A Photo Tour of Link Construction

Recently STB writer Bruce Nourish and I had an opportunity to check out the new Link extensions from the air. Enjoy the photos!

Northgate Link Extension

We begin at Northgate Station; these photos were shot just prior to the opening of the extension:

Northgate Station & Northgate Mall
Looking north at Northgate Station. Northgate Mall is the large cluster of properties in the center of the photo. On the far left, the alignment under construction can be seen running along the northbound lanes of I-5

Continue reading “A Photo Tour of Link Construction”

East Link restructure: Bothell, Duvall, Kirkland, Redmond, Woodinville

Map showing proposed changes to specific routes in the Kenmore, Bothell, Woodinville, Duvall, Kirkland, Redmond areas to connect with Link light rail
Map of proposed bus route changes in the north Eastside area

Although the north Eastside’s primary regional transit corridors are I-405 and SR 522, which have their own Stride bus rapid transit projects in the works, Metro identified several opportunities to optimize service in this area when the Link 2 Line to Redmond Technology (Overlake) opens in 2023 and extends to downtown Redmond in 2024.

Woodinville, Duvall, and Redmond Ridge will be one bus away all-day from Link. Peak-only service to Seattle will make stops in South Lake Union and no longer travel on local streets in Kingsgate. Peak-only service to Bellevue and Overlake is replaced by all-day service to Link.

That’s the gist of Metro’s proposal in this part of the Eastside. You can reference a map of current Eastside service with the proposal map above. Here are the details:

Continue reading “East Link restructure: Bothell, Duvall, Kirkland, Redmond, Woodinville”

I-90 bridge’s Link retrofit almost finished

A worker inspects a reaction frame inside a pontoon. Credit: Sound Transit

Sound Transit announced on Wednesday that construction crews are nearly done with their work retrofitting the I-90 bridge for East Link. Crews have worked for more than a year to post-tension the bridge’s pontoons.

ST reinforced the bridge to help it carry the load of Link’s tracks, overhead lines, and vehicles. The retrofit also improves the integrity of the bridge in heavy wind and an attendant storm surge, the likes of which sank the eastbound span in 1990.

All the Lake Washington floating bridges use a system of tensioned steel cables to hold the span in place. Construction crews installed additional cables in the pontoons of the I-90 span. The cables, which crews stressed and winched, pull the pontoons closer together, which creates greater load bearing capacity. Altogether, according to Sound Transit’s Zach Ambrose, “crews installed and stressed 1,080,000 feet of steel strand and applied 41,000 pounds of pressure.”

Steel cable and the frame that anchors it. Credit: Sound Transit

Giant steel structures, called reaction frames, anchor the new cables at both ends. They absorb the force from winching the steel cables, and whatever event that might stress the structure. Each of the ten reaction frames weigh about 17,500 pounds.

The structural work is finished. Crews are removing equipment from the pontoons and grouting the housing of the cables, to prevent water corrosion. After that work is done, construction of the guideway can start.

A diagram of the retrofit. Credit: Sound Transit

A “Precedent Setting” $10 million Mercer Island Settlement

I-90 Floating Bridge and Mercer Island (Image: Joe Wolf)

The Sound Transit Board approved a $10 million settlement agreement with Mercer Island after residents lost special access to Interstate 90 due to the expansion of light rail. Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, a Sound Transit board member, cast the only dissenting vote during the board’s June 22 meeting.

“As a fiduciary of this organization I’m not going to be able to support this today,” Strickland said. “We have to look at things such as equity and fairness.”

“Some of this agreement does include the mitigations we would make, but it’s not a $2 million settlement, it’s not a $4 million settlement, it’s not a $6 million settlement, it’s a $10 million settlement,” she added. “In the world of Sound Transit maybe that’s budget dust, but we are setting a precedent. It’s not about the amount, it’s about setting a precedent, despite the fact that we, Sound Transit, keep winning in court.”

In February the Mercer Island City Council voted to sue Sound Transit and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) after the town lost special access to I-90’s high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes to make room for light rail. Mercer Island drivers would now have to abide by the HOV-2 standards. Mercer Island argued that a 1976 agreement provided them with lasting rights to HOV lanes, while WSDOT said that single-occupant vehicle (SOV) access to HOV lanes was intended to be temporary, and allowing continued SOV use of HOV lanes would violate federal law and jeopardize funding agreements.

