By the end of April, an important milestone in the East Link saga will be complete. If all goes to plan, the Sound Transit Board will adopt its preferred cost savings options in Bellevue, and effectively finalize the alignment. The cost savings work, which hopes to find savings to fund a downtown tunnel, will be one of the last major steps in the project prior to final design. At this point, many see the cost savings ideas more as give-and-take concessions rather than the intense tug-of-wars over the alignment that took place in 2011 and prior.
Last week, Sound Transit hosted an open house with an update on the work, which included new cost estimates, concept sketches (.pdf), and environmental findings that were adopted as part of a SEPA addendum to the Final EIS. According to ST spokesperson Geoff Patrick, there haven’t been any ground-breaking developments since the last update, although sentiment from various groups has solidified either for or against certain cost savings options.
The most contentious of these takes the retained-cut alignment along Bellevue Way, brings it up to at-grade, and adds a new southbound HOV lane. The entire roadway would shift west and require a significant retaining wall to support the hillside. I’ve heard split reactions about HOV lane addition, generally with support from the pro-roads business crowd and opposition from the neighborhoods, two groups that the Bellevue city council may end up finding difficult to reconcile.
Although the revision saves in the neighborhood of $5 to $8 million, environmental impacts would increase nearly across-the-board. Wetland and park impacts are the lone exceptions, since everything would move westward away from Mercer Slough. There are downsides for transit and ped advocates, too. As Martin alluded to last time, the retaining wall would make future pedestrian connections north of the park-and-ride between Enatai and Bellevue Way virtually impossible.
Meanwhile, Surrey Downs is fighting its own battle over connections and access. Another group of cost savings ideas affects access to the neighborhood via SE 4th St along 112th Ave SE. All the options produce the same environmental impacts, more or less:
- An at-grade crossing (either right-in/right-out public access or emergency access only) which saves $2 to $4 million, or
- A grade-separated crossing in a retained cut which adds $6 to $11 million, whereas this option previously had no net change in the cost
From what I’ve heard, residents in Surrey Downs have been adamant about the latter option. Preserving street access is typically a wise planning move, so I’m generally sympathetic to their plight, although the price tag could be a tough sell for the City Council and ST Board.
The final cost savings idea deals with the downtown station. Since the last update, one option– the stacked tunnel station– has been canned, leaving two remaining options:
- An optimized shallower 110th Ave NE station with the north entrance shifted west, saving $6 to $10 million, or
- A east-west daylight station south of NE 6th, saving $19 to $33 million
Although we’ve opposed the latter option for obvious reasons, the newest station design is an apparent improvement which reduces train travel time and adds a new entrance on 112th Ave. According to Don Billen, East Link deputy project director, Bellevue staff conducted a walkshed analysis of the options and found only minute differences between the stations that might impact ridership. The NE 6th station would also lessen impacts to 110th Ave during construction, a consideration that could be well-received by a council that has been frightened by the prospect of prolonged street impacts downtown.
On top of the segment-by-segment cost savings options, engineering ideas could produce an additional $9 to $16 million, putting any combination of all the savings anywhere within the range of $4 to $61 million. Even at the high end, however, the savings are barely enough to satisfy the target goal of $60 million. With so few options, both the Bellevue city council and ST Board will have some appreciably tough calls to make come decision time.
In the meantime, you can submit your own feedback about the cost savings work by filling out the online survey form today. Comments received by the end of day will be incorporated into a public comment summary. You can also view all the open house materials here.