The final pieces of rubble are cleared at the north portal

After 15 months of relatively easy digging, Sound Transit celebrated the completion of East Link tunnel excavation in Downtown Bellevue. The tunnel will carry East Link trains from East Main Station (at 112th Avenue and Main Street) to Bellevue Downtown Station (at Bellevue Transit Center and the city hall), traveling for 1,984 feet under 110th Avenue, at a depth of about 12 to 30 feet below street level.

Unlike the neat and tidy bores left by the tunnel boring machines on University Link and Northgate Link, the Bellevue tunnel was dug using the sequential excavation method (SEM; also called the New Austrian tunnelling method), which involves removing soil with heavy machinery and spraying pressurized concrete to support the void. Additional waterproofing and steel lattice girders (479 in total) were then added to support the new tunnel, which moved at a rate of a few feet per day.

The tunnel measures just under 28 feet in height and is 34 feet wide. Atkinson, the project’s lead contractor, excavated about 72,000 cubic yards of material and applied about 9,000 cubic yards of pressurized concrete (shotcrete). SEM was chosen in part due to its ability to reduce noise and general disruption to nearby residents, compared to cut-and-cover construction and tunnel-boring machines.

While the tunnel now has daylight pouring out of both portals, there’s still major work to be done. The tunnel will be divided by a center wall, with each half carrying a set of track. The outer walls will be reinforced and fitted with all the bells and whistles needed to run light rail trains. Construction within the tunnel is expected to wrap up in mid-2020, a full three years before East Link trains are scheduled to carry passengers.

Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff speaks in front of the north portal

Bellevue’s new tunnel will be the final tunneling project in the ST2 package, coming years before the West Seattle and Ballard extensions are planned to kick off. It’s a fitting role for one of the most controversial sections of the light rail system, which nearly sunk East Link well after it was approved by voters. The original package did not include funding for a downtown tunnel, but earlier environmental reviews had studied various alignments that stretched as far west as Bellevue Way. Bellevue’s city council endorsed a $600 million tunnel under 106th Avenue in February 2009, but Sound Transit responded a few months later by choosing a surface alignment in its preferred alternative.

The city council later accepted a compromise tunnel under 110th Avenue, with a single underground station serving the transit center. As the recession deepened, however, the plan was scaled back to a station-less tunnel that would cost only $285 million. While the city council’s members duked it out over the alignment around Mercer Slough in south Bellevue, the tunnel was approved by both Sound Transit and the city in 2011. Bellevue agreed to contribute $100 million to the cost of construction, property acquisition, and utility relocation related to the tunnel.

An excavator at work inside the tunnel

37 Replies to “Long-Awaited Bellevue Tunnel is Fully Excavated”

  1. I remember years ago someone asked Kemper Freeman, the downtown Bellevue real estate mogul, about the future of light rail on the east side. He reportedly said if light rail has to come to Bellevue, it should be built as far away from Bellevue Square as possible.

    Kemper Freeman got his way. The single station for downtown Bellevue is on the far eastern edge of the community, beyond any convenient walking distance from Bell Square on the western edge. This station will serve the downtown Bellevue office core but not the retail and residential area west of Bellevue Way.

    1. Exactly right. Pro-transit folks should feel free to be critical of Sound Transit’s many flubs over the years, including this one. Regardless of how the agency operates – sometimes like an order taker from the cities – ultimately accountability has to rest with the agency that designs, builds, and operates our system.

      If you compare this huge miss to what Sound Transit is doing with ST3 right now, it’s easier to lay the crappiness of Bellevue’s mis-alignment at the feet of Bellevue’s then-politicians and the city itself. But looking at the fiasco that is Sodo and Ballard, ST seems to be much more in the driver’s seat with regard to route selection and station location. You just don’t hear anything from Seattle pols or agencies on what ST needs to do to best support transit in Seattle. Where is SDOT in all of this? Where is Rob Johnson? If they are actively guiding ST – as the agency is supposedly designed to be led – the public has zero awareness of their efforts to get this right, which makes holding people accountable extremely difficult.

    2. I agree that the ST2 alignment through Bellevue is a mess. It should have gone right down Bellevue Way and turned up 6th St. But this city is built and owned by Bellevue Square at the moment.

