In a series of votes on Monday the City Council approved a critical East Link light rail alignment south of downtown and requested more time to vet a long-term agreement with Sound Transit.
Facing an Oct. 25 deadline to approve a binding memorandum of understanding (MOU), the council agreed to send a letter to Sound Transit requesting an extension. City council members want to hold a public hearing Nov. 7 so residents and others can weigh in on the draft agreement, then vote on the MOU by Nov. 14.
In another significant development, the council voted 6-1 to approve a light rail alignment that includes an elevated crossing of 112th Avenue Southeast, near Southeast 15th Street, then runs in a trench along 112th Avenue north to a downtown light rail tunnel.
Some councilmembers noted that that the "flyover to trench" approach would mean light rail is completely removed from vehicle traffic from downtown Seattle all the way to the Bel-Red area in Bellevue.
Sound Transit's Board of Directors is expected to consider, and possibly vote on the updated MOU and companion operating agreement, as well as consider Bellevue's request for a deadline extension at its meeting on Thursday. After this week, the next Sound Transit Board meeting is scheduled for Nov. 17.
Councilmembers and nearby residents have been concerned about the impacts of light rail on traffic, noise, vibration and views, in the area. As part of the alignment approved Monday, the council wants Sound Transit to purchase additional houses in the area, instead of taking a slice of the properties and running the light rail line undesirably close to the homes.
Also written into the MOU will be "off-ramp" provisions that allow both parties to terminate the agreement for a variety of reasons.
The alignment, as well as how Bellevue will contribute to the cost of a light rail tunnel in downtown will be addressed in the MOU. There is unanimous support for a tunnel, but the cost would be considerably higher than a street-level alternative.
Bellevue's "up-front contribution" would be $100 million toward the tunnel's cost. Much of the credit would come from in-kind contributions such as the use of properties that benefit the city for other public purposes. A maximum of $60 million more could come as part of a "contingent" contribution. That amount could go down if there are project cost savings, depending on the final costs of the East Link project, but could not go above $60 million.
The East Link light rail route will run from Seattle, through Bellevue, to the Overlake area of Redmond. Construction is anticipated to begin by 2015, with service to start by 2023.
Council agenda materials (including a draft copy of the MOU)
Light Rail and Bellevue
Feedback: Bernard Van de Kamp, Regional Projects Manager, 425-452-6459 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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