Not so long ago, prospects for an ST3 investment in rail from Totem Lake to Issaquah seemed remote. There were too many competing priorities within a 15-year ST3 program, making a deferral to ST4 likely, and motivating examination of BRT between Bellevue and Kirkland. In an extended program, it’s suddenly feasible, but the proposed alignment has weak connections to the most important destinations.

The project is a 17.5 mile rail line from Totem Lake to Central Issaquah connecting nine stations. From the north, the line generally follows the Eastside Rail Corridor, briefly interlining with East Link near Wilburton station. This is also a transfer point to East Link trains serving downtown Bellevue or Seattle. Near the historic Wilburton trestle, the line transitions to the east side of I-405 and then to I-90 in Factoria. Beyond Factoria, the line generally follows the I-90 median to a terminus in Central Issaquah.

There are eight new stations, four each on Segment A (Totem Lake – Wilburton) and Segment B (Wilburton – Issaquah).

Segment A serves four stops in the Kirkland area. An added stop at NE 112th St means this is one more than the previous studies, improving access within the southern part of the Totem Lake neighborhood. Other Kirkland stops are at NE 128th St (adjacent to the freeway BRT station), at NE 6th St (southeast of downtown), and at the South Kirkland P&R.

Segment B also serves four stations (after Wilburton); in Factoria, at Eastgate, at Lakemont Blvd, and in Central Issaquah. The Factoria and Lakemont stops are new to this study. The Factoria station, near Richards Rd on the north side of I-90, will improve access along the Eastgate/I-90 corridor which seems too sprawling to be well served via Eastgate alone. While the location isn’t ideal for Factoria riders, it’s perhaps as close to Factoria as the line can get while avoiding the environmental and engineering challenges of Mercer Slough and the I-405 interchange. The added stop at Lakemont would be a park-and-ride facility.

Kirkland may not be impressed by a Kirkland-Bellevue rail segment lacking walkable access to the downtown of either city. Issaquah, on the other hand, intends to concentrate future growth within the Central Issaquah area adjacent to  the planned station. Travel from Issaquah to Seattle via Wilburton may appear circuitous, but no more so than express buses terminating into Bellevue Transit Center.

One potential outcome is a split-mode service on the corridor. An Issaquah rail line could terminate at Wilburton, with a transfer to Kirkland BRT, and a turn-back for the trains at the East Link OMSF. (Alternatively, a Kirkland-Bellevue rail line could include tail tracks in the ERC if built without the leg to Issaquah).

E03SummaryTravel times are healthy, just 16 minutes from Wilburton to either Issaquah or Totem Lake, with peak headways of 7.5 minutes. Estimated capital costs are up to $3.4 billion (surprisingly high for an alignment that mostly comprises highways and railroad ROW). Ridership is estimated at 12-15 thousand.

One way to observe the access challenges is to compare the population and employment density around stations served by this and other Eastside projects. Even with projected growth in the regional centers served, density around stations is much lower than even I-405 BRT. Nobody thinks of I-405 BRT as serving urban places, but the projected density around I-405 BRT stations in 2040 is 10-13 population/acre and 18-22 jobs/acre. This line is scored at just 8 population/acre and 13 jobs/acre.

The Kirkland BRT would outperform in serving comparatively dense places. Whereas the rail stations average 21 activity units in 2040 (a PSRC-favored measure that sums employment and population per acre), the Kirkland BRT stations average 46. In aggregate, Kirkland’s BRT would serve 48% more residents and 134% more employees on a much shorter line. The ability to place stations in downtown Kirkland and Bellevue really matters.


Are the station access challenges fixable? There is no appetite for another line through downtown Bellevue, or revisiting the Mercer Slough. Interlining with East Link creates operational issues (and indeed project construction on Totem Lake-Issaquah will interrupt East Link operations at the short interlined section on the ERC). This is a case where the easy alignment misses the key destinations, and the density of the Eastside may not be enough to support a better pricier rail line.

103 Replies to “ST3: Kirkland-Issaquah Light Rail”

  1. “Are the station access challenges fixable? There is no appetite for … revisiting the Mercer Slough. ” [Citation needed]

    The east side “projects” have been infuriating to me. If I believed in conspiracy theories I would say that ST is intentionally developing bad options so they can say that the low ridership doesn’t justify the investment on the Eastside.

    405 is one example. No travel time improvements off-peak over existing service, and misses key population centers already served (Bothell, the Landing).

    This light rail is even more egregious though because it’s so close but so far.

    1. Can we kill the FUD once-and-for all that light rail can’t cross Mercer Slough? First, it was already evaluated to be viable for East Link (that alignment was killed because it bypassed central Bellevue, not because of the Slough – ironically, this new alignment bypasses Bellevue too). Second, it doesn’t pass the smell test because there is a massive 10 lane highway already crossing the slough there. If it’s really an issue just build the rail in the frigging center of I-90 (like East link). No new infrastructure needed!

    2. Second the ridership comparisons are BS. The reason that it misses Kirkland isn’t because there’s some inherent reason light rail can’t serve it, it’s because they CHOSE to not serve it. If BRT with dedicated ROW can do it **so can light rail**. It’s not like the turning raidisues are too tight – coming into the new downtown Bellevue station the train has to basically turn 90 degrees on a dime.

    What frustrates me the most is the abivalencr and acceptance of this crappy option. I remember when B7 was being discussed for East link this blog was up-in-arms. Why can’t the same thing happen here when the same situation is coming up (eg Bypass downtown Bellevue and downtown Kirkland).

    1. While I agree Sound Transit has screwed up with segments like MLK Way (center-running light-rail) that now hinders the efficiency of the entire system, Sound Transit is doing a far better job with the Eastside. The Eastside has rail lines that are grade-separated and will not be impacted by road traffic. Running light-rail along the ERC is one of the best alignments I’ve seen – it’s the start to a genuine heavy-rail line, the sort you find in suburban areas of Europe. Rail stations in the suburbs should rarely be in the very center of towns, but located within a mile of the main street, such as Kirkland. Kirkland will continue to grow and sprawl, and soon the station will be within a dense urban area with just a 10-minute walk down to the lake shore. The only way you could get LRT to go to the center of Kirkland would be a tunnel, which would not be worth it considering it’d also lengthen the travel times for people passing through.

