At the Sound Transit (ST) open house in Bellevue on June 5th (materials here) ST handed a packet outlining the progress made to date toward final design. ST and the City classified the cost savings into three categories. The first and least controversial are deemed “Cost Savings Ideas Advanced for Further Engineering Review.” These generally will not affect the alignment or have any operational impact. While not “sexy” it’s useful in “keeping score” toward the $60 million City Contingency agreed to in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the City and ST.

Tunnel design and Station Optimization yielded three cost saving ideas. Utilizing a load bearing center wall can save $3m by reducing the roof structure requirements. Eliminating the Waterproofing Membrane System and allowing for routine drainage saves $2m. But I question the long term structural effects on porous concrete and structural steel. Reducing the mezzanine and platform size saves $3m. Presumably this item is moot since eliminating the mezzanine entirely seems to have the most traction and biggest savings.

Elevated guideway design elements total $16M in potential savings. Changing the Aerial Guideway Super-Structure to Precast Girder or Cast-In Place Box saves $8m. I’m not sure why this wasn’t the default and why the SR 520 segment is different. Geotechnical recommendations to optimize structural elements provides the other $8m in potential savings.

Replacing drainage structures with “low-impact development design elements” scores $2m in cost savings. I believe this comes from the Bellevue Transportation Commission and City staff design work on NE 15/16th which narrowed the street cross section from five lanes to two and made extensive use of drainage swales and pervious surfaces in lieu of the standard storm drains and retention ponds.

Perhaps not all of the ideas are totally without controversy. Expediting tunnel construction through additional road closures generates $13m in potential cost savings. Nobody is happy when their road gets closed but “living the dream” with all the current closures for 520 and the Bellevue Braids I cast my vote for more closures over a shorter period of time. Just get it over with already!

So, the score card for the category “Advanced for Further Engineering Review” adds up to $36m, not counting the $3m for reducing the mezzanine. The Executive Summary points out that engineering is still very preliminary, but even conservatively this amounts to at least $20m in savings. Still, I’m optimistic that through the Collaborative Design Process the tunnel is a done deal and there may even be money left for some “nice to have” elements.

26 Replies to “News Flash: Not All East Link Ideas Contentious”

  1. ST has used precast segmental guideway construction in the Tukwilla segment of Central Link because it reduced the cost of construction.

    My guess is that this type of construction has larger start up and overhead cost (long term use of a large crane to lift segments for example) so it only pencils out if the length of the segment is longer. For shorter segments more standard highway bridge construction techniques don’t requires this since girders can quickly be places by a crane. For cast in place construction long term use of the area below the structure is necessary for construction. If you have that luxury this type of construction is more feasible.

    1. I agree that it’s poorly named. East Main would be over in Crossroads. It’s not a great location either unless the transit center station is moved to 6th in which case it becomes the only place to pick up the walkshed of the southern half of DT. However, deleting or deferring a station does not apply to the City Contingency of $60M as specified in the MOU.

    2. How long does it take to go 4/10th mile at 25mph = 57 sec. or the distance from BTC to either E.Main or Hospital stations. Add some acc/decel time and it’s only 2 minutes between each of the three stops.
      That may be needed along 3rd in Seattle, but Bellvue?, next to a Freeway?, and a Lake?, some SF housing?
      Why three stops when one will suffice. Throw in a few moving sidewalks (covered of course), and save a ton of dough.
      Who gets credit for the savings should be a minor consideration, not THE deciding factor.

      1. The key factor is how long does it take to walk to a station. If that 4/10th of a mile was a garden path you could stroll along at 3mph it would be less than 8 minutes. but the light cycle just at NE 4th can add a couple of minutes to that. When you expand out on the Manhattan distance to look at walkshed it gets even worse. It’s true that the Transit Center location covers most employment in downtown Bellevue pretty well but it’s also true that it fails miserably at catching the ever growing community of dense residences being built south of NE 4th. A multi billion dollar system needs to do more than just capture the six hours a day of peak commute.