Bellevue Councilmember and Sound Transit board member Claudia Balducci defended the settlement, calling it fair, reasonable, and the board’s responsibility after conditions changed and Mercer Island was no longer able to retain the same access to I-90. Continue reading “A “Precedent Setting” $10 million Mercer Island Settlement”

Eastside Park & Rides to Close for Link Construction

South Bellevue Park & Ride (photo by author)

Two park & rides on the Eastside will close in early 2017 for East Link construction. The South Bellevue P&R, with current capacity of 519 cars, is expected to close later in the first quarter. It will reopen in five years with an expanded capacity of 1,500 cars in a five-level garage. In the second quarter, the smaller Overlake Transit Center P&R will close for up to six years so it can be used for staging materials. Capacity at Overlake is about 220 cars. The future Redmond Technology Center Station will include a 320-stall parking garage.

Sound Transit will lease five new Park-and-Ride lots on the Eastside (in blue), and add capacity or service at several others.

Closure dates are dependent on construction scheduling and will be announced 60 days in advance. As the dates are confirmed, a more extensive public outreach effort will educate riders about alternatives.

To serve users during the closures, Sound Transit has expanded two existing leased lots and leased space at five new locations, accommodating 350 cars in total. All of the added capacity is at churches in Bellevue excepting one Renton location. The leased lots opened in December. That is less than a 1:1 replacement, but there is also unused capacity at some other Eastside locations such as South Sammamish, Houghton, Newport Hills, and Tibbetts Valley in Issaquah.

Buses will continue to serve South Bellevue during the closure. These include ST 550, 555 and 556, and Metro 241 and 249. The southbound stops will be relocated across the street. Road capacity will be reduced during some of the construction, but a reversible lane ensures two lanes can remain open in the peak direction throughout.

The closure of the P&R at Overlake Transit Center is being mitigated in part with ST Express service to nearby Overlake Village on ST 541, launched earlier in 2016. Sound Transit Express service on the SR 520 and I-90 corridors was increased in 2016, improving the frequency of service at several historically under-utilized lots.

Continue reading “Eastside Park & Rides to Close for Link Construction”

Bellevue Chooses Development over View Corridors

Bellevue's City Hall
Bellevue’s City Hall. The protected views would have been from the balcony and a public area inside.

Last month, Zach explained how a view of Mount Rainier from Bellevue City Hall had become a roadblock to rezoning of several redevelopable sites near the East Main Link station. Last week, the Bellevue City Council voted 5-1 to not retain the view corridor. While the rezoning process is not over, this decision makes it much more likely that the East Main station walk-shed will support much higher development densities.

Bellevue is engaged in several rezoning efforts. The East Main Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) is reviewing the area immediately adjacent to the East Main station. The Downtown Livability CAC has made recommendations for areas which include the Sheraton site northeast of East Main, and most directly within City Hall’s view of Mount Rainier.

The goals around the station are commendably ambitious. Current height limits of 75-90 feet may be increased up to 200 feet at the Sheraton site, and up to 300 feet on lots to the south (including the Red Lion across from the station). The current FAR of 3.0 on the Sheraton site, and just 0.5 further south, would increase up to 5.0.

Bellevue City Council Chambers, and an adjacent balcony and interior concourse, enjoy a view of Mount Rainier over these sites. Current zoning doesn’t allow buildings tall enough to impinge on those views, but preserving the view would require that portions of the Sheraton site in the view corridor be built up to no more than 91 to 117 feet, and portions of the Red Lion site be no taller than 123-148 feet.

Council Members opposed to mandating a view corridor cited the detrimental impact to likely development. Kevin Wallace, in an earlier meeting, described the view corridor as “extremely close to a regulatory taking” because it had not been considered before developers began planning for the site.

Continue reading “Bellevue Chooses Development over View Corridors”

Sound Transit Breaks Ground on East Link Construction


On an overcast Friday afternoon at a gravel lot in downtown Bellevue, Sound Transit broke ground on the East Link light rail extension, bringing rail transit from Seattle to Overlake via Bellevue one step closer to realization.

The ceremony, attended by Sound Transit Board Chair and King County Executive Dow Constantine, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, current Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff, former Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl, Mayor John Stokes of Bellevue, King County Council member and former Bellevue mayor Claudia Balducci, and other local politicians, was attended by a few dozen Sound Transit staff, contractors, and members of the public, who listened to a series of short speeches and enjoyed live music from the Mercer Island High School Jazz Band. Of note was the clever use of biodegradable chalk marking out the Sound Transit logo on the dirt that was dug up by dignitaries with their golden shovels for the actual groundbreaking.

