, Bellevue doesn’t really have the money to make up the full difference between surface rail and a tunnel.

Sound Transit and Bellevue are working together on cost savings options to get there. Sound Transit staff  presented (PDF) to the Sound Transit board last week, and came up with some interesting ideas – some new, and some that look like they’ve been brought back from much earlier planning now that cost is a larger factor.

Right now, Bellevue is on the hook for about $60 million in savings, and it looks like these options could cut those costs by as much as $20 million. Unfortunately for Sound Transit, the agreement they have with Bellevue gives any savings back to the city.

You should really look at the whole presentation if you’re interested in seeing all of the alternatives, but there will be another way to learn more. Sound Transit will be having an open house to answer questions on June 5th, at Bellevue City Hall, from 4-7pm.

58 Replies to “Cost Savings Options for East Link”

    1. Mostly, they’re subsidizing themselves – thanks to subarea equity. Though I believe ST is taking (borrowing?) some Seattle money to build this.

      1. East Link serves Seattle too. North King is the freeloader, not paying for any ST Express or Sounder service.

      2. “East Link serves Seattle too.” I’ll keep that in mind when we build the Seattle Subway. I assume people from all of the subareas will be needing to get around in Seattle.

      3. East Link has a station in Seattle. Eliminating it would be a nice cost savings to put toward the tunnel. Extend the Seattle Subway to Kirkland and the eastside might be willing to pitch in.

      4. ST reassigned responsibility for Rainier station from East King to North King. That’s the “subsidy”. Originally East King was paying for it on the assumption that the vast majority of riders onboard at that point were going to the Eastside, not getting on/off at Rainier. But there always was the fact that the station also has an in-city market, and it could become an important Rainier Valley station if enough people say to foo with transferring at Mt Baker (especially #7 riders).

      5. It’s reasonable for Seattle to pay for that station, but I’m not sure that station costs enough to fully justify what we’re chipping in for Bellevue.

        Anyway. I’m not too concerned about this. I thought [aw] was making a different argument.

      6. I think the North subarea is paying for the station and the track from there to Central Link. I think paying up to the point of the last station in your subarea was how cost was allocated between North and South for Central Link but I’m not sure about that.

      7. That’s at least part of what I was arguing. There’s also bringing suburban folks into the city via other modes so they can spend money, the sales taxes going exclusively to Central/U/North Link (and a tiny bit of East Link).

      8. Don’t forget that the Bellevue tunnel will make the portions of Link that go through Seattle a lot more reliable, by eliminating the bunching that would inevitably happen if trains get stuck in traffic.

        And if the time saved by taking the tunnel makes the difference to allow Link to replace, rather than parallel the 545, it could save ST a ton of money over the long term, possibly enough to make the tunnel pay for itself.

    2. The whole who-subsidises-who question is a bit pointless. If I go to a restaurant in Bellevue am I subsidising them? If I buy a car in Lynnwood am I subsidising them?

    3. The way Bellevue is going, I’m not sure “suburb” really applies any more. They’re already the fourth-largest city in the state, and their downtown has become quite built-up and friendlier to pedestrians.

      I’d rather pay to subsidize good transit to an inner-ring suburb like Bellevue than a far-flung sprawling bedroom community like Federal Way.

      Holy crap, I’m defending Bellevue. [slaps self]

    4. Can we drop this argument? How is connecting the state’s two largest urban centers ‘subsidizing the suburbs’?

  1. Cost-Savings Idea: Eliminate Mezzanine
    Cost-Savings Potential: $4 to $7M

    What the hell sound transit? Eliminating the mezzanine should be the default option for all stations.
    Why would you ever want a mezzanine?

    1. Is it too late to eliminate the mezzanines at ULink\North Link stations?

      1. Considering that the tunnels are already bored and stations are under construction for U-Link it is almost certainly too late.

        For North Link, I hear the latest designs include a slide that bypasses the mezzanine level at Brooklyn (soon to be U District Station).