    2. 405 light rail is terrible because 405 is like a 20 lane highway. No conspiracy needed to get terrible numbers from that project.

    3. The challenge with crossing the Slough isn’t crossing the Slough, its crossing I-405. This is not to minimize the environmental impacts of crossing the Slough. WSDOT has had (and continues to have) issues with the I-90 Slough crossings, in that things are constantly shifting and they have to jack the bridges back into place every so often. If you look underneath (via the bike trail), there are all sorts of cables and whatnot holding everything together.

      The East Link EIS analyzed a line on the north side of I-90 turning north into the BNSF corridor and didn’t have to contemplate getting across I-405.

      If you read the linked article, the grade to get up and over I-405 (and future HOV direct access ramps WSDOT wants to build) is excessive for LRT, and the other possible options aren’t great. You could conceivably thread the needle through the various Bellevue Way ramps and get to the I-90 median around where 118th Ave SE goes underneath I-90, or possibly east of the old BNSF trestle, but that would be tight and has never been analyzed conceptually, unless you think comments on the internet count as such. You could also theoretically tunnel through the ramps in the SW and SE quadrants of the interchange; that would be a roller coaster of an alignment.

      As for the alignment in Kirkland, I agree that it is lousy, but any alternative which provides direct service to downtown Kirkland involves some combination of 1) significant ROW acquisition; 2) at-grade running through intersections which kills reliability; or 3) an aerial alignment. The turning radius for our light rail trains is very good, but not that good compared to road vehicles: 18 meters/59 feet. Look at the turns on the streetcar for examples.

      1. What about crossing 405 a bit south of the I-90 interchange, almost to Coal Creek Parkway? Then we could have a stop in the middle of the Factoria retail and office hub.

      2. Crossing further south has similar problems to crossing in the interchange, and creates a couple others. The primary problem is that I-405 is at a high elevation relative to Bellevue Way. There is also a residential neighborhood on the ridge west of I-405.

        Once you’re down to Coal Creek Parkway, things get easier; you could use the BNSF corridor to get there, and the grades work out well enough that going elevated over I-405 at that location shouldn’t be problematic. You then have to get back north into Factoria proper though, which isn’t difficult (you could just stay elevated on Coal Creek Parkway and then turn north onto Factoria Blvd.), but it is a lot of out-of-direction travel. I-90 to Coal Creek is a similar distance as I-405 to the East Channel Bridge, roughly a mile, so you’d be adding a couple miles of extra distance.

      3. The 5% grade is nice if you can keep it, but if necessary it can be exceeded. Pittsburgh has lots of hills too, and their light rail line has a 9.1% grade. What’s nice to do and what is necessary to do to get the job done are sometimes two different things.

      4. Sound Transit has stated 7% is the upper bounds of what they’ll do. Certainly steeper gradients are possible, but design, construction, and maintenance costs start going up quickly. The bigger issue remains that if you go over I-405, you’re 80-100 feet in the air over I-405, and at least another 50 feet over Richards Road, giving you a Factoria station nearly as high as Beacon Hill is deep. Or you skip the Factoria station and go straight to Eastgate.

      5. The way to make the Slough work is to follow the south side of I-90 then swing south along the edge of the I-90 East to I-405 South ramp while dropping into a cut then curve under the freeway once the interchange ramp has merged. That puts you directly into the right of way SE 38th allowing a station right at 38th and Factoria Boulevard.

        Continue directly east, surface and run along the edge of the greenway back to I-90, cross it and run along Eastgate Way to Bellevue College.

        Sure, it’s Cadillac but the East Side needs good ways to spend its money. This is a very good way to spend that money.

      6. Caveat. This is a very good way to spend that money assuming that you have decided that LRT to Issaquah is a viable project. ST’s fears of interlining are ridiculous. East Link will have a train every eight minutes and Issaquah-Bellevue will be lucky to need one that often. One train every four minutes between South Bellevue and Wilburton will not in any way stress the system.

      7. The light rail would clearly need to have to climb quite a lot to get up to the RR ROW – at least up to the height of 405. And the Wilburton trestle would probably have to be rebuilt since it is decades old and single tracked. That money could instead be spent to get to South Bellevue and make the line much more useful. There has to be a way to cross over or under 405.

      8. Carl,

        WHAT are you talking about? I can’t make a map but I’ll repeat myself.

        The line would pass under I-90 essentially a bit above water line, curve sharply eastward and parallel I-90 across the slough, gradually gaining some elevation. Yes, that curve would be slow, but it’s only about 200 yards from South Bellevue Station. It would 118th at grade and enter a cut to pass under the rail line and which would then follow the curve of the eastbound I-90 to southbound I-405 ramp until just about even with the ROW of SE38th extended across the freeway. By that time the cut would be rather deep, perhaps 40 feet which would be more than adequate to build a tunnel by mining techniques under the freeway.

        It would the continue in a C&C tunnel under 38th to a station at Factoria Boulevard/128th. RIGHT in the heart of Factoria where it should be.

        It would continue eastward under SE38th transitioning after about a block to a bored tunnel which would underrun the greenbelt and curve toward I-90, cross under it and either surface at the TC or continue in tunnel. If it surfaced it would then transition to aerial after the TC and pass over the 148th interchange or tunnel under it.

        Once it passed 158th it would use the engineering of the existing plan.

        I know, I know. ST is afraid of interlining. Except when it’s in downtown Seattle…..

        I know, I know. ST is afraid of wetlands. Except when they’re farther north in the Mercer Slough.

      9. I think you misinterpreted my comment. The map showing ST’s proposed route appears to show the light rail line going from a station at Richards Road up to the grade of I-405. That seems steep. As well as reaching no stations or population centers.

        Your proposed path, with a stop in the heart of Factoria, and then a connection to East Link at South Bellevue is much more preferable. Any light rail from Issaquah and Eastgate that does not connect at South Bellevue seems like a bad plan.

      10. Carl,

        My apologies. You didn’t specifically address my comment in yours, but because it came immediately afterward I mistakenly interpreted it as a response. Thank you for clarifying.

    4. Amen. Stephen. I can not believe we are closing the door on the slough crossing at this early conceptual stage. Jump through the slough hoops if we have to, it can be done. This current proposed route that duplicates the existing track from I-90 to Wilburton is insane, as is a sole transfer in Wilburton outside of Downtown Bellevue. Its designed to be a complete failure.