Since it was approved as part of the Sound Transit 2 ballot in 2008, East Link has been mired in setbacks and delays ranging from routing choices and station placements in Downtown Bellevue to lawsuits launched in opposition to the project by various groups. The $3.7 billion project, funded partially by a $1.7 billion federal loan, is scheduled to open in 2023 as the Blue Line and projected to carry 50,000 riders every weekday; end-to-end travel times between the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel and Redmond Technology Center on the Microsoft campus is estimated at 29 minutes, which is as fast as existing bus service during the best of traffic conditions.

Some homes in the Surrey Downs area, near the future East Main Station at the south end of the Bellevue Tunnel, have already been demolished in preparation for the start of tunneling. Construction on the 1/3-mile tunnel through downtown Bellevue is scheduled to last well into 2020 and will be excavated conventionally by hand via the Sequential Excavation Method (SEM), a departure from tunnel-boring machines used on other Link tunnels. The Overlake and South Bellevue segments will both begin construction later this year. Other work in downtown Bellevue, including the construction of a station at Bellevue City Hall a block east of the transit center, will begin in mid-2017 at the same time as major work on the Bel-Red and Interstate 90 segments of the line, the latter of which includes retrofitting the Homer M. Hadley floating bridge and existing tunnels in Mount Baker and Mercer Island for light rail trains.

The Bellevue Tunnel segment of East Link is expected to play a large role in the proposed Sound Transit 3 expansion, with the possibility of trains from Seattle and Issaquah/Eastgate interlining through Downtown Bellevue before splitting off to serve Redmond and Kirkland. The proposed southern transfer between the lines has moved from Wilburton Station (near the Overlake Hospital east of downtown) to East Main Station, providing direct service from Issaquah to Downtown Bellevue but also inciting the wrath of nearby homeowners demanding less frequent trains. Even as East Link construction moves forward, there may be further changes afoot for the line in the near and (very) far future.

Don’t Listen to the Times: East Link Will Be Safe

East Link and I-90
East Link and I-90

Over the weekend Mike Lindblom had an in depth piece discussing East Link’s need for an additional $20m for engineering the I-90 bridge section of East Link, the world’s first floating bridge featuring rail transit. The contract with Parsons Brinckerhoff will be expanded – from $36M to $56M – to solve the final 8 (of 23) technical issues that WSDOT raised in a 2008 letter. The $20M will be paid out of $97M in unspent surplus engineering funds at Sound Transit’s disposal.

While there was some disappointment on the Board at the additional cost, and some admittal of inefficient workflows and delayed problem solving of some East Link’s unique challenges, there is no scandal here. ST is spending 21% of a reserve fund, for a total that amounts to 0.7% of the project budget, to take a conservative approach and ensure due diligence on the safety of the design. It’s an entirely sensible course to take, and indeed the scandal would be if they failed to spend the necessary funds to ensure the safety of the project.

BlethenBut while Lindblom’s reliably even-handed and fact filled article only once descended into sensationalism – painting a scene of a derailed train joining the fossil forest at the bottom of Lake Washington – Seattle Times Publisher Frank Blethen responded to the news of the $20M addition by stoking inaccurate fears about the East Link project. In a series of tweets last Saturday, Blethen’s accused Sound Transit of incompetence and implored future East Link riders to ‘carry a life jacket’.

To hear more about the bridge design, I attended a Sound Transit presentation to the Citizens Oversight Panel on Thursday about the interface between the bridge deck and the rails. I came away with the impression that, if anything, Sound Transit is being excessively conservative with their failure thresholds for the bridge design, giving me more confidence than ever in East Link’s safety.

Back in 2009, in order to reduce risk to the bridge deck and extend its useful life, an Independent Review Team asked Sound Transit to minimize any drilling or penetration of the bridge deck when securing the concrete blocks used in lieu of rail ties, and WSDOT later went on to ask them to eliminate drilling entirely if possible. So Sound Transit went back and successfully tested securing lighter weight concrete blocks (125lb per cu. ft. instead of the standard 150lb) with epoxy, and by all accounts those tests went swimmingly well. Prior to reinforcement, the concrete only cracked at 200% of its max design load, yet ST still decided to add circumreferential rebar to strengthen it further (obtaining about 400% above the design load). The threshold for failure is now so high that the rails and the clips that attach them would twist off well before the concrete itself would fail, which wouldn’t occur even if you ran freight trains on East Link in a severe windstorm. This is massive redundancy.

