By Josh Benaloh

Proposed Redmond Link Extension refinements released at May 17, 2017 open house in Redmond

Last week I read with great interest Dan Ryan’s excellent post on the proposed refinements to the Redmond Link Extension that is expected to begin service in 2024. As a resident of Redmond and former chair of Sound Transit’s Citizen Oversight Panel, I have followed this process intently for more than a decade. The process has been open, and every step along the way has been reasonable and justifiable; but it may be a good time to take a step back and consider whether we’ve landed in the best place.

The 2011 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) considered several possible light rail alignments through downtown Redmond including the E2 preferred alignment (shown above) and the E4 alignment (shown below).

E4 alignment from 2011 Environmental Impact Statement

These two alignments take very different paths through Redmond. The E2 travels from Overlake along SR-520 to Southeast Redmond and then hooks back along the BNSF railway corridor to a terminus in downtown Redmond. The E4 departs SR-520 much earlier—west of the Sammamish River – goes directly to downtown Redmond and then follows the BNSF corridor in the opposite direction to a terminus in Southeast Redmond.

Alignment History

In 2006, while the EIS process was underway, Redmond endorsed the E2 alignment as the only way to reach the Redmond Transit Center (RTC). By the time the EIS was complete in 2011, Redmond and Sound Transit had abandoned the goal of reaching the RTC because it would have added at least $100-200 million to the cost. However, a “preferred” version of the E2 route was selected – largely because it came closer to the RTC than any of the alternatives.

Last month, Redmond and Sound Transit presented a set of proposed refinements which improve E2 further by moving the Downtown Redmond Station location and elevating a portion of the alignment. While these refinements are very reasonable, it is interesting to note that the newly proposed station locations precisely coincide with those considered in the E4 alignment.

An Objective Comparison

So, given that the refined E2 now reaches exactly the same station locations as the original E4, it is appropriate to compare the two options.

Relative to the preferred E2, the E4 alignment was estimated by the 2011 EIS to cost $50 million less, reduce the track length by nearly half a mile (resulting in lower operating and maintenance costs), displace fewer businesses and fewer than half the employees, and require appropriation of about one third of the parkland. In addition, because of its shorter track length, elimination of the hairpin turn, and more direct service to downtown Redmond, the travel time from Redmond to Bellevue and Seattle would be reduced by several minutes. Finally, with its terminus in Southeast Redmond, the E4 alignment has far more potential to be extended in future years to the foot of Sahalee Way where it could provide service to the significantly underserved city of Sammamish.

It is evident that the largely at-grade E4 alignment offers numerous advantages over the E2 alignment with the proposed relocation of the Downtown Redmond Station. But Redmond and Sound Transit also propose to elevate a portion of the alignment (at an estimated cost of $30-40 million). How would this affect the E4 option?

Elevated Alternatives

An elevated Downtown Redmond Station was not contemplated in the 2011 EIS, so what might it look like and how would it compare?

An elevated E4 to downtown Redmond could follow SR-520 further eastward – leaving the state highway alignment at the Sammamish River, travel over a small wetland and the Redmond Farmer’s Market site (many of the world’s great public markets are situated beneath rail lines), and behind the historic Justice William White house (which would likely have needed to be relocated by an at-grade E4) to the Downtown Redmond Station.

This elevated E4 routing would be more expensive than an at-grade E4 (perhaps increasing the cost by $40-60 million), but it would likely still be far less expensive than the elevated E2 being proposed, would shorten the track length still further, and would be even less disruptive than the at-grade E4 previously considered. Figures, citations, and maps can all be found in the attachment here.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Now is our last chance – before final design and construction – to make our final assessments about the public transit infrastructure that will serve Redmond for the next century. This Thursday, the Sound Transit Board will vote on a motion to instruct staff to analyze its proposed revisions to the preferred E2 alignment. A simple amendment to this motion could empower staff to also look at variants of E4 or other options to see if they make more sense in view of current circumstances.

If there are good reasons to dismiss E4 and its variants, staff can do this quickly with minimum expenditure of time and resources. But if a modern E4 has as much potential benefit as it would seem, then it is well worth taking the time to do this right.

Josh Benaloh is a resident of Redmond and former chair of Sound Transit’s Citizen Oversight Panel.

38 Replies to “Redmond Revisited?”

  1. This is a fascinating story about path dependence – a sequence of decisions where the reasoning for the earlier steps no longer apply.

    It will be interesting to see if there’s appetite for a fresh look.