    2. Er? Have you never used a real subway system?

      Mezzanines do usually serve a purpose, making access to all exits convenient from all platforms, allowing a wider distribution of exits than might otherwise be possible, providing space for things like TVMs (and retail), allowing riders to switch between multiple platforms, etc.

      Maybe in this case these functions are adequately served by other spaces, I dunno, but it certainly isn’t the case that “mezzanines are useless and should be omitted by default.”

      1. No, I never used a real subway system during the times I lived in Tokyo, San Francisco, London or New York (admittedly briefly there).

        In fact, I started this blog precisely because I hate good transit and want to stop it from happening.

      2. Lots of systems get away without mezzanines, you really only need them at transfer stations where multiple lines meet.

        Elsewhere they are not needed for anything you have listed if you have large, central platforms. Mezzanines slow travel time to the surface, and they suck for people with disabilities who need to use elevators.

      3. With a central platform, you still need a bunch of space above the tracks if you want wide exit distribution. You can obviously argue about what to put in that space—from a full-length mezzanine to small “mini-mezzanines” at exit points, to just stairways, but there still needs to be something if you want exit flexibility.

        As with most things it’s a tradeoff: cost vs. passenger convenience, but there seems to be a continuum of options available as long as you’ve got the vertical space. Presumably the tendency should be to prefer passenger convenience in heavily used stations (even if they aren’t transfer stations), and cost in lightly used stations.

        I guess the point is that it’s something that needs to be thought about on a case-by-case basis; just defaulting to “no” isn’t reasonable.

      4. That is a lot of platitudes you have there, Miles. In this case, the mezzanine is worse for most riders and costs more. That’s what we call a “lose-lose”.

        The default should be “Let’s do what’s cheapest, and only spend a lot more if it’s clearly much better.” Not, “Let’s default to something that is worse for some riders, better for others and is very expensive.”

      5. [Note that I didn’t say “the default should be mezzanines without thinking”, I said it should be considered on a case-by-case basis. When you’re designing a really expensive transportation system, this hardly seems excessive….]

      6. The “real subway system[s]” mentioned above have mezzanines if and only if they have exits to opposite ends of a public square or something of the sort. Since Sound Transit is excavating the whole station box and building the exits right there, there could be no possible use from a mezzanine. If Brooklyn were mined and needed diagonal tunnels containing just a pair of escalators each in all different directions — which would double the potential distance between entrances, by the way, though I don’t intend to argue about how it should have been built, understanding the many factors that make such a design difficult — a mezzanine would make sense.

      7. Counter arguments to “there are trade offs and you have to think of things case-by-case?” What counter-argument could there possibly be to that bunch of cliches?

      8. My point is you start with “no mezzanine” and work to “mezzanine” if you have no other choice. You “default” to cheaper, no mezzanine designs. You don’t start with expensive, with mezzanine designs. You put those in transfer stations, and places where there are no other options.

        “There are trade-offs and case-by-case blah blah blah” is not a counter argument to that.

      9. I think you guys are in violent agreement on this. Put mezzanines where they are needed/warranted. Sometimes it’s the depth of the tunnel that is the determining factor. You can’t say “default to shallow” because the geography, utilities, geology etc. have no default value.

      10. How ironic that the one station without a mezzanine is the only one that needs it!

  2. I find it strange that all of the options for the Bellevue Transit Center station show the station entrance on the east side of 110th Ave – meaning that anyone transferring to/from a bus at BTC has to cross 110th Ave on the surface. Are they paying homage to Bellevue City Hall? The station entrance should be on the west side of 110th Ave, ideally it should be in the center BTC island.

    1. There should be entrances on both sides of 110th.

      We just returned from spending time in London. Tube stations have multiple entrances which significantly reduces waiting time at cross walks, thus increasing convenience and likely ridership.

    2. I asked this in an earlier post and the only reason suggested it might be because of parking garage entrances on the west side. I’m not sure I buy that and will try to ask someone from ST at the next open house. I wonder what it would cost or if it’s feasible to burrow an entrance from the lower level of City Hall, the parking garage level, as a third entrance.