In addition, fears about uncaptured electrical current – causing corrosion in the obviously wet environment of a lake bridge – have likewise been solved. ST has tested and proven a wet system that meets WSDOT requirements on the floating structure, which is 5-10x the normal resistance required in other systems when they are dry.

So while the engineering is impressive and difficult, it’s well within our capabilities. In any case, while it is theoretically possible that some yet unseen engineering hurdle could scuttle the project, the likelihood of Sound Transit attempting to operate an unsafe system is effectively zero. Sound Transit’s Bruce Gray told me afterward that, “It is not a question of if we can do it, it’s a matter of how soon can we get started.”  You can leave the lifejacket at home.

WPC: “Sound Transit officials may not need any tax increase to build more light rail”

Folks, if there’s any truth in this Washington Policy Center op-ed, I think we need to discuss a potential option if we do not get ST3.  Most of us here are not too keen on extending the spine to Everett with an expensive Paine Field detour of questionable value when a better bus network & a vastly improved marketing campaign would work wonders.  Almost all of us here are of the view that Ballard needs a light rail spur.

So when I came across these Washington Policy Center allegations, I had to share so we could discuss this:

Sound Transit officials may not need any tax increase to build more light rail.  How?  Because of the revenue that is hidden in the way Sound Transit officials calculate their future borrowing costs.

Sound Transit officials’ most recently adopted financial plan through 2023 assumes they will borrow $7.3 billion at a 5.75% interest rate, paid off over 30 years.  Their interest rate cost assumption is high, especially since they are actually issuing debt now at far-lower interest rates.

In 2012 Sound Transit officials borrowed $216 million at a rate of only 2.62%, less than half of what they assume as their future interest rate cost.  Just a few months ago, they borrowed $1.3 billion as a federal TIFIA loan at a 2.38% interest rate.  The TIFIA loan can be paid off over 40 years, and the first payment isn’t due until 2028!  Today, Sound Transit could borrow money for 30 years at fixed interest rates between 2% to 3% (or at lower variable rates), about half of its current budget assumption.

So what does this mean?

If Sound Transit officials simply changed their financial plan to assume a more-realistic 3% interest rate, they could borrow an additional $2.2 billion without raising regressive taxes and keep their debt payments the same.   That is enough public money to build light rail to downtown Redmond (approximately $800 million) and build much of the line from Ballard to U.W. (approximately $1.7 billion) without raising regressive tax rates at all.

Sound Transit’s financial report shows the agency thinks it can only borrow $7.3 billion at current tax rates, when they may actually be able to borrow closer to $9.4 billion without raising taxes.  This is not fair to the taxpayers.

We agree with using conservative estimates and careful budgeting by public agencies, but in this case, the interest rate estimates Sound Transit officials are using are extreme, and come at the expense of the taxpayers.

I am of the view we do need these projects as a state.  I am also of the view we need to force Snohomish County to come to reality about their transit situation.  I am finally unqualified to speak of transit needs between Tacoma & Seattle – I will leave that to the comment threads.  But this is something we in the STB community need to discuss and have a no-new-taxes contingency plan ready to unite behind and present to Sound Transit’s Board if necessary either if the legislature nips ST3 in the bud or the voters reject ST3.

One last thing: If you have evidence the above WPC op-ed is untrue, present it.  Otherwise…

Timing out Ballard to Issaquah via Sand Point

View post on imgur.com

A couple of days ago there was a great deal of discussion about the merits and costs of a Sand Point crossing. There are two things that a study would find out that everybody would like to know; the monetary cost of the crossing and the potential ridership over the connection. Unfortunately I can’t give any insight into those things. What I can to do is provide some tangible benefits based on travel time using Seattle Subway’s previous posts about the Crossing, Ballard Spur and Better Eastside rail.