      However, that’s changing. I think Kemper helped to seal his fate by opposing transit near the mall. Urban Bellevue is stretching out to the east. For example, the Wilburton plan:

      Kemper will be dead and gone before it happens, but the commercial center of Bellevue will move away from Bellevue Square. Not in terms of gross spending, certainly, but one day the places that people want to congregate will be nowhere near the mall.

      1. Of all the design flaws and “penny-wise-pound-foolish” decisions ST has made over the years this tunnel is by far the worst. Not only does it serve no purpose whatsoever, it actually makes things worse by forcing the train to slow down through tight curves.

        Lest we forget the entire point the line doesnt continue up Bellevue Way in the first place was precisely because crossing DT Bellevue on the surface was a non-starter. Instead, the line was forced to follow 112th (launching a long, senseless battle with Surrey Downs).

        Then what does Bellevue say? Hmmm, let’s build a tunnel through downtown! But don’t build a station until you’ve returned back to the surface above 112th.

        The stupidity is absolutely mind blowing.

      2. barman, the tunnel could have been put anywhere, including Bellevue Way. I see the alignment decision as separate from the tunnel decision. And I believe that Bellevue needed a tunnel precisely because there are so many cars in downtown Bellevue. That’s not a situation that I like, but it’s better to grade separate the train from some of the busiest intersections in the region.

        The two tight turns that come from following 112th, with the tunnel along 110th, was the result of some really stupid compromises. Sound Transit wanted the train’s alignment as far west as possible–as if they were sore that the train wasn’t on Bellevue Way. Surrey Downs residents were split: some wanted the train to go a couple blocks to the east, along the highway. Others just didn’t want to see a bunch of small homes from the 1950’s torn down.

        Personally, I was–and remain–in that second camp. I believe that Sound Transit doesn’t have the courage to negotiate with businesses. The train tracks are running down the west side of 112th St because it’s easier to railroad homeowners than negotiate with the hotels and the Bellevue Club across the street. And as a reward for not having their parking lots or tennis courts disturbed, those hotels get a nice profitable upzone with a height increase. The businesses profit, the former Boeing engineers who lived in their houses for a half a century had to move.

        The stupidity is mind blowing but you’re lacking perspective as to just how many people–on all sides–exhibited that stupidity.

      3. “the tunnel could have been put anywhere, including Bellevue Way.”

        That’s exactly my point. If they wanted to pay for a tunnel, why not put it through downtown via a Bellevue Way alignment”

        “And I believe that Bellevue needed a tunnel precisely because there are so many cars in downtown Bellevue.”

        Except the train goes down 112th and therefore had no reason to enter downtown at all. It just as easily could have continued up 112th, the deviation into a tunnel through downtown is completely unnecessary.

      4. Ah, I understand better what you meant. Yes, the tunnel could have gone down Bellevue Way. And given that *both* station entrances are on 112th, the tunnel being on 110th (with two turns) makes no goddamned sense.

        ST2 through Bellevue is a tragedy of stupid political compromises. It makes me wish for the Chicago process.

      5. That is already true for those of us who live in East Bellevue. Crossroads is great and the Wilburton neighborhood will be a thing, and Bell Square will still be too far and too stuck up. No loss to us.

    3. 1, Southcenter mall and retail area is miles away from the nearest Link station.

      2, The Bellevue TC is adjacent to Bellevue Station. It also doesn’t serve the retail and residential area west of Bellevue Way. In fact, many transit centers aren’t near malls.

      3, Crossroads, the densest neighborhood on the Eastside, and its mall, is a few miles away from the nearest Link station.

      4, The UW Link station doesn’t serve U Village.

      5, Federal Way Link station will be about the same distance to the Commons mall as Bellevue station will be to Bellevue Square.

      Wow, Bogeyman Freeman sure is successful at forcing ST to locate Link stations away from not just his mall, but other regional malls.

      1. Sam, I’m not exactly sure what your point is. Kemper Freeman is anti-transit. He did pack the Bellevue City Council with transit foes. He did sue to stop light rail from being installed on the I-90 floating bridge. With regard to Bellevue and only Bellevue, his actions contributed greatly to a missed opportunity in serving more of the downtown Bellevue core. Of course rail was going to go to the TC. But it could have also gone down Bellevue Way and served retail, a large Microsoft and Eddie Bauer presence at Lincoln Square, Paccar HQ, a great park and museum, and additional housing. All that IN ADDITION TO the transit center.