  2. What’s wrong with just giving the eastside a bunch of new service hours on existing bus routes? If light rail doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t make sense.

    1. Agreed.

      The other option is to try and remove the bus pinch points. I don’t know where these are, but I would assume that there are several in Issaquah. Add lanes and ramps where appropriate if you really want to build something. But light rail to the area is really absurd.

      1. The biggest pinch point is between I-90 and 405. HOV ramps between the two would dramatically speed HOV access to downtown Bellevue from Eastgate and Issaquah. Because the ramps don’t exist, buses to/from Issaquah use Bellevue Way to move between downtown Bellevue and I-90. This costs a few minutes inbound in the morning, but is a massive reliability killer going outbound from Bellevue in the afternoon.

      2. Going from Bellevue to Issaquah via I-405 would do nothing for reliability on weekday afternoons. I-405 is gridlocked on all lanes including HOV in the southbound direction on weekday afternoons and even some weekends.

      3. Converting the HOV lane to HOT lanes + adding a second one is funded (although it could always be stopped given the debate over the current HOT lanes). If you provide direct ramps from 405 HOT to 90 HOV, and disallow lane changes, you’ll take care of the issue.

      4. There was an idea once for something called the BRISK BRT network.

        For travel to/from Issaquah, one possible configuration would have included the Snoqualmie River Rd Busway in Bellevue, connected to the HOV (future HOT?) lanes on I-90. At the Issaquah end, you could have a cross-town busway that funneled buses from the Highlands and historic Issaquah.

        A variation that wasn’t in the original could use Kirkland’s ERC busway to SR 520 so you get a fast connection to UW.

        Better connectivity within Issaquah, comparatively inexpensive connection from Issaquah to Bellevue without much of a hit to reliability, and we stay out of the I-405 interchange mess. It could work.

    2. Another overlooked project is to widen the sidewalk along 142nd next to Eastgate Freeway Station so that local buses can stop there. The fact that the 245 passes right by the Eastgate Freeway stop, only to descend to the bus bays and make everybody walk back up, all for the bus to then drive right back up the hill to serve Bellevue College, is just insane. The 245 should stop next to the freeway station, then continue on straight through to Bellevue College. There is no reason why the 245 needs to stop at the Eastgate P&R bus bays at all.

      1. Completely insane. I’m surprised more transit advocates aren’t speaking out against this project given how abysmal the ridership projections are and how high the cost is. We do not live in a world of infinite resources and there are many, many better projects that could be completed with 3 BILLION dollars. The opportunity cost is immense. I believe including this project in ST3 would be a huge disservice to our transit system.

    3. You need more than bus service hours. You need to build infrastructure to improve reliability. But that means working with WSDOT on things like 405 direct access ramps which is expensive (and unpopular here) or building BRT on the ERC (mildly popular here and hugely unpopular among Kirkland residents). Otherwise you get 405 buses that run 15-20 minutes late on a regular basis (and 30 min late sometimes).

      1. I would certainly be in favor of that. As much as I like added service, it is obvious that suburban riders greatly value commuter service. So making their bus ride a lot faster would be a lot more popular than adding a bunch of service in the middle of the day. It could have the same effect as well. Buses run more often, because they don’t get stuck in traffic. It would cost a lot more, but be a lot more popular at the ballot box. Unfortunately, people view service as just something that should happen automatically, while big infrastructure improvements are worth voting for. An exception is new routes, that could easily get some votes.

  3. >> Travel from Issaquah to Seattle via Wilburton may appear circuitous, but no more so than express buses terminating into Bellevue Transit Center.

    I would say it is a lot more circuitous. OK, let’s play out a typical scenario. Someone from the Highlands in Issaquah is headed to downtown Seattle. There are two ways to get there:

    Via Mercer Island:

    1) Take a bus that goes directly from the neighborhood to Mercer Island (via I-90).
    2) Transfer to a train headed downtown

    Via Wilburton

    1) Take a bus from the neighborhood to a train in Issaquah
    2) Take the train to Wilburton
    3) Transfer to a train headed downtown.

    I just don’t see the second scenario working. Not only do you have a lot of additional backtracking, but you have an extra transfer. There are only 30,000 people in all of Issaquah, spread out over 11 square miles. I think a train to the area is a far fetched idea that would benefit hardly anyone.

    1. Ross has a point about usefulness of rail to Issaquah.

      Has ST considered the option of rail for Kirkland only. It will run from Totem Lake to Wilburton on ERC and then interlink with East Link to South Bellevue and then proceed to Seattle. It will give a one-seat ride from Kirkland to both downtown Seattle and Bellevue. The downside would be reduced headways to Redmond on East Link but headway between Bellevue and Seattle would be maintained.

      The savings from not having to extend LRT for 10 miles from Wilburton to Issaquah could be used for a possible grade separated deviation closer into Kirkland downtown (and actually a station there) and HOV ramps from I-90 to Bellevue Way. The latter would provide improved bus access from Issaquah to South Bellevue station for transfer to both Seattle and Bellevue as well as remove the problem of buses having to weave 4 lanes to get from South Bellevue to Eastgate HOV ramps.

      1. I would agree with you that building first to Kirkland would be optimal from a rail transit building perspective, Kedar. There are several reasons, some of which you are alluding to:

        1. A direct line from Kirkland to Bellevue then into Seattle would provide a direct one-seat ride from northeast King into Seattle as well as Bellevue. That would lessen much of the SR522 project pressure, particularly if the northern terminus was placed at SR 522. This proposal requires a transfer, which makes its attractiveness for Downtown Seattle less desirable. This segment has terrible congestion and most riders in the corridor would be elated to trade in an express bus for a train for this portion of their trip.
        2. From what I’ve seen on Route 550, there isn’t much ridership east of Bellevue Transit Center. I realize that Spring District is a planned growth area and that Downtown Redmond has some density (not much different than many areas of Seattle, to be frank), but I think it’s not enough to justify higher-frequency, higher-capacity service planned west of Downtown Bellevue for east of Downtown Bellevue. 10-minute or 12-minute frequency to Redmond is not a horrible thing and the ST operations would likely get more riders per East Link train if every other train went directly to Kirkland anyway.
        3. A separate line from South Bellevue to Issaquah could be built with some single-track sections, which is an attractive solution to Mercer Slough environmental constraints. It might even be possible to find a way to take 14 feet from one of the freeway bridges and simply strengthen that portion of the bridge to allow for rail to run upon it on the other side of a barrier. As an end-of-line station, any worker coming from either Bellevue or Issaquah would have a train to Issaquah waiting for them to board (like what happens at SeaTac today) on their return trip as opposed to this plan which makes them wait at Hospital (Wilburton) for another train. The South Bellevue-Issaquah line could have just that one single-track section (taking maybe a minute to traverse for each moving train leaving plenty of time for the next train coming the other way) although a good operations plan may find more areas where single-track operation could work. (Honestly, a big issue I have with service to Issaquah at all is that it’s must not really congested, especially in the HOV lanes. There are many other regional bottlenecks that need expensive solutions before this one.)
        4. Your comment about doing light rail “right” is critical. ST should focus on getting one corridor right, rather than build more corridors that don’t connect the last mile in a token attempt to save money. Think of the double-transfers required in the scenario proposed by ST above! Local bus to this new rail line to the main East Link to get to either Downtown Bellevue or Seattle, and even a triple transfer to get to SeaTac! This appears to be one of those times that elected officials are thinking about a photo ops in front of a map and not the day-to-day traveler experiences of actually riding light rail.

      2. A line from Kirkland to Seattle would also have operational impacts in Seattle, with 6-8 more trains an hour in the tunnels, and they’d have to go somewhere. (A chorus of shouts: Ballard!)

        Diverting half the East Link trains to Kirkland would leave 20-minute frequency on each branch, not 10 minute. I’m opposed to anything worse than 10 minutes on any branch because it destroys the anytime mobility that light rail is supposed to provide, and beyond that, 20 minutes doesn’t sound like enough capacity to Microsoft.

        ST has only studied a Kirkland line to Totem Lake, not 522 which is in Bothell. It’s also unclear how much a Seattle-Bellevue-Kirkland-Bothell line would really be a substitute for a 522 line. Bothell residents might find it a long detour, especially from UW. Kenmore and Lake Forest Park residents would not be impressed at all. Lake City would say, “We’re left out again.” ST’s long-range plan does have a 522 branch that bends bend back south (Northgate-Kenmore-Bothell-Kirkland), but that’s not at all the same thing as a Kirkland-Bellevue-downtown line, and it’s at the first conceptual stage (there has been no study of how useful or cost-effective such a line would be).

      3. It’s been generally marketed to have East Link at six-minute intervals. That could be twelve- minute intervals each for Redmond and Kirkland branches. Of course, the service could be linked to Ballard!

      4. Six minutes peak. It would be less off-peak. It’s currently 10, but with both Central and East Link it could be anywhere from 8 to 12. If you halve that to send half the trains to Kirkland, that’s 16 to 24 minutes.

      5. @Mike – Considering that peak frequency is expected to be 6 min for East Link on I-90 Bridge and downtown tunnel, it should be able to maintain that frequency off-peak too without any capacity issue. That would mean 12 minute frequency to Kirkland and Redmond and will maintain 6 minute all-day frequency to Ballard and SLU (assuming it is routed as such)

        In any case, if the Kirkland – Issaquah line does get built, a train would be running every 12 minutes through Bellevue but on other side of 405 with no stations for same operational cost. I agree that there will be some operational issues that will need to be worked out but with interlining, the trains are atleast going to actual destinations people want to go to at lesser capital cost and possibly greater ridership.

        I agree with you that it will reduce capacity at peak to Microsoft. But considering that riders from UW and north of Ship Canal would anyways be taking 520 bus to get there, it may not necessarily cause crush-loads.

      6. The MLK headways are limited because of the grade intersections. Central Link and East Link will share the downtown to Lynnwood track for years until the ST3 projects open, and will need even headways between the alternating lines. So East Link is limited to the headways that MLK can support.

      7. @mike: The solution to the 20-minute problem is an easy operational fix. Systems do it all the time.

        One example is the Richmond-San Francisco BART line. It quits running at some point and passengers are told to ride the Richmond-Fremont line and transfer.

        In this case, when only 10 or 15 minute Eastlink trains are justified, the Kirkland line would be truncated south of Downtown Bellevue wherever a tail track is. Timetables would be built to have Kirkand trains headed inbound to arrive first, and Kirkland trains would follow right behind Redmond trains outbound.

        In sum, your infrequent argument isn’t valid. There is an easy solution that other rail systems use all the time.

    2. @Ross – this. I can’t imagine this selling in Issaquah. The fellow next to me at the office lives in the Highlands and he laughed out loud at the idea of getting downtown via Wilburton even if it were almost all via train. Even if someone works in Bellevue or Kirkland, still much easier to drive to and still likely to have free parking, most of the area’s cultural events are in or near DT Seattle and there will be demand for those trips as well–which won’t happen via transit if this is the solution.

      The Issaquah line is a vestige of the 1968 plan (better in all respects than what we got), but even then the line went directly downtown. With Bellevue being orders of magnitude larger than it was then, if a rail line has to be built here, it needs to be interlined via DT Bellevue.

      1. @Scott, I think that’s exactly right. Issaquah rail is very much about a particular vision of future Issaquah, and hardly at all about current Issaquah.

        I don’t think this will be as compelling in Issaquah as some suppose. If current transit riders don’t see it as useful to them, will they sell it to their neighbors?

    3. I made this point in the ST Express thread, but it is worth making here again: What ST plans to do with ST Express service has no bearing on what KC Metro may do. Therefore Dan’s comparison (between a bus transfer in downtown Bellevue vs. a train one at Wilburton) is not a good one. The better comparison is between an Issaquah-Mercer Island (or South Bellevue) bus transfer vs. a train transfer at Wilburton. As you point out in scenario 1, that is no contest. I don’t see Kirkland-Issaquah light rail being that useful to Issaquah-Seattle trips unless we lost our collective minds and killed off-peak I-90 corridor bus service.

  4. What is the “operational issue” with interlining trains through DT Bellevue? Isn’t East Link headway-limited due to the I-90 bridge requirements, meaning there should be quite a bit of available time between trains to slot in trains from another line that will not be short headway either? (Notwithstanding the fact that it certainly is possible to run trains every two minutes or so if the need and will is there; ST just doesn’t choose to–and in this case there is no reason for it.)