Continue reading “Timing out Ballard to Issaquah via Sand Point”

Mercer Island Station Open House Report

Screenshot 2013-06-07 at 6.33.04 PM

Thursday evening Sound Transit staff conducted an open house at the Mercer Island Community Center focused on the East Link light rail extension. Approximately 80 to 90 people, including staff, trickled in throughout the evening, which included the brief opening, presentation, and Q&A sessions. The presentation centered on the design of Mercer Island Station in particular, approximately 30% complete. Essentially, the alignment of the track is completely determined at this point; several Sound Transit engineers at the open house intimated that this was the crucial first step of the design.

“There’s a lot of work ahead of this, but we’re at a point where we have a good idea of what’ll work correctly,” said David Hewitt, founder of Hewitt, an urban planning and design firm handling the design of Mercer Island Station East Link.

As one resident put it: “They’ve done their homework.”

The Mercer Island Station (a working name) will squat firmly in the center roadway of I-90, with light rail running on either side. From 77th and 80th Avenues SE, riders can stroll into the western and eastern entrances of the station, respectively. Detailed images and layouts are available here.


Each entrance will consist of a plaza with ticketing and seating areas, leading to an escalator, a stair, and an elevator, with surrounding lightweight steel and glass structures. The east entrance will also have a bicycle cage for secure storage. Once a rider descends 25 feet onto the central platform, she has roughly 380 feet of open space in which to frolic, with a central canopy serving as weather cover. Sound-dampening walls specially designed to absorb I-90’s acoustic assault will outline the tracks.

“It’s fairly symmetrical in nature,” Hewitt said. “The scale of the station is a very pleasant one we think.”


More after the jump.

Continue reading “Mercer Island Station Open House Report”

The Future of the D2 Roadway

D-2 Roadway (Sound Transit)

At last week’s Sound Transit Board Meeting (video here), one of the more interesting reports was the staff analysis of the D2 roadway, which runs between I-90’s Rainier Freeway Station and the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. There are also PowerPoint slides.

No matter what, these lanes will be closed to all traffic during track construction later in the decade. But afterwards, Sound Transit has always assumed that the 554 would terminate at either Mercer Island or South Bellevue Station. Metro has five peak-only routes that serve the I-90 corridor: the 212, 214, 215, 216, and 218, which together amount to about 18 trips per hour in the peak, that it might prefer to keep running into downtown. In 2010, these added up to about 1 million rides a year, or about 4,000 per day*. For these routes, there are four main options:

  • Run joint operations on the roadway, as is currently done in the DSTT. This doesn’t necessarily mean buses would still run in the DSTT itself, but will create similar reliability and schedule impacts to both buses and trains. This is the baseline assumption in the ST budget.
  • Run trains only on the roadway, forcing buses to access downtown via Rainier Avenue and S. Dearborn St. This speeds up the trains a bit but makes the buses slower and much less reliable. It saves on capital costs but Metro will pay more to operate buses.
  • Terminate Metro buses at Mercer Island or South Bellevue. This creates at least some transfer penalty for bus riders, but keeps trains fast (carrying the bulk of the riders) and saves Metro about 15,000 service hours annually, or around $1.5m, that could be invested in more service on these or other routes.
  • Squeeze the tracks on one side of the roadway, allowing a one-lane busway for peak-direction trips. ST staffer Ric Ilgenfritz testified that this is likely cheaper in capital expense than the joint operations option. See the illustration, along with some discussion, below the jump.

Continue reading “The Future of the D2 Roadway”

Microsoft, Boeing, T-Mobile, Bellevue College, Group Health to Bellevue City Council: Stop Arguing With Sound Transit And Build East Link


We’ve just received a copy of a letter (PDF) dated today, signed by all these and several others, politely letting Bellevue City Council know that they need to get on with it. They go so far as to say East Link and 520 replacement are “equally critical,” very strong language for a transit project, especially on the eastside.

This is a strong message not only to Bellevue City Council, but also to Kemper Freeman, and the small group attacking light rail construction: Business community leaders and the largest employers on the eastside are all sick of the quixotic attacks on East Link. We need regional mass transit now.

Good show to all those who signed. I hope to see other employers add their voices to this message.

Eyman’s Attack on East Link

I-90 Floating Bridge
Photo by flickr user Jeff Blucher

Goldy at Slog has done some careful reading of I-1125, Tim Eyman’s latest initiative and found this attack on East Link buried in the text:

NEW SECTION. Sec. 3. State government, the department of transportation, and other agencies may not transfer or use gas-tax- funded or toll-funded lanes on state highways for non-highway purposes.

