The Bellevue City Council Monday voted unanimously to support a future downtown light rail tunnel as the best way to serve regional transit needs and protect local streets.
The council, which approved sending a letter to the Sound Transit Board of Directors in support of a light rail alternative called C9T, has consistently backed a downtown tunnel for the East Link project.
There are several reasons why the council prefers a tunnel over a street-level alternative, including a tunnel's ability to:
- Serve the downtown core. According to a recent report that studied the C9T tunnel alternative, two street-level routes and an elevated alignment, a projected 97 percent of downtown workers in 2030 would be within a 10-minute walk of a downtown light rail tunnel station.
- Improve operations and reliability. Light rail's travel time through downtown via a tunnel in 2030 is projected to be 33 percent faster than the street-level alternatives; six minutes versus nine minutes, according to the design report.
- Provide the highest ridership. In 2030, downtown boardings are projected at 8,000 per day, the report found, as high or higher than the three other alternatives.
- Eliminate street impacts. A street-level light rail route would make traffic operations on downtown streets significantly slower, especially in the southeast part of the business district. Mixing light rail and vehicles on the street would cause delays for both.
The C9T alternative route would run west over 112th Avenue Southeast, along the south side of Main Street, go underground as it runs north on 110th Avenue Northeast, turn east on Northeast Sixth Street, emerge from the tunnel and cross above 112th Avenue Northeast and Interstate 405.
Light rail stations are planned at the southeast corner of Main Street and 112th Avenue Southeast; underneath 110th Avenue Northeast, at Northeast Fourth Street, a block southeast of the existing Bellevue Transit Center; and above Northeast Eighth Street in the former BNSF Railroad corridor, just east of 116th Avenue Northeast.
Sound Transit's board is expected to decide on a downtown route preference at a meeting on April 22.
The C9T tunnel choice was one of four downtown alternatives that have been studied in recent months. In early 2009, the Bellevue council's preferred alternative was a longer tunnel on 106th Avenue Northeast; Sound Transit's board preferred a street-level "couplet" alternative running in opposite directions on 108th and 110th avenues Northeast.
Because the C9T alternative is estimated to cost up to $285 million more than a downtown street-level alternative, city and Sound Transit executives have been working to identify a combination of funding solutions and cost reductions to close the gap.
In its letter to Sound Transit, the council commits to working cooperatively to close the funding gap if the board selects the tunnel alternative. The city's share would range in value from $104 to $150 million. It would consist of contributions such as right of way for light rail construction, one-time tax revenue Bellevue receives as a result of the East Link project, permitting assistance and specific construction projects that benefit both the city and the light rail project.
East Link is part of a regional transit package approved by voters in 2008. It includes the extension of light rail from Seattle, across Lake Washington on Interstate 90 to Bellevue, and on to the Overlake Transit Center in Redmond.
The long-range schedule for East Link calls for Sound Transit to complete a final environmental review of all the alternatives in late 2010, and make a definitive decision on routes and station locations by early 2011. Design work for East Link will continue through 2013, construction is expected to begin by 2014, and light rail service to Bellevue projected to start in 2020.
For more information on East Link, view the council study session item or the Light Rail and Bellevue web page, or Sound Transit's project web page.
Feedback: Bernard van de Kamp, Regional Projects Manager, 425-452-6459 or email@example.com
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