    If there is another “operational issue” not involving headways, it would be interesting to know what it is since skipping DT Bellevue makes this line not particularly effective. The slough issue is a design issue, not operational; if the will were there a way to do it would be found. If it has to do with interruption of East Link operations, then plan and build connections into E Link now as it has just started construction. We’ve had freeway “ramps to nowhere” in this town for decades; a couple of very short “stubs to nowhere” would not be a big deal and in fact would be a tangible sign of potential service to communities that might be much more likely to vote yes knowing there are plans to come their way.

    1. Sound Transit thinks any interlining with a level crossing creates “operational issues.” They prefer flying junctions, which are much more expensive and require a lot more physical space.

      The I-90 bridge isn’t the problem. They can run 6 minute bi-directional headways across unless the weather sucks in one particular way or the Blue Angels are in town.

      1. That’s what I thought–thanks, Jason.

        It’s times like these that I miss d.p.’s acerbic commentary on how most of the rest of the world can manage it where necessary. Level crossings when you have a train at most every three minutes seem adequate for the job, although I would defer to Glenn or Brian Bundridge on the technical aspects. Sure, a flying junction is operationally better, just like flying in a private jet would be operationally better for me than commercial. Unfortunately since the cheaper option also does the job I don’t get to do that.

        I work on large scale projects where you always ask for the best but invariably have to make design compromises on cost (value engineering) so long as the project is still workable. ST stating that flying junctions are what they want is fine, but skipping something as vital as DT Bellevue by not making compromises that are still workable is not (all assuming the level crossings are workable, and since I assume they would be wyes at each divergent point N and S of DT Bellevue and not full crossovers, I’m not sure why they wouldn’t work…again, not being an expert by any means!).

      2. The alignment of this proposed line and East Link makes serving downtown Bellevue difficult without building a completely new line in downtown Bellevue. If you don’t/can’t cross the Slough, your next opportunity is up between SE 8th St and Main St, but East Link is at-grade on the west side of 112th Ave SE at that point, making a tie-in difficult. East Link turns west at Main St into the tunnel portal, so there probably isn’t space to tie in there either, especially if an Issaquah-Kirkland line is coming across I-405 elevated.

        I think the best option might actually be to blow the money on a brand new line in downtown Bellevue, done “right” this time (tunnel under 108th, stations at Main/108th, 6th/108th, 12th/108th, turn at 12th and rejoin the BNSF at the OMSF). It would have lousy connections to East Link, but that’s because they put the East Link downtown Bellevue station in the wrong place.

      3. “It’s times like these that I miss d.p.’s acerbic commentary on how most of the rest of the world can manage it where necessary.”

        DP pointed to hundred-year-old networks that would not necessarily be designed like that today and may be illegal under current codes, and international networks where the rules and expectations are different. That’s on top of ST’s preferences, and ST is the decision-maker/builder/operator (or rather delegates to Metro) so we can’t really change it against ST’s wishes.

  5. They really need to inter-line from Evergreen Hospital all the way through Bellevue to South Bellevue Station, then make the crossing at I-90 instead of directly across the slough. It can be done, and it would probably save a few bucks too.

    Might be time for some more direct input……

    1. This is what needs to be studied. There were no stations between Factoria and Wilburton/Hospital anyway. By crossing over to South Bellevue and then having a shared segment until they diverge again north of Wilburton, they would allow for a cross-platform transfer at South Bellevue for folks traveling between Seattle and Issaquah. There is plenty of headway space on a joint segment since the I-90 bridge has headway limitations. And there should be big cost savings from not having to create right of way from Factoria up that huge hill, as well as having to rebuild the trestle. The line could be elevated over I-90 meaning no land needed for right of way, just supports.

      1. Yes, this is the only route that makes sense if we are going to do this. Most travel from Issaquah is to either downtown Seattle or downtown Bellevue – every possible effort should be to connect this line to the South Bellevue park/ride station and running through downtown Bellevue. The time penalty of gong through Wilburton will defeat this line…

      2. WSDOT was asked recently about why there are no HOV-HOV connections from I-90 to I-405. Short answer: Too much elevated stuff to avoid, so it has to be very high. Even if they could dig in the Slough, it’s too expensive for them.


        Incidentally, the trestle isn’t going anywhere. It’s historic. It’s also a much-anticipated trail connection. So when Sound Transit crosses that gap, it’ll be on a new bridge.

      3. @Dan: Interesting. Related to that, is there a reason why there’s no HOV-HOV connections between 520 and 405? Or at least HOV lanes on the current ramps?

      4. @Dan,

        We are not talking about building HOV interchanges here. We are talking about running a LR line through the area. That is an infinitely simpler task, particularly since no actual connections to the road infrastructure is required.

        It can be done.

      5. Creating a brand new light rail line next to a freeway is simpler than adding additional ramps? That is as ridiculous as this line is.

  6. “Travel from Issaquah to Seattle via Wilburton may appear circuitous, but no more so than express buses terminating into Bellevue Transit Center.”

    This is Sound Transit’s definition of best practices? “Duh, this rail alignment isn’t any more stupid than our bus alignment.”

    1. Nobody is going from Issaquah to downtown Seattle through Bellevue Transit Center. South Bellevue P&R, perhaps, but that’s much less of a detour than Bellevue Transit Center.

      1. Seriously though. We need to stop building rail infrastrcture inferior to the buses it replaces. Today people enjoy a fast one seat ride into DT Seattle. We cant expect people to happily give that up for a Wilburton Transfer. South Bellevue is already barely tolerable.

      2. Agreed. The 554 is standing room only every day headed to downtown Seattle via mercer island, and the routes through bellevue are not. If they made the route connections better than maybe a route to issaquah would make more sense; and if it were a good connection, maybe you could pull riders from the Highlands and Sammamish, which are right next door. Also, Issaquah is already starting to densify with a ton of new large apartment complexes going in within easy biking distance from the new station, probably with more to come.

      3. It’s worse! It’s Hospital (Wilburton) station. That’s one stop further than the Bellevue Transit Center.

      4. “The 554 is standing room only every day headed to downtown Seattle”

        Peak hours maybe. Off peak and reverse peak it doesn’t have much, which is doubtless why it drops to hourly unlike most other ST Express routes.