For background, I-1125 is primarily concerned with tolls and what the state can do with tolling revenue and would mean bad things for both roads and transit. I-1125 would eliminate variable tolling, and prohibit tolls raised on a road to be used for anything but the construction of that road. However, the abpve language is particularly scary for East Link; the new provision would prohibit the state from transfering the I-90 center lanes to Sound Transit for East Link. Goldy noticed Kemper Freemans sizeable donation to the I-1125 campaign and reads between the lines:

Of course, that is a section specifically designed to block the use of I-90’s center lanes for Sound Transit’s East Link light rail crossing. It’s what Freeman’s lawyers argued and lost in court, and it no doubt helped inspire Freeman to donate $25,000 to I-1125, the campaign’s largest contribution to date (if you don’t count the indecipherable transfers from Eyman’s other committee).

It’s scary to think that the voters in the Central Puget sound can approve a transportation system and one man with a strange vendetta against transit can help give voters in the rest of the state the ability to undo that decision. Let’s hope I-1125 doesn’t pass.

Op-Ed: B7-R Couldn’t Connect to a Future Issaquah Line


Bellevue Councilman John Chelminiak

One of the most mentioned advantages of East Link’s B7 (cross-slough/BNSF route) is that it provides the guideway for a future connection to the Eastgate Park & Ride and Issaquah.  It’s a common theme at open houses, testimony to government boards, and a favorite talking point of the Build a Better Bellevue crowd, both citizens and Bellevue City Council members alike.  Frankly, it’s one of the few strong arguments for the BNSF route.  Build one guideway and you are ready to go east in the future.

However, the east side of the Mercer Slough is a steep ridge. It starts with 118th Ave SE, goes up to the BNSF ROW, and then climbs in a set of tiers containing the I-90 and I-405 ramps and finally I-405 itself. Standing near the BNSF right of way and looking up, it finally hit me.

You can’t get across from there.

Continue reading “Op-Ed: B7-R Couldn’t Connect to a Future Issaquah Line”

About That Extra $100m for B7R…

In last Friday’s B7 writeup, a post-RSS addendum to the story stated that although the cost of the actual B2M and B7R segments differed by $40m, the choice of B7R incurred an additional $100m of costs in the C (Downtown Bellevue) Segment. Some commenters asked reasonable questions about the data, so I’ve reproduced below table 2-2 from the East Link Supplemental EIS, which is a cost matrix of the various B and C segment choices.

As you can see, the total difference is $140m-$160m. Furthermore,  B7R incurs an additional $9m of costs [Table 2] in the C segment over vanilla B7 in table above, making the total gap between B2M and B7R at least $150m. There are certainly both drawbacks and benefits to a B7R alignment, but the large cost difference is probably a significant argument for Sound Transit’s preference, B2M.

The Bellevue city council is expected to take up this issue tonight with lots of supporters expected from both sides, so tune in or show up if you want to see a show.

Bellevue Releases B7 Study

A-2 Garage from B7R plan, Looking South to I-90

Despite worries it might not be made public, yesterday afternoon the City of Bellevue posted their $670,000 East Link study phase 1 online. A controversial expenditure at the time, it was intended to compare the B7 alignment that Sound Transit studied in its EIS with B7 “revised”, which was conceptually reputed as improved over B7 and named B7R. Although the study did not address Sound Transit’s preferred B2M alignment directly, observers widely construed the study as an attempt to show that B7R, which largely follows I-405 through South Bellevue, is superior to B2M, which would serve the South Bellevue Park and Ride. All “B” alignments refer to the segment between Mercer Island and Downtown Bellevue, exclusive.

There are several differences between B7 and B7R, the most salient of which is a new Park and Ride “A-2” at the Bellevue Way/I-90 interchange. Assuming that downtown Bellevue gets a tunnel, choosing B7R would leave the cost of Segment B about the same at $515m, because the cost of the A-2 P&R is canceled out by the elimination of the 118th Ave SE station. It would increase overall East Link boardings in 2030 from 49,000 to 50,500.