      1. So I asked at the open house tonight and the reason the station design can’t be flipped to put access on the west side of 110th is indeed because of the building setbacks and parking garage entrances. I asked if anyone had thought of putting the NE 6th access inside the Microsoft tower ala the symphony and the answer was basicly no and too far along in the design phase to do it now.

    3. If you look at the engineering drawings for the 2 mezzanine-less options it’s clear why the entrances are on the east side of the road. If they could build the mirror image of the stacked-tunnel configuration it might be possible to put the entrances on the west side of 110th.

      1. I’m pretty good at mechanical drawings but civil engineering isn’t my strong suit. What’s the defining feature that forces east side entrances, the offset of the station box relative to the road? While in principle I like the idea of center platforms might it make sense to go to outside platforms and four entrances. At least you surface on the “right” side of 110th half the time. Probably adds cost though.

  3. As I understand it Bellevue is on the hook for $100 million in contributions; mostly forfeiture of fees, taxes and contributions of City property for staging, construction and ROW. The City may have to contribute up an additional $60 million unless cost savings can be found. It’s unfortunate ST resorted to this extortion tactic to deliver grade separation for a regional light rail project bisecting the CBD.

    1. “mostly forfeiture of fees, taxes and contributions” (rolls eyes) They should have doubled the fees – then they could claim having to pay millions more. Poor Bellevue.

      1. I pushed for that but it didn’t fly := The battle now is centered on ST’s bully tactic of partial takings. If the City buys out affected property owners it’ll be a lot harder for ST to get away with.

    2. It’s “extortion” to give somebody something they asked you for, which you didn’t originally want to give them? The losers are those impacted by the downgrades on 112th and Bel-Red, if there are any downgrades. Specifically, riders from Redmond who will have a longer travel time, and really all Bellevue-Seattle riders who would also have a longer travel time. Although an underground segment downtown may make up for a surface segment on 112th, so they may end up cancelling each other out. But the Bel-Red slowdowns remain, which would affect whether the 545 can eventually be retired or downgraded to peak-only.

  4. I still wish Sound Transit would at least discuss the possibility of deferring the East Main station. The Eastside restructuring has created frequent bus service from BTC to the area near the proposed station if you combine routes 240, 246, and 560. It’s also only a 6 block walk and there is limited TOD potential around that station. The maps at the last open house showed the limited TOD potential very clearly.

    1. Yes, East Main (terrible inaccurate name) isn’t very useful. Something down by the Bellfield office park (think that’s what it’s called) and the Wilburton P&R would be more useful. The Spring District Station can be deleted too until there’s enough incentive that the developer wants to pay for it. Ditto for the 130th P&R. All the new development in Bel-Red is centered on car dealerships and auto repair. Auto Row has found a new home. I think there will be residential and retail development in Wilburton long before Bel-Red. There’s just way too many stations between Old Main and Overlake.

      1. Oddly enough, auto repair shops (as opposed to dealers) often have a large number of people taking public transit to and from them. ;-) Think about it for a minute….

    2. Another factoid from the open house this evening; any station deferral or elimination will not according to the MOU count one thin dime toward the $60 million in cost reduction Bellevue is attempting to find. I think the tunnel is dead. I hope the City Council puts a funding plan on the ballot this fall for a yeah or nay vote so people will get to decide if it’s worth it. Choice A) get $100 million dollars from ST for ROW, permits and tax revenue that can be used to fund projects all over the City. Choice B) $40-60 million in new taxes poured solely into DT; basically deferring all other projects for decades. It will then be up to the DT Association to decide if they’re going to fish or cut bait.

  5. I like the idea of building the downtown station above ground next to City Hall. To my eyes it looks like the platform entrances would be closer to the transit center than with any of the underground stations.

  6. These “cost savings” discussions are a waste of time. This project will have a $4.5 billion budget. Get going on it. This delay is not needed — no more talking about it. What’s the holdup?

    1. Write a check dude; we’ll get right on it. It may be a multi billion dollar project but $160 million is a big chunk of change to the budget of a city the size of Bellevue.

