King County Council Chair Claudia Balducci recently penned an op-ed to the Seattle Times arguing for East Link to meet its commitment of a 2023 opening, but only on the Eastside.
But what if we opened an Eastside-only light rail line connecting Redmond to Bellevue, or even to Mercer Island, in 2023? Could we provide high-quality transit service to thousands of riders while repairs are completed on the rest of the line? In short, we can and should.
On-time opening of an Eastside-only starter light rail line would honor the preparations that Eastside cities have been making for years, with complementary investments in transportation, trails and transit-oriented land use planning. Bellevue alone is investing more than $230 million to fast-track 12 transportation projects to match the 2023 deadline.
King County has worked tirelessly alongside several cities and communities to make progress on Eastrail, a 42-mile trail that will connect Eastside light rail and businesses like never before. And Bellevue has also partnered with Sound Transit to build up to 500 units of affordable housing with direct access to light rail in the Spring District. Both Redmond and Bellevue have been busy planning for additional transit-oriented development, including affordable housing, at most light rail stations along the East Link Corridor.
As was previously reported, Link expansions are delayed across the board but the Eastside extension has been pummeled by construction mishaps, pushing service start to 2024 at the earliest. The construction rework is primarily taking place between Seattle and Mercer Island, raising the prospect that the rest of what will be the 2-Line may finish on time.
We’ve always been supportive of early openings when projects are completed ahead of time, and it makes sense that a massive project like East Link stands to benefit from incremental openings. That said, Sound Transit would likely need to draft a thorough maintenance and operations plan, which should consider things like maintenance capabilities at the Bellevue OMF (Operations & Maintenance Facility) and service operations based on intra-Eastside ridership patterns.
Whether the Sound Transit Board will take this up remains to be seen. At minimum, the high-level calls to mitigate frustrating delays is an encouraging sign.