    1. We didn’t revisit the downtown Bellevue alignment after all the decisions were made so I don’t hold out much hope for a fresh look here. It’s a bit ridiculous that ST2 has two stations on 112th connected by a tunnel on 110th, but after all the wins were so hard fought for there wasn’t any going back.

      But that hairpin turn in Redmond is ridiculous.

      1. Given the hairpin turn is immediately adjacent to the station, it doesn’t seem that significant to me. The train will be going at a slow speed anyways, no?

        The lack of a station on Bellevue Way is frustrating, but that aside the alignment makes sense if you consider the geography of downtown. Both stations are basically at-grade, which makes them much cheaper & easier to access that an underground or elevated station. The tunnel on 110th is simply leveraging the steep slope between 110th & 112th to avoid at-grade crossing of Main, 2nd, and 4th – it’s either that tunnel, or you elevate the whole line starting much farther south than Main.

      2. >>The lack of a station on Bellevue Way is frustrating, but that aside the alignment makes sense if you consider the geography of downtown.<<

        I'm sure that Bellevue Square is far and away the biggest destination in downtown Bellevue. And the LINK station will be a good 8-10 minute walk from the mall. So the station location is terrible.

      3. They offered to put the station right in front of the mall but Kemper Freeman declined, With out the mall stop there is no reason to go any further west.

      4. He didn’t just decline, he said we don’t need trains and we should widen 405 instead and have more buses, and if there is a train it better not be in my back yard, and even after the alignment was settled on 112th he filed lawsuits to block East Link entirely which were thrown out of court. He believes that his mall’s profits and downtown Bellevue’s prosperity depend on people who come in cars, and that trains will create congestion and construction disruption that will dissuade the critical customers from coming.

        (There’s also a rumor that he thinks trains would bring the wrong kind of people to the mall — gangbangers from the ‘hood — but he says that’s false. The 550 has gone from Judkins Park to his property for decades.)

  2. The other question is this is where do you want this line to go in a future ST4? The E2 currently suggested favors a future connection to Kirkland since it ends facing west. The E4 suggests future service to Samammish, as it ends facing southeast. It’s worth considering literally which future direction is better to go.

    1. With the thinking seeming to coalesce around a separate issaquah – kirkland line, extending this line west from Redmond to Kirkland seems a bit out of date now. Going east, the natural terminus would have been in Issaquah, where the railbanked BNSF corridor leads, but again the current thinking makes that redundant. Sammamish has a couple of reasonable dense, walkable areas that could support a station, but is still kinda small and isn’t on the way to anywhere else. I think the eastern Redmond P&R station is the only bone Sammamish residents get on this line.

      West of downtown, the BNSF corridor turns northward and heads towards Woodinville, passing near the employment centers along Willows. Keeping the east redmond hairpin in the line allows multiple options for extensions north and westward without threatening the existence of the SE Redmond station – local to totem lake or express to Woodinville are the obvious ones to me.

      1. Sammamish is on a hill. Perhaps the east subarea could support miles of tunneling and buried stations, but it seems doubtful.

        The east lake sammamish trail is in use, nowhere near the urban center of sammamish, and the lawsuits against its use for trains are all ready for filing.

        Doesn’t realigning also break the promised bike trail connections?

        One design option would connect the East Lake Sammamish Trail to the Redmond Central Connector segment of the Eastside Rail Corridor. The other option would make the trail connection cost prohibitive. That’s not acceptable: it’s critical to have an intuitive bike connection from Issaquah and Sammamish to jobs, and commerce in Redmond and Kirkland. – See more at: https://www.cascade.org/blog/2017/05/light-rail-expansion-kicks-our-chance-build-future-we-want#sthash.9puCcz2T.dpuf

      2. “Doesn’t realigning also break the promised bike trail connections?

        One design option would connect the East Lake Sammamish Trail to the Redmond Central Connector segment of the Eastside Rail Corridor. The other option would make the trail connection cost prohibitive.”

        The potential trail connection is where the alignment crosses the 520 ramps. It’s an issue for either E2 or E4. It’s a common segment on either alignment. The trail connection works as long as the SE Redmond station is at grade (because that allows the trail to follow the at-grade rail line under the ramps).

      3. Thanks for the feedback. My belief that a potentially feasible future extension can be seen at https://binged.it/2tLrTzd (it may be necessary to zoom out a bit). The blue dot indicates the area of the planned Southeast Redmond Station location and the pink dot indicates a possible Sammamish Station location that could accommodate a large park & ride facility. The routing would traverse approximately two miles from Southeast Redmond along the BNSF corridor southeastward and then deviate towards Redmond Fall City Road (SR-202) where it could then continue eastward to Sahalee Way.