        What does any of this have to do with Southcenter again?

      2. The station is just a 6 minute walk on a car-free pedestrian street (6th) from the Kemper properties. It’s not a big deal.

      3. Sam, I’m not exactly sure what your point is. Kemper Freeman is anti-transit.

        So is Sam.

      4. Anton, it’s a half mile and 4 stoplights between the light rail station (mid-platform) and the front door of Bellevue Square. An athlete could run it in 6 minutes, but for the rest of us, it’s too long a walk.

      5. My point is it’s not uncommon for Link stations to be sited away from malls, dense neighborhoods, retail centers, and in the bullseye centers of various city’s downtowns.

      6. Your general observation is correct, Sam, but in this case the better alignment would’ve allowed a station serving the downtown retail core (including Bell Sq.) and an additional one serving the office core. The location chosen missed the bullseye of downtown Bellevue.

      7. Southcenter wanted Link to serve them. I remember the radio commercials that ran during Link planning that depicted characters from The Jetsons complaining that the light rail line doesn’t serve Southcenter, hoping to influence ST to change their plans. The compromise was a shuttle bus between TIBS and Southcenter. I guess the F is supposed to be that shuttle bus.

      8. It was Tukwila that objected to Link going through a corner of Southcenter’s property and to a surface alignment on Tukwila International Blvd. That’s what made the line elevated and a Southcenter station unfeasible.

    4. @RD,

      Kemper and his minions at Bellevue City Hall got it wrong with this alignment, whereas Wright Runstad got it right with the Spring District. I would prefer more height and density with the Spring District, but nobody can argue that WR got it wrong with their investment.

      Kemper? He got it wrong. The only thing good about this political solution is that we get a tunneled alignment instead of a surface alignment. But the ultimate beneficiaries of that are the riders who are just passing through on their way to Seattle, MicroSoft, or the Spring District. Score 1 for everybody but Kemper and Bellevue DT.

      And let this be a warning to those who advocate for a directly elected ST board. Had the ST board been directly elected we would have gotten an even more political solution, and that would likely mean an alignment that followed the freeway medians and never strayed into areas where people actually live and work. Score another one for the ST appointed board.


      Nice to see you participating. It has been a while.

    1. Mark,

      The center of mass is shifting east slowly, but there is already tons of “stuff” on the western edge of Bellevue that isn’t just going to up and move because of a light rail station. You also have I-405 just to the east of the TC station, which is super wide and crushes the station’s walk shed.

      This whole episode is deeply frustrating and emblematic of the structural short-comings inherent to Sound Transit’s structure and governance.

      1. Seems to me that most of the blame for station placement in Bellevue should be laid at the feet of the city of Bellevue, rather than Sound Transit.

      2. Right, it was either cooperate with Bellevue or go through an Eminent Domain battle and building without city permits and more lawsuits and nixing any future opportunities for cooperation.

      3. See my comments above about Wilburton’s commercial area being rezoned as urban. Yes, downtown will grow east. I just hope it can leave the mall in its dust (yes, wishful thinking, I know.)

        As for the station entrance on 110th and 6th, that was the original plan. They cut back to save money, leaving us with a tunnel on 110th (and two turns) for two stations on 112th. Bravo, Sound Transit, bravo!

    2. The distance from the platform to the bus bays is also rather long, and you have to cross a street with a stoplight. If itthe station had been under 110th it would have been right next to the bus bays.

      1. It’s absolutely hilarious they couldn’t even muster the will to put an entrance on the other side of 110th. This tiny gesture could have made the tunnel at least appear useful.

      2. I wouldn’t call it hilarious. I would call it short-sighted.

        Decision-makers typically see drawings of platforms and structures — but don’t see a video what it will look like from the user’s perspective in a crowd.

        It won’t be as bad as the Mt Baker Station/TC environment but it’s effectively the same setup — many buses on one side of a wide and busy street, and the rail station entrance on the other.

