The Sound Transit Board voted yesterday to recommend building a 25-acre rail yard in Bellevue near the Spring District real estate development in the Bel-Red Corridor.
Sound Transit looks to triple their current light rail fleet from 62 to 180, as well as expanding their light-rail system from 16 to 50 miles. Because of the projected growth, a new maintenance facility is needed to go along with the current facility in the Sodo neighborhood, as the latter is expected to reach its full capacity by 2020.
The BNSF site in Bellevue’s Bel-Red corridor west of 120th Avenue NE was among the four sites that Sound Transit narrowed down in the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) completed in May. The other sites considered were in Lynnwood and two other Bellevue locations, with one being adjacent to the SR-520 and the other being a modified version of the BNSF site. Detailed version of the site map for the original BNSF site can be found here.
The EIS considered a number of factors to measure the impact that would be left by the new light rail operations base including: noise and vibration; land use; visual and economic impacts; social, neighborhood, and social service impacts; and, impacts to parklands, open spaces, and other natural resources.
King County Executive Dow Constantine admitted that finding the right location for the rail yard has been a very challenging issue.
“Everyone is unanimous in wanting the facility to be somewhere else,” Constantine said. “It inevitably impacts homes, businesses, and property. But this is all about our future. The maintenance facility is the lynchpin to our ability to bring light rail across the entire region.”
All other alternatives proved to be more problematic than the chosen location. The SR-520 alternative, located just below Highway 520 and east of 130th Avenue Northeast, would have displaced more than 100 businesses in Plaza 520. The Lynnwood alternative was also an unpopular choice for local residents, as a petition in opposition of the site gathered about 1,300 signatures. Lynnwood City Council President Loren Simmonds said that the construction of the rail yard would displace the offices of the Edmonds School District and Washington State Department of Social and Heath Services.
Bellevue mayor and board member Claudia Balducci said that having the link operations maintenance facility in the BNSF site would be an “ironic choice.” Balducci explained that it would defeat the purpose of the Bel-Red Subarea Plan, which was designed to promote a high-density, mixed-used development in anticipation of 2023 opening the East Link light rail.
“The Bel-Red planning that we’ve done in Bellevue, that is integrated in light rail and dependent on light rail, was done years and years ago in 2008,” Balducci said. “Some of the frustration that you hear is the idea that this comes in now in 2014, and takes away the big chunk of our subarea plan. We could have worked around it if we had planned earlier.
Pierce County Pat McCarthy voted in favor of the Bellevue BNSF site because it is the least expensive location to build the facility at $345 million in capital costs, as opposed to $355 million in Lynnwood and $415 million in the BNFS modified location, and $385 million in the SR-520 alternative.
Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien said that the BNSF location is the most cost-effective site among the four alternatives, but also sympathizes the concerns that Balducci and the city of Bellevue has over the site.
“There’s no other site or location that I could think of that we should do it at so I’m not sure what could have been done differently,” O’Brien said. “But I do want to be careful that we don’t leave operational dollars behind, because there is an opportunity cost to the foregone development that is going to happen out there. “
The board will not make a final decision until after publication of the Final EIS, which is expected to happen in late 2015. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2017 with completion in 2020.