      2. Is the manner in which the lights are set in downtown Bellevue something which Sound Transit must allocate capital around as though it is set in stone? A purpose of transit (particularly if it is underground) is to lessen traffic on the streets, which in turn should cause Bellevue, on its own nickel, to make its light cycles more pedestrian-friendly (as though something short of Brown Shirts to shoo people off the sidewalks wouldn’t be an improvement). The system shouldn’t be built with everyone’s tax money to encourage Bellevue to continue to discourage pedestrians, but should be built as though they actually thought they had a walkshed.

      3. Think of how many users of public transit are using mobility devices…to get to social services, shop, get to work.

        Suddenly 4/10ths of mile for people who aren’t “riding a bicycle” becomes a bigger deal.

    3. “East Main” was just a working name meant to differentiate it from other station locations near Main Street when they were doing the initial scoping. It’s not a reference to an E Main Street. I doubt if the station will retain the name once it’s built.

  2. Thanks for the report, Bernie.

    As someone who works with “waterproofing” in building envelope design, I can tell you that the $2M savings in deleting the membrane system is a penny-wise, pound-foolish decision to say the least. I don’t know what system they are considering; there are some cost savings possible if they specified a “best practice” system because you can remove some elements from that when the interior space is non-conditioned (like a subway station or garage as opposed to a residence or office). However, complete removal would be rolling the dice. There is a reason that you see waterproofing membrane systems being installed below grade on most major construction nowadays.

    1. As someone who uses Beacon Hill station frequently, I also see this as pennie-wise, pound-foolish. Beacon Hill leaks like a sieve and has already aged because of it, not to mention cleanup and repair costs. Granted, Beacon Hill is a deep station and is perhaps more subject to leaks, but underground is underground.

      Does anyone know if Beacon Hill will get repairs covered under some kind of warranty?

      1. I’m glad that there is a warranty coverage. My larger question though is that in the platform area, there are large areas of discoloration on the walls and a strong odor of mold or rotting organic material. What is ST doing about that?

      2. The last segment of Johannesburg’s Gautrain system (with much cooler looking rolling stock than ours) just opened this week after a several month delay due to excessive water at the terminal station. It’s unlikely that this will escape litigation as there has been contentious arguments over who will pay for the issue–the contractor (whom I believe is a subsidiary of Bombardier) thinks everything is fine and the transit authority begs to differ.

    2. “We” get to build this thing just once. Why let a brief fad for austerity today control the utility of a system we’ll likely still be using in 100 years?

      Of late, every time I see quibbling over a few million dollars separating public works done right from done on-the-cheap, I ask myself “and we’re going to write $200 million of bonds + interest to do another stadium?” Where’s the coherence?

  3. Thanks for the update Bernie. I couldn’t make it to the Open House.

    Was there any information provided updating the status of East Link Segment A? I know WSDOT and Sound Transit hoped to have opinions by now regarding the feasibility of reengineering the floating bridge and its ramps for light rail.

    Nothing like what’s proposed for Segment A ever has been tried before, and that has been giving everyone pause. Moreover, as Sound Transit decided in 2001 to go with the really heavy trainsets (and the heavier 1500v d.c. catenary system) the prospect of all that work on an aging concrete pontoon bridge is raising eyebrows. Obviously if that extensive reengineering work would decrease safety margins – or if there’s a substantial possibility it would hasten the infrastructure’s degradation – the proposed property handover would be called off.

    Does that information packet indicate whether engineering firms have been retained yet to address those feasibility issues?

    The last word we’ve had about this is that it remains a very open issue. The January, 2010 I-90 highway infrastructure handover Valuation Methodologies report from Sound Transit’s lawyers at Foster Pepper and Stoel Rives is here:

    On pages 14-15 it says this:

    The [December, 2008] draft EIS also addressed I-90 floating bridge design considerations. Specific concerns identified were suitability of expansion joints on the transition span between the approach bridges and the floating bridge; additional weight of rail and trains; stray electrical currents; seismic upgrades; and installation and maintenance issues. The DEIS reported that the Joint Transportation Committee had commissioned an Independent Review Team (IRT) to evaluate such matters and the IRT concluded that all issues identified as potentially affecting feasibility of light rail on the I-90 center roadway can be addressed.

    Everyone knows those engineering issues can be “addressed”. What’s not clear – by any stretch – is that those engineering issues can be satisfactorily RESOLVED. I believe your article here indicates your concern about those issues (the reference to porous concrete with rebar supports being susceptible to water damage).