  2. Where exactly is the western edge of Bellevue? Though am I right that for this discussion we mean Downtown Bellevue, and Bellevue Way? And also, that I-405 won’t be lidded in our lifetimes? And an elevated line diagonally to Redmond one way, and Kirkland and northwest the other?

    And short-term a reserved right of way streetcar up Bellevue War? Because as technology, LINK still classes as “Light Rail”, meaning, to me, able to runs street track if it has to, however hard we have to work to prevent that. Streetcar just an era marker for two contemporary beginnings, not definition..

    Our hardest-to-solve problems, Bellevue and region-wide, stem from unpreventable, incurable, and presently untreatable “Sprawl’s Syndrome.” Could finally burn itself out when everything wide and flat is packed. But worth fighting to find a cure and a way to heal sooner. Itches.

    Meantime, decade or two more and space between ideal or flubbed station location will be an easy walk through the quaint Old Town of Bellevue.

    But huskytbone you could not be more right about disappearance of our elected officials, and especially Rob Johnson. Was it something we said? Or maybe his previous transit connections have left him fiasco-prophetic:

    Ballard-SODO will only be part of what happens when a Force-whatever quake sends everything between Jackson and Sea-Tac Airport gurgling its way to join the rice paddies of China. More than one reason not to Drain the Swamp in a fit of spite.


    1. Johnson was probably beaten down by his constituents, or at least the ones who complain in person.

    2. I-405 will most likely be lidded within our lifetimes and much sooner than I-5. Unlike in Seattle where it’s the public pushing a reluctant city to do it in Bellevue the city has already paid for designers to do the work!!!!

      You can see the designs here:

      1. Let’s see if the city is brave enough to fund the lid on I-405. I believe that it’s the cheapest option when you consider everything, and I sent Council mail detailing why.

  3. It’s under construction so it’s too late to optimize the station location or entrances. It will forever move the activity center heart away from Bellevue Square.

    It’s important to remember that the Downtown Bellevue west edge is 100th anyway and that shopping centers as an attraction are fading. Even Kemper Freeman is building mixed-use, high rise buildings east of Bellevue Way and closer to the new rail station. Bellevue Square is not an unreasonable “edge” land use.

    At this point, the best that a transit advocate can do is to focus on pedestrian circulation and access at the station. For instance, there is little curb space available near the station — and it will be a natural attractor of drop-off and pick-up trips (with NE 6th ramps as well low density housing mostly surrounding the high-density district beyond a reasonable walking distance) and accommodation will be needed. The 405 BRT has no protected pavement by which to turn around buses. As Mike mentioned, the station is across a wide intersection from the BTC and it’s not a pleasant crosswalk to use.

    As the new reality of rail-focused transit grows in Bellevue, I think these access issues will be the important issues to address.

    1. No. It’s too close to the coming open-air station. And hollowing out the tunnel enough to accommodate a new station would be cost-prohibitive.

    2. No chance. The tunnel is also very short and doesn’t pass under much in between (a hotel, some low-slung office blocks, and the former Toys-r-Us store).

  4. Why didn’t Kemper invest in public transport like the real mall moguls in Japan? Take a look at how all the massive,no end in sight, malls in Tokyo run the major subway lines. As you stroll through Bell sq, north/southgate anywhere USA, while you still can or bother to, listen for the groans as they cavitate in a titanic descent. Profits and short sightedness getting in the way of growth. Complain about public sector all you want, we are all culpable in this screw up. Plus the malls in Japan compete with something amazon can’t. Give people what they want beyond the mundane and predictable.

    1. Because Kemper is not Japanese. Bellevue Square and Bellevue essentially grew up together starting the 1960s. When 405 was built it was farmland next to a small town. Bellevue Square was a place where you could watch a movie or buy clothes without going to Seattle! And they believed that a car+cul-de-cac lifestyle was the future and a sign of advanced civilization. Even now Bellevue Square’s target audience is those who are too rich to take transit. Kemper has been one of the biggest opponents of rail, and thinks that Belleuve has no traffic problems that more car lanes won’t solve.

      Io’s ironic talking about a Japanese mall because the land Bellevue Square sits on belonged to Japanese Americans who were interned in WWII and lost their land. Kemper’s father swooped in and acquired the land cheap.

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