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News Release


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Council Roundup: I-405 projects reviewed

Also, Council wants funds intended to help mentally ill targeted at homelessness and Light Rail Best