Last week, King County Parks published a draft master plan for the Eastside Rail Corridor Regional Trail. The County aims to develop a permanent paved trail on over 16 miles of the corridor.
As the trail plan enters a public comment period, Sound Transit is finalizing its own draft system plan. That will clarify how portions of the corridor may be shared with transit. Across the Eastside, efforts to bring the corridor into public use are accelerating. Legacy freight tracks will be removed in 2017, and trails are being expanded. Snohomish County has agreed to buy 12 miles of corridor and is expected to build a trail alongside the active rail line. A once contentious political debate over rails vs trails has been mostly replaced by a consensus that the ERC will serve both (though it still echoes in Kirkland where transit opponents have coalesced around “Save Our Trail” rhetoric).
Since being rail-banked in 2009, ownership has resided with several jurisdictions. The cities of Redmond and Kirkland mostly own the segments within their respective city limits. Sound Transit owns a 1-mile section where East Link will be built. The balance of the rail-banked area is owned by King County. The County is also the trail sponsor in the Sound Transit area. Sound Transit and other utilities retain easements along the ERC. Owners and stakeholders collaborate through the ERC Regional Advisory Council.
The corridor BRT is well-integrated with regional services. It would connect to I-405 BRT at Kingsgate/NE 128th, to East Link LRT at Wilburton Station, and to regional bus services at the Bellevue Transit Center. An alternative configuration at Wilburton might have an elevated station.
The study acknowledges the need to accommodate the existing trail on the Cross-Kirkland Corridor, and a future trail on the Eastside Rail Corridor in Bellevue. It specifies that the rail would be on the east of the corridor with trail uses to the west.
Last August, Sound Transit selected a Project Priority List to proceed to the next level of study for the ST3 ballot measure. Since then, the agency has been working with other stakeholders to evaluate potential projects. The City of Kirkland, having successfully advocated for a Bus Rapid Transit option on the Eastside Rail Corridor (ERC), has worked with consultants to develop a more comprehensive vision for that service. The first details of their work were shared at a City Council meeting last week. The City is also working with agencies on light rail and I-405 BRT options.
Kirkland is balancing several policy goals. The City is pro-transit, and understands that BRT on the Eastside Rail Corridor offers far better connections to Kirkland’s growing neighborhoods than the alternatives. But the corridor is also a well-loved place to walk and bike. With rails being removed to the north and south of Kirkland, the ERC is shortly anticipated to be a high demand bike corridor with the highest demand through urban neighborhoods in Kirkland and Bellevue. Walk and bike uses would benefit in obvious ways from integration with accessible transit. To these ends, Kirkland is eager to see a transit infrastructure that mostly hugs the eastern side of the corridor, maximizing the space available to trail users and preserving views to the west. Sound Transit originally anticipated transit would follow the legacy rail-bed down the center of the corridor, more closely encroaching on the trail which would be correspondingly pushed toward the edge of the corridor.
Kirkland bought a 5 3/4 mile section of the Eastside Rail Corridor in April 2012, known locally as the Cross-Kirkland Corridor (CKC). In 2014, the City removed tracks and built a crushed-gravel interim trail along the former rail-bed. The City’s master plan for the Corridor envisions the interim trail eventually being replaced by paved permanent trails alongside transit, with a primary trail mostly following the center of the corridor, and a lower-speed pedestrian-only trail on busier segments. Sound Transit retains an easement on the Corridor for high-capacity transit, as do some other utilities. However, it is unclear whether Sound Transit (as easement holder) or the City (as corridor owner) governs the placement of transit within the corridor. In September, Kirkland contracted with consultants on pre-design of compatible transit infrastructure, seeking to demonstrate to both Sound Transit and other stakeholders that a balanced design is possible.
What they came up with was an engineering design that increased the space for trails at what appears to be reasonable capital cost. Preliminary concept design also looked at pinch points on the corridor in Kirkland and Bellevue. They developed engineering concept solutions through all of the tight areas that do not adversely impact the trail.