      1. How much are the construction costs of the new roadways across I-405? How much is the city investing in destroying “redeveloping” its industrial area? I’m pretty positive that Bellevue can find the money if they really want to. They might even (gasp!) tax themselves!

      2. WSDOT lists it’s funding at $225 million for the Bellevue Braids which includes the NE 12th bridge. The NE 4th extension is $35 million of which $25 million is City funding. The NE 6th HOV Extension is estimated at 67 million but has zero money budgeted through 2018. NE 15th Multi-Modal corridor (Bel-Red Link alignment) segment one is $86 million with only $1.3 million in funds available. Phase II is $100 million with zero funding secured. In total the Bellevue 2013-2018 TIP program identified $848 million dollars worth of projects of which there is only $105 million funded; $82 million of local funding. So yeah, a $160 million contribution is a big ticket item for the City. Seattle has over 600,000 people and is the North Subarea. Bellevue after it’s recent annexation is only 125,000 people which represents less than a quarter of the East Subarea.

      3. “Seattle has over 600,000 people and is the North Subarea. ”

        … along with Shoreline and Lake Forest Park. Although Seattle has 90-95% of the population.

      4. Yeah, that’s why I italicized “is” but should have said “basically is”. Shoreline is bigger than I thought, 53k; about the same as Kirkland (48k + recent annexations) or Redmond (54k). But is there any major employment center in Shoreline or Lake Forest Park? And yes it works out to almost exactly 90% Seattle. And Shoreline is served by Seattle City Light which makes them sort of a “protectorate” :=

      5. Not that I can think of. I guess Shoreline is your perfect “bedroom community”. And because it’s wider east-west than north-south, it’s like Canada in relationship to the US, “66% of the population is within two miles of Seattle”.

  7. I love the irony of moving the station to NE6th. Look at slides 3c and 3d about 3/4 the way down. Hmmm. Platforms are pretty close to I-405 – almost where Kevin Wallace placed the Vision station, except his idea was for trains to continue running N/S, not continuing E/W under a tunnel near BTC, then snake around some hard turns to get back to … I-405 in a very expensive tunnel. What’s the point of the tunnel now?
    Also, why build the Hospital Station a couple of blocks away which only adds some more slow running curves and another stop, when a pedestrian bridge would be far less expensive (Oh, I remember, this isn’t Northgate and NSCC).
    The Vision station was designed to accommodate cross platform transfers, (via mezzanine) for RDC trains using the BNSF corridor down the road when it becomes clear widening I-405 to 10 or 12 lanes will never happen. ST pretty much screwed that concept out of existence.
    So build all three stations in Bellevue, mere blocks apart, build your tunnel, kill the BNSF corridor, and call East Link a smashing success story with paltry ridership.
    We’ve waited since 1996 for this. So, after 30 years when it finally opens, we spent a huge wad of money on a crap rail system. Well done, Seattle.

    1. The segment along NE 16th wouldn’t be grade separated. I think there would be a grade crossing at 130th NE at the very least. There would also be grade crossings in segment E as it’s currently envisioned anyway, but that might never be built.

      1. Why is it so difficult to learn how to build things correctly the first time?

      2. Because a lot of voters still care more about parking than transit, and a lot of voters don’t want their taxes raised either at all or more than a little bit. These two groups are distinct although there’s heavy overlap. But together they conspire to keep transit funding too low to build things right the first time. We’re lucky that Link even exists, and that it’s 50% grade-separated now and heading toward 80%. (Grade-separated in the sense of no traffic crossings. The technical definition of grade separation is narrower than that.)

      3. Worse than that I just realized looking at the drawings at the open house that for NE15/16th (the Bel-Red segment) that East Link will be crossing NE 20th at grade just a few hundred feet west of 140th Ave NE. The good news is this will be a windfall for all the body shops in the area! According to ST it’s always been this way but what I’ve also learned is there is a MAJOR disconnect between the NE 15/16th corridoor as envisioned by the Bellevue Transportation Commision drawings and what ST is actually planning to do!

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