    Do you know when we might get an answer to whether or not those unprecedented engineering challenges Segment A presents can be satisfactorily RESOLVED?

    1. The Open House was specifically aimed at cost savings measures to reduce the City Contingency of $60M. As specified in the MOU all such cost savings must be in the “Portal to Portal” segment through Bellevue which starts a the I-90 to Bellevue Way interchange and stops at 148th Ave NE. I’m not aware of any cost savings ideas that involve the transition from I-90 to the elevated station at South Bellevue P&R. Any decisions regarding the floating bridge are outside the scope of the Bellevue segment. But I share your concern over construction impact and use on a marine vessel that will be 34 years old if East Link opens on schedule.

    2. I-90/Segment A is not within the scope of the ST-Bellevue MOU. However, ST and Parsons Brinkerhoff have developed two designs for the bridge transition joints. St has advanced the one they see as most promising into simulation testing and prototype development. This would be good topic for a seperate STB post.

  4. Eliminating the Waterproofing Membrane System doesn’t sound like a very good idea to me. This is the Northwest after all. Lots of rain soaking into the ground. Time, corrosion and erosion are not your friend. At least a membrane would greatly reduce that.

    Which begs the question… How was U-Link done? With or without the membrane? I know the original downtown transit tunnel had the membrane.

  5. I don’t know if it’s just me, but “crediting” cities for working to create design changes shouldn’t cause ST to give credits. I realise that would fully put a hole in Bellevue’s desired tunnel, but it just seems that cost-savings should be standard for ST period. They’re the developer, they represent taxpayers, they have an essential public service. Play hardball. Because, if they play hardball, we get the project done for less and can focus our resources elsewhere on say, other extensions quicker. Despite the credits, I do support a Bellevue tunnel if only because of better reliability and faster service.

    1. A tunnel is clearly the right answer. The question has always been how to pay for it. The DSTT was a King County project. Central Link and U Link have received large Federal grants. ST’s clear preference was an even more elaborate tunnel than C9T but the revenue projections burst with the real estate bubble. The MOU between the City and ST is unprecedented in asking a local municipality to contribute in addition to the sub-area taxes approved in ST2. The MOU specifies a minimum $100M contribution from the City. The Contingency of $60M in additional funds was based on a preliminary engineering (PE) estimate. If those costs can be reduced as the project moves into final design the MOU provides a mechanism whereby the savings are allocated between ST and the City. If you want more money to extend Link to Redmond or Federal Way then I suggest you start lobbying their Councils to come up with matching funds. That’s the precedent that’s been set for playing hardball.

      1. Good idea. The City of Seattle can pony up millions for anything beyond a station at Northgate or beyond.

  6. >> Expediting tunnel construction through additional road closures generates $13m in potential cost savings. Nobody is happy when their road gets closed

    I object to this claim. I sent a feedback to Bellevue City Council after Monday’s meeting, and part of my feedback supports closing 110th. 110th *is* my street–my house is on 110th–and I’m fully in support of saving money by closing it. In fact, I went further than that:

    “If the downtown station is located across the street from the bus transit center, Council should consider making 110th into more of a pedestrian-friendly corridor to facilitate walking between the train and the bus. Adding a left-turn light from NE 4th St westbound to 112th Ave southbound would help reduce traffic on 110th. Expediting tunnel construction by closing 110th Ave NE during construction would help reinforce 112th Ave & 116th Ave as the primary north-south corridors in and out of downtown.

    “A permanent reduction of traffic on 110th Ave SE is, in our opinion, valuable. It’s a good thing to slow down traffic on a street that exits into a neighborhood on the north and south ends. It’s a very bad thing to cut the speed of the train in half (from 20 MPH to 10 MPH) as it enters the main Bellevue station. The slower the train, the fewer the riders.”

    1. One other interesting note. Of the seven members of council, only two took the time to write back to their constituent to acknowledge the feedback: Kevin Wallace and Jennifer Robertson. Kevin even took the time to note that making 110th into a pedestrian corridor “makes sense”.

      Say all you like about these two being Kemper Freeman’s lackeys. The fact that they took the time to acknowledge community involvement in the city’s political process speaks volumes to me about their character as politicians.

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