        This is not a heavily populated site, but the track distance would be modest and the grade is not steep. Cars and buses could shuttle up and down Sahalee Way to and from Sammamish without having to travel into Redmond — improving the traffic load in both cities.

      4. If Sammamish funded the P&R, ST could provide the rail extension. I know nothing about hills in that area since there are so few buses to see it from.

      5. Josh, this idea has merit. Lake Sammamish naturally forces folks living in Sammamish north or south. A station “upstream” from the bottleneck at the north end of the lake might attract significant ridership if it passes close enough to the destinations to which Sammamishites (Jordanian Muslim Native Americans? Who knew?) wish to travel.

        And, as a matter of fact, it does! Microsoft, the Spring District, Bellevue Central, and the Seattle CBD are one seat away. If this can be squeezed into ST4, it should be. It’s far enough north that it gives folks from Carnation an easier access to Link than downtown Redmond.

        Of course, ST4, if it comes about, will be in the 2040 time frame, but that’s about right for Sammamish’s growth.

      6. I like the option to go westward. The real destination is Bothell & connection with SnoCo’s SWIFT III. Whether we get there via Totem Lake & 405 or via Woodinville is an interesting but secondary question.

        Sammamish simply doesn’t have a pocket of density to merit a LRT station. If we are concerned about how people from Sammamish are going to get to/from the SE Redmond station, then we can invest in bus lanes & signal priority on 202.

      7. Why would we want Sammamish to grow? It’s already on the fringe. Seems better to me to keep Sammamish as a buffer against continued sprawl into forestland development. Redmond is already gone, so let’s keep all the development happening there.

      8. Facing westward allows future scope for extending the line to Northeast Kirkland, Woodinville and Bothell. Not saying we should do that anytime soon but these places have a lot more density than Sammamish or Duvall as well as better integration with rest of the region.

    2. If Sammamish doesn’t want it at all it could turn up and go toward Redmond Ridge and Duvall, but that would require adding those areas to the Sound Transit area (and they’d probably have to back-pay) and I’m sure it would have a lot of resistance as well. But Duvall is growing and I don’t know if there is any traffic bottleneck during rush hour there getting out.

      1. That area is very low density, and a chunk of it is outside of the UGB I believe. Getting to Duvall would require crossing the Snoqualmie river valley. Even if Duvall grows robustly, anything more than a frequent express bus between Duvall and either of the Redmond stations (or to Overlake TC) seems like significant overkill.

      2. So, in WSDOT’s SR-203 long-term plan, the state mentions that the top priority for the highway in Duvall, Carnation and Fall City is to keep SR-203 to two lanes. I would hope that the city planners understand what this actually means for the future of these towns.

  3. Given how the Feds discourage negative impacts on parks, I’ve never understood why the E4 alignment wasn’t used. It just makes so much more sense to stop in Downtown Redmond first.

    Was there some private stakeholder at work behind the scene, or are transit haters masquerading as aerial structure opponents?

    1. That “crossing a wetland” sounds problematic. We’ve seen this before with Mercer Slough. Not only are there environmental laws to contend with (which I-90 can ignore because it’s grandfathered as is the P&R and Bellefield office park) but there are private lawsuits. One south Bellevue group said they would sue ST if it went across the slough (from Bellevue Way to the Eastside rail corridor) unless it was underground. That was one reason why those alignments weren’t selected. I don’t know about the issues with the Redmond wetland; I assume ST has taken care of them but it does raise a flag.

      1. Agreed. The at-grade E4 skirted the wetland, but the apparent best elevated E4 routing would go directly over the wetland shown here: https://binged.it/2sNU1Vd. This wetland is not nearly as substantial as the Mercer Slough and there is ample dry land that could accommodate the 2-3 piers that would be necessary for the crossing, but I cannot say with any certainty that this would not pose an insurmountable problem.

        My hope is that with the numerous potential benefits, the Sound Transit Board will direct staff to study the viability of options such as this. If they prove impractical, then they should be rejected. What I fear most, however, is that a significantly better option will be left on the table because no one took the time to examine it.

      2. The wetland in question I believe is a heron rookery. There would be lots of opposition to disturbing it in any way.

    2. Even though wetlands are an issue, so are active public parks. Does the current plan avoid all parkland and stay on the 520 right-of-way? These diagrams suggest that some public park land is required in either case — but cutting across Marymoor Park looks like a bigger take.