There are additional costs for bus operations (up to $1m** a year), plus some money to enable sharing of the BNSF tracks with other rail operators, if desired. B7R also incurs a further $9m in costs in segment C, because the approach to the tunnel is more expensive. Crucially, there are cost and schedule risks associated with the Mercer Slough crossing (pg. 3):

The crossing of the Mercer Slough is challenging as a result of:  the environmentally sensitive nature of the Slough; the poor foundation materials;  the movement of the peat as documented by WSDOT; and WSDOTs concerns regarding protection of their existing I-90 structures.  While two construction methods have been developed, further analysis will be required to define the appropriate solution and to satisfy WSDOT concerns.  This could potentially delay the project and add construction cost.

By comparison, Sound Transit’s supplemental EIS reported that under the same assumptions, B2M would attract 50,000 riders to the line in 2030, vs. 48,000 for B7. It prices B2M at $480-550m and B7 at $515-595m.

The B7 figures do not match those from the supplemental EIS because the City of Bellevue instructed Arup, who did the study, to use a different (“BKR”) traffic model for both, and “the BKR Model has greater detail for the localized road network and traffic analysis zones.” (page 6)

Although some of these differences make it hard to compare things directly, it is evident to me that the ridership difference between B7R and B2M is basically a wash, but B7R is approximately $40m more expensive*.

*$40m accounts for the gap in segment cost, but is likely to be significantly more when factoring in the costs for the C9T tunnel since a connection to B2M is roughly $100m cheaper.

**The $1m figure only accounts for additional costs with Sound Transit bus operations and leaves out Metro routes.  According to the report, ST would have to procure two additional vehicles just to maintain bus headways.

Report: New B7 Study Reconfirms Past Results

Sources for Erica C. Barnett tell her that the first phase of the latest City of Bellevue study about the two remaining South Bellevue Link alignments basically confirm what previous Sound Transit studies found — a revised “B7” alignment, along I-405, is more expensive and carries fewer riders than Sound Transit’s preferred B2 alternative, which takes surface streets from I-90 into downtown. Sound Transit could equalize ridership by spending even more money on B7.

There’s no word on whether the report will be released to the public, or how this will impact the follow-on phases of the study. There is a total of $3m and up to 2.5 years of further study that the Bellevue Council could authorize if it wishes to explore B7 further. This study follows other independent studies Bellevue commissioned to critique Sound Transit’s analysis of the alignments. The Bellevue Council is supposed to decide on the follow-on phases at a meeting on Monday, May 16th, although the agenda can change at the council’s whim.

Sherwin’s primer on East Link is a good starting point if you’re bewildered by all the alignment codes.

I’ll Just Leave This Here…

I’m carefully reading the majority opinion of the state supreme court on the Freeman v Gregoire case, looking for more interesting points to make. I’ve found several, but this one deserves a quote on its own. From page 6:

On December 1, 2009, the FHA confirmed that reimbursement of federal-aid
highway funds expended in the construction of the center lanes of I-90 would not be
required "should [the center lanes] be used for light rail transit."

Sound Transit: 7, Anti-Transit Suburban Developers: 2

This morning the Washington State Supreme Court issued an opinion in Freeman v. Gregoire, the suit filed by Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman, Jr. to block transfer of the I-90 center lanes to Sound Transit for East Link.

They ruled 7-2 in favor of the state – which in this case is for light rail. Freeman requested a “writ of mandamus”, essentially a command, to the state specifically prohibiting them from entering into any agreement with Sound Transit for use of the I-90 center lanes.

This prohibition was denied because courts don’t typically issue commands to the legislature to follow the constitution – it’s assumed they already will – and there’s no specific, mandatory requirement in state law to do anything unconstitutional. The sections of state law in question just require the state to “complete negotiations” with Sound Transit and to spend money on a valuation study of the I-90 express lanes pursuant to that negotiation.

The court found that motor vehicle funds spent on the study were an administrative function that indirectly benefits the highway system – a use which is not prohibited. However, the majority opinion specifically omitted discussion of whether or not they felt a transfer of highway property to Sound Transit would be constitutional – they just declined to issue the broad prohibition Freeman requested.

I wouldn’t be surprised if a new case is filed once the lanes are actually transferred to Sound Transit.

We really, really need to change the state constitution. A big step is to elect better representatives, but for now, I want to call out Transportation for Washington, the campaign that’s fighting to make transit a bigger part of the picture in Olympia. If you’re not on their mailing list, you should be. Their press release had a bang-on quote this morning: “This frivolous lawsuit brought on by Kemper Freeman and his anti-transit colleagues was just a cynical attempt to thwart the voters’ will and derail transit.”