      5. The 554 doesn’t drop to hourly until 9:40 PM at night. Before that it runs at 20-30 minute frequency. I’ve never been on it so have no idea how many people ride it, but ST could easily drop it to 30 or 60 minute intervals if they felt it was needed.

      6. In my experience, the 554 is fairly busy off-peak until Eastgate. The ridership drops off significantly after that, and is pretty sparse going up to the Highlands. I haven’t ridden it at night but that’s my experience during mid-day/weekend.

        It’s also terribly slow going through Issaquah, so I generally avoid taking it and plan my trips to use an express bus. I imagine others do the same. If it didn’t take 13-17 minutes to get from Issaquah TC to the Highlands the ridership would undoubtedly be better.

      7. The slog through Issaquah is partly the isolated location of the transit center and the many street blocks it has to traverse. If those can’t be changed it limits how much it can be sped up. Since it’s already slow, it might as well stop in the isolated neighborhood in between that has no other bus route, like the 550 does on Bellevue Way.

        It’s also worth asking whether the same route should serve the transit center and the Highlands, and whether the 208 should continue serving the transit center. When the 554 is truncated it could be split into two routes, one serving the Highlands. And the 208 could go to the Highlands since it’s closer to Snoqualmie. Or it could serve the Highlands and then be the local Issaquah route to the transit center. On the other hand, if Issaquah is serious about building up its new urban center, and if that many people will really live that far out in an urban center, then the present 554 routing will make more sense. The 208 routing might make more sense when/if Issaquah becomes more of a destination.

      8. I’ve ridden the 554 several times on weekends to hike the Issaquah Alps. There’s more people on it than you might think on the downtown->Eastgate segment. Ridership to Issaquah, considerably less, but not zero. Weekend ridership on the 554 is also very influenced by special events. I’ve actually experienced standing room trips on occasion coming back from Tiger Mountain if the Sounders happen to playing that evening.

        I wouldn’t mind a truncation to South Bellevue P&R in exchange for increased frequency, provided that frequency improvements outside of the peak hours actually happen. It also goes without saying that the time that 554 buses leave South Bellevue P&R must be closely coordinated with the trains (which means a bus for every train, or at least every other train; a bus every 15 minutes connecting with a train every 10 minutes is inherently un-coordinated). And, of course, eastbound buses must wait for late trains that they are connecting with.

  7. The best thing to do with all the East Subarea revenue after E.Link is to buy all Eastsiders a Powerball ticket each week. The payback would be much higher than digging holes in the ground everywhere.

  8. Issaquah light rail to Mercer Island:

    Seems like this proposal is ST trying to use the Eastside Rail Corridor between I90 and the hospital station when it doesn’t provide any value.

    Assuming Issaquah/Factoria can justify light rail, decouple it completely from the Kirkland corridor, and run it in the existing HOV lanes on I-90 to terminate at Mercer Island station.
    This gives faster transfers to DT Seattle, and the same transfer to Downtown Bellevue.
    No bridges or I405 flyovers required, no rebuilding the wilburton tunnel, and no Mercer Slough environmental impacts.

    1. Converting the HOV lanes on the bridge to rail goes goes back to the 1980s agreement when the bridge was built. There’s no such agreement east of Bellevue Way, so WSDOT’s first reaction would probably be “No way!”

  9. Was there any estimate on how challenging it would be to have this line cross I-405 at I-90? If Issaquah light rail is worth doing at all, isn’t it worth doing right? To be clear, there is no rail-worthy demand for people going from Issaquah to Kirkland, it’s all about getting people from Issaqhah and Kirkland to downtown Bellevue and Seattle, and this line does neither without requiring a transfer to another line AND backtracking geographically.

    I really think they should consider the cost of (literally) getting over that I-405 at I-90 hurdle, then this line can share the same tracks as the blue line from South Bellevue to Wilburton. That way, they can take one train to get to downtown Bellevue, and two trains to get to Seattle, but with a more sensible transfer at South Bellevue (which darn well better have a center platform).

    The way it stands now, getting to Bellevue isn’t so bad (if not awkward, with a transfer and the time penalty of a transfer to go a short distance further), but getting to Seattle requires you to go through Wilburton station, which is going north to go south on a slower-than-freeway train (well, maybe not on 405). In essence, Issaquahns (sound right?) would be giving up their 554 one-seat express ride to Seattle with a rail version of a 271 + 550 bus trip.

    Presumably, if they think Issaquah should be enough of a priority to do rail, and they think that region will grow sufficiently to justify a rail line, but not enough to do a thorough job at integrating it into the rest of the system and making a future-proof transfer that will serve a growing region for decades to come, what are they even considering this for? Given that this is the same Sound Transit that put South Link on I-5 to Federal Way, I guess I can’t be so surprised at their decisions.

  10. This line makes absolutely no sense at all unless it connects to East Link at South Bellevue and then shares the tracks north through downtown. This would allow an easy connection for people headed to Seattle and would avoid a redundant corridor less than half a mile from one already under construction.

    I simply don’t buy the argument that east link couldn’t share the tracks with an Issaquah-Kirkland line. Much MUCH busier systems than east link will ever be (DC Metro, BART) manage to share tracks on much longer and busier segments than this.

    Frankly we should be building a WYE near south Bellevue now and plan for this right. The environmental mitigation, etc. would be worth the extra connectivity.

    Any proposal such as the above should be dead in the water.

    1. The brilliance of doing the transfer at Hospital station is that Issaquah riders will get first dibs on the empty seats, before the train starts loading at BTC and beyond.
      This may prompt reserved seating at a premium for certain sections of cars during rush hour. Maybe even have fare cops run a mini auction for any last seating assignments as the cars fill up – kinda like the Eastside Toll Lanes do now.

  11. The East Link basically establishes the Bellevue CBD core as a three station alignment – Main St, Downtown transit center, and Wilburton. Regardless of route (CKC or 405) or method (LR or BRT), everything interfaces with Bellevue CBD at Wilburton. It is critical is that any light rail option proceeds from Wilburton through downtown Bellevue, the primary jobs center for the Eastside. I hear a lot about Mercer Slough and I405 as engineering issues, but there is a lot of space between Eastgate and Bellevue – surely there is a way to route the line to enter Bellevue at East Main, even if that involves skipping S Bellevue and/or Factoria. Serving the Bellevue core should be worth anything but the most extreme cost estimate.

