Last night, the Bellevue city council slogged through what may be its last big East Link planning decision ever, and ended at a unanimous endorsement of its preferred cost savings options. Before I get to exactly which specific picks the council made, it’s worth mentioning that this is effectively only a recommendation and isn’t a binding action. The final alignment decision still rests in the hands of the Sound Transit Board, which is expected to vote on the matter this coming Thursday.
Ultimately, the council approved three major alignment segments:
- Retained cut alignment side-running along Bellevue Way with no savings. A cheaper alternative would have brought the alignment to at-grade, added a new HOV lane, and pushed the entire roadway west. This was ultimately canned after residents balked.
- Road-over-rail crossing of 112th Ave SE and an at-grade crossing of SE 4th limited to emergency vehicle access only. The SE 4th crossing saves in the neighborhood of $2 to $4 million.
- Open downtown station at NE 6th, producing $19 to $33 million in savings. We’ve opposed this option since its conception and our stance hasn’t changed. Although I’ll give ST and Bellevue staff credit for doing their best to improve the design, the station remains hugely inferior to its 110th Ave counterpart, for all the reasons Martin alluded to last week. As a concession to picking the NE 6th station, the council did approve an amendment which would authorize spending $5 million of the savings to improve the walkway between the station and the transit center.
In total, the cost savings don’t even end up anywhere close to the $60 million target the City was hoping to reach, which leaves anywhere from $23 to $39 million unaccounted for. The remaining difference will ultimately have to be paid out in cash in order for Bellevue to fund its share of the downtown tunnel.
The next best thing for transit advocates to do is to make your opinion known at the Sound Transit Board meeting this coming Thursday, at which point the Board will likely seal East Link’s fate before launching the project into final design. The meeting will be held from 1:30-4pm in the Ruth Fisher Board Room at Union Station. Public comments are solicited near the beginning so it’s important to show up on time if you plan on testifying.