    3. Even if it is taking parkland, it’s taking land immediately adjacent to 520. Loosing a 50′ strip of land next to a freeway doesn’t strike me as a major loss for the community.

  4. Thank you for a history lesson about this, and for pointing out this’ll be covered at this week’s Sound Transit board meeting. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to attend the meeting Thursday, but I have sent an email to the board about this article. I’ve suggested that the E4 option also be considered, given that the original distinction that prioritized E2 is now moot (neither is heading to the Redmond Transit Center).

    I found board contact info at https://www.soundtransit.org/About-Sound-Transit.

  5. When looking at the plan the alignment of E4 would suggest sending any extension down 202 out to Sammamish but it total skips the Bear Creek Park&Ride.

    Awhile back there was talk about long and skinny routes vs short fat routes. Going to Sammamish could eventually follow 202 out to Fall city, Snoqualmie and North Bend. This would allow for the Issaquah terminus to then be pushed south in to New Castle and down into Renton, Maple valley and Black Diamond. These projects would be at the tail end of any ST4 Package and wouldn’t be scheduled for completion for another 50 years allowing for the densities in these areas to increase greatly.

    The Beginning of any ST4 package would be extending the Second DTT north through Crown Hill, an up 99 and south into white center, back to the Seatac Station then out in to Normandy and down to Des Monies along 509. Their would also be the Ballard UW across 520 which would connect to the Kirkland terminus with a goofy crisis cross to go further in to Kirkland and up to Bothell.

    All of this is very speculative.

    1. Despite our growth out here, I just can’t see rail coming out to the Snoqualmie Valley, even on a 50 year time frame. If the old rail lines hadn’t all been converted to trails (Issaquah-Preston Trail, Preston-Snoqualmie trail, Snoqualmie Valley Regional Trail, etc) you might be able to convince me that a commuter rail line might be conceivable out here, but that ship has sailed. And sending the Issaquah line through New Castle and out to Maple Valley doesn’t make any sense, because you can’t do those and serve Issaquah.

      I see the logical extension of the Issaquah line taking it to the Issaquah Highlands. Combine this with the E4 alignment in Redmond and you would have two lines basically pointing at each other with Sammamish in between. Connect the two lines via 202, Sahalee Way, 228th, & Issaquah-Pine Lake Rd and you have full loop around Lake Sammamish.

  6. The alignment they chose is terrible. There are too many sharp turns on existing LINK. This is nearly a 180 degree turn! Plus it adds unnecessary travel time from downtown Redmond to Bellevue and Seattle.

    At least they got the downtown Redmond station location right. I don’t know why they were even considering the “western” station.

  7. E4 is clearly better. It creates the possibility to put the SE station further away from the freeway making it more amenible to walking from nearby and integrating with surrounding developments. The only reason to be opposed is if you believe that extension to the north or west makes sense. I don’t think it does. Redmond would be the terminus for any line from Kirkland. And extensions to the north are probably better achieved via bus given the density. Let’s not badly compromise the design of this line for some far into the future idea about extensions.

  8. With the station now being farther from Redmond TC, I hope that a normal path for buses that go to destinations north and east (plus presumed future Sammamish service) is to go to both Redmond TC and one or more of the East Link stations. Otherwise, it’s a three-seat-ride to both Seattle and Bellevue, one of them being very short. Basically it’s like Lakewood, where all the local buses go to Lakewood TC, but all the buses to Seattle come from the Sounder station and the 512 park and ride, so there’s another bus you have to take to get between the transit hubs within Lakewood! That’s honestly a lot more concerning than a hairpin turn at the end of the line.

      1. It’s close to Redmond Town Center, but I think Redmond TC means Redmond Transit Center.

        If by “right beside” you mean four blocks and four signalized intersections, then yes, it’s close.

        On a map.

        The challenge is going to be a combination of routing, layover (which is a bigger issue than anyone gives it credit for), and continuing efforts to make downtown Redmond passably walkable.

  9. For what it’s worth, the logical extension of a rail line northwest of Redmond, the unused rail line from downtown Redmond that follows Willows Road out of town, is currently being turned into a bike path. Anyway, to reach Woodinville, a light rail extension would have to go through a zero-density portion of the Sammamish Valley that is outside the urban growth boundary. For that matter, SR 202 leading SE out of Redmond is also mostly outside the urban growth boundary. I could almost see the sense in an extension along the east side of Lake Sammamish, leading to a park and ride or something that serves Sammamish, but people in Sammamish are going to have to drive at least part of the way for a long time to come.

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