    I reject the argument about operational issues around with interlining with East Link – interlining is a benefit, not a drawback. Schedule disruptions to East Link, while unfortunate, are a cost of construction, just like any other disruptions caused by infrastructure build-out.

    I do agree that the BRT option is superior to the Light Rail option in Kirkland, with both better station location & ability to support additional bus routes extending north of downtown Kirkland & west toward 520. However, Light Rail on CKC isn’t a terrible option, as a 6th street station has most of downtown Kirkland and Google within a 15 minute walkshed, correct? And the LR will likely be extended beyond Totem Lake in the long term. Commuters from, say, Bothel or Canyon Park will certainly appreciate rapid LR access to Bellevue & Redmond.

    1. It’s not just engineering issues and operational issues. Crossing the Slough would bring up a whole bunch of environmental issues, and there’s a group in Bellevue that has threatened to sue ST if it crosses the Slough.

      1. If crossing the slough to south Bellevue is the right path for a line from Issaquah, and it absolutely is, then that is what should be proposed in ST3. I expect that environmental groups would sue, but the line really isn’t needed anytime soon, so do the design early in ST3, and work through the lawsuits. By the time they the suits are settled, maybe the money will be available to actually start construction.

        It’s ironic that environmental groups would sue about building light rail through the slough, when light rail provides a really good alternative to driving alone, which has huge environmental benefits. Besides, it isn’t like that portion of the slough is a pristine, serene place as-is.

      2. If we can run I90 through the slough, we should be able to fit in a 2 track light rail. Andy’s point on irony is correct – there is a trade-off here. We will lose some park land by building on the Slough, and we give that up to facilitate a superior alignment, which in turn will have a greater environmental benefit by supporting greater use of the LR.

      3. As I’ve stated elsewhere in this thread, crossing the Slough is only part of the problem. You also have to get through the I-405/I-90 interchange somehow (or across I-405 in another place), which is tricky at best.

      4. Agreed that it would be tricky, but there may be options. Maybe it is possible to thread the needle under 405 in the footprint of the I-90 through lanes. Maybe go under 405 just south of the interchange and surface in Factoria. 405 is elevated quite a bit over the surrounding area there, so you wouldn’t need to go too deep and the tunnel wouldn’t need to be too long.

        Ultimately, the line just isn’t worth building as proposed, but if the challenges of the slough and the 90/405 interchange could be engineered around, an Issaquah line becomes somewhat more useful.

      5. Assuming you could mitigate the impacts to the Slough (and don’t get sued into oblivion), you could swing around to the south of the Bellevue Way interchange, then once you’ve cleared the ramps swing back into the I-90 median west of I-405. This would require some reconfiguration of I-90 to gain sufficient space in the median and possibly some tight corners, but just eyeballing things it is probably the best of a bunch of not-good options to get through there.

        Other alternatives are being 150 feet in the air over Richards Rd. or swinging all the way south to Coal Creek Pkwy. There’s a big Metro regional sewer line in the BNSF ROW/118th Ave SE, so you can’t easily get a tunnel into the hillside.

      6. I don’t have the ability to do direct Google map street view links where I am now, but take a look at the TriMet orange line Thread the Needle option chosen at SE Tacoma Street and highway 99E in southeast Portland. That was a very tight fit, and gives you some idea of what can be done when it needs to be.

      7. ST3 would need to include money for the lawsuits, That could make some transit fans wonder if that’s a wasteful use of money and not appropriate for a transit project. East Link was different because the need for a Seattle-Bellevue line is overwhelmingly compelling and essential given the capacity and reliability problems of the buses, and the lawsuits mostly came afterwards. Here ST is crossing a known wetland.

        I-90 was built in the 1960s when environmentalism didn’t matter, and it was an upgrade of Highway 10 which may have crossed the Slough eighty years ago when everything around was farmland (so not much different than the Slough).

        The irony is that the people who are suing probably drive to the Slough to enjoy its nature, or drive past it without ever going to it. If they understood the importance of transit or had family members without cars they’d offer a comparable counterproposal for travelers. But all they’ve suggested is an underground tunnel, which would add significantly to the cost and either make ST3’s passage harder or cut into other corridors. They aren’t suggesting it as “We’ll raise funds for the tunnel” but as “Let ST worry about paying for the tunnel” with the undercurrent that transit is not that important anyway.

      8. Anyone who opposes light rail crossing the slough is NOT an environmentalist. I don’t give a s*** if they are the head of the Audubon or Sierra Club.

      9. Jason,

        Read my post elsewhere in this thread. Southside of I-90, follow the eastbound to southbound ramp in a deep cut, then mine a tunnel under the freeway (you’re down about 40 feet so it’s feasible), C&C under SE 38th to a station at Factoria Blvd. Transition to bored to underrun the greenbelt back to and under I-90 to get to Eastgate TC. Head on east using the existing proposal.

        No conflicts with elevated structures; no conflicts with the ERC (it’s in a cut beneath it; yes you’d need a bridge). At-grade crossing of 118th SE and dive into the cut right there. It’s doable, would be optimal for ridership, and wouldn’t break the bank.

  12. Has ST launched any PR campaign in Kirkland for ERC transit? The only people who seem to support it is the city council and there’s a vocal group actively campaigning against it. Just look at the Kirkland Reporter, which has probably had more letters (basically form letters) about transit on the CKC than any other topic.

  13. Personally, I think segment B has the most potential, and it looks like it also has the most support from the local municipality. Not only does it link Issaquah (which is growing rapidly and already has several bus lines that connect it to Seattle) to the rest of the light rail network, but it links Factoria Mall (a popular destination for east-enders), and it has Issaquah’s support to focus development around the proposed station. This seems like a win-win for everyone in that area.

    On the other hand, segment A connects up Kirkland. But, given Kirkland’s lukewarm approach to light rail or even BRT, I’m not so confident that it will be as winning of a move in the first round as segment B will. So, my hope is that segment B is built first, and if one segment has to be canned until ST4, I hope it’s segment A.

    1. but it links Factoria Mall (a popular destination for east-enders)

      No, it doesn’t. At least, not this proposal. Nobody is going to ride the train to a station 1/3 of a mile from the mall and on the other side of a ten lane freeway.

  14. Going from Issaquah to downtown Seattle by using this at transferring at Wilburton station would certainly take longer than the current express buses, even during peak hours when traffic is heavy. In fact, it would probably take a lot longer when you include the transfer time.

    I guess this is OK if it’s not meant to replace the downtown Seattle-Issaquah buses. But if it is, it seems like a poor idea.

    1. There is no way Issaquah would continue to have express service to downtown Seattle following a 3 B investment. Riders would be expected to transfer – if the rail isn’t offering a competitive travel time, it probably isn’t a good investment.

    1. I think he’s talking about the ten-minute walk from 6th and the ERC to the lakeshore along 2nd.

    2. On top of being a 20 minute walk, it’s also an uphill climb getting to the station. Not horribly bad if you’re in decent shape, but many people aren’t going to want to do that. More of an annoyance if you’re on a bike.

      1. It’s a little under six miles from Kirkland TC to Bellevue TC. 10 minutes by car or 20 minutes by Metro bus off-peak.

        So yeah, it’s a challenge to replace that with a train where it’s a 15 minute walk just to get to the station (before catching the first of two trains).

        These access issues are really important on short distance trips. Over longer distance trips, there is some greater tolerance for poor station placement, but access time can’t be such a high percentage of total trip time via other modes.

  15. So an LRT line running entirely in the Eastside that doesn’t serve the downtowns of Bellevue, Kirkland, or Redmond?

    I feel like I’m taking crazy pills here.

  16. This proposal is so bad. It doesn’t serve Downtown Kirkland. It doesn’t serve Downtown Issaquah. It doesn’t serve Downtown Bellevue. And it basically misses Factoria, too?

    Opponents will have an easy time labeling this “Light Rail to Nowhere” to Eastside voters.

    Who will ride this thing? Do we expect upper middle class Eastsiders to give up their cars or one seat bus rides to
    1) Drive to a park and ride, get on this new rail line, then transfer to East Link so they can actually get to Seattle or Bellevue?
    2) Take a bus to the new rail line, then transfer to East Link?

    Wilburton as the main transfer point is just absurd. If you live in Issaquah, you’re going to quit taking the 554 so you can go to Wilburton first, then backtrack to I-90, and then go to Seattle?

    That anyone is actually proposing this with a straight face is just embarrassing.

    If this line is going to make any sense, the South Bellevue P&R must be the main transfer point to Seattle, and it should be interlined with East Link through Downtown Bellevue. I don’t want to hear that it’s not possible, or that it is too difficult. We haven’t even built East Link yet! If we want a decent transit system, we must build on our current investments.

    How tragic that we didn’t have enough money for a proper Bellevue Way alignment (and complete grade separation for East Link), but this is a possibility.

    Like it or not, ST3 needs suburban votes to pass. Remember the Metro vote that failed because of the suburbs? This proposal is total and complete garbage, and all of ST3 is put in jeopardy by trash like this. Are we really willing to risk throwing away a subway line in Seattle for this?

    1. That’s the good thing about these articles on individual lines. This article puts the focus directly on this line and its absurdity. It gives something to link to in comments to ST, and it may even make it into an ST report somewhere, for whatever good that does.

  17. As a resident of south Sammamish who works in Bellevue, I travel I-90 almost daily. Sometimes in a carpool, sometimes on a bus and sometimes driving alone. While the general purpose lanes get somewhat congested at peak times, the carpool lanes flow pretty well. There are a number of bus related improvements that could be made to I-90 and in the city of Issaquah that would significantly improve travel times and reliability. Couple those with increased Issaquah/Sammamish service levels and you have a solution that meets requirements for the foreseeable future for far less money than building light rail.

    While I really don’t see a need for light rail to Issaquah anytime soon, at least a line that went down I-90 and interlined with East Link at South Bellevue would be useful. The proposed line really doesn’t take people anywhere without a transfer and the transfer to Seattle just has too much backtracking to be useful. If the line is being proposed just because ‘we have to spend the money on something’, it’s time to work to revise the Sound Transit taxing laws so that subareas can have tax rates commiserate with their requirements instead of a flat tax rate everywhere.

    1. One thing ST could do that would help out Sammamish a lot is simply run more buses. Today, Sammamish doesn’t get any all-day bus service at all. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to at least ask for hourly service in return for their tax dollars in support of ST 3.

      This could be implemented by splitting the 554 into two branches for faster service. One branch to Issaquah TC and downtown Issaquah. The second branch to Issaquah Highlands and Sammamish.

      1. Agreed on splitting the 554 into two branches, at least during peak times. The 556 could use the same treatment, along with more trips and all-day service.

  18. As I think about this project and its benefits and drawbacks and then also remember that one of the criticisms of ST3 is the relative dearth of worthwhile East King projects, it makes me wonder why we don’t study gold plating this general concept (Kirkland-Issaquah light rail) so that it actually serves both downtown Kirkland and downtown Bellevue. I get that there is little political desire to put another line through downtown Bellevue and certainly there are design issues with deviating from the BNSF corridor and freeway ROW, but East King is the one subarea that has a ton of extra money, and enlarging the scope of this project could make it far more useful than the current concept appears.

    1. I would rather it’s terminus be downtown Kirkland and it not go to Totem Lake at all rather than go to Totem Lake and skip over downtown Kirkland.

  19. The Best solution is for a branched East link into a Redmond line, Kirkland line and Issaquah line. From the ST2 design split off the Issaquah line at either MI or Wilberton,depending on if hey want a one seat to both Bellevue and Seattle or want a faster trip to Seattle, I think the route is sellable if you had a one seat ride to both. Split off the Kirkland line at Wilburton station and use the ESRC to Totem Lake. As to the number of trains, I’m much more concerned with the frequency between Bellevue and Seattle than the tips of the branches. So for peak if you use 6 trains to each that would provide 10 minute service to the tips and 3 minute service between Bellevue. Off peak at 15 minute service to the tips would be 5 minute service between Bellevue and Seattle. If there is actually a capacity problem on the bridge then they could use the east bay solution and do some of the runs Totem lake to Issaquah.

  20. Bluntly, the line should connect to East Link at South Bellevue P&R. This gives the TL-I line access to Bellevue TC, where all the jobs are and, more importantly, gives Issaquah riders an Issaquah-Seattle LRT option. Living in Issaquah, I can confidently say that missing an Issaquah-Seattle direct LRT trip is at least a loss of 6000-9000 riders, possibly more given growth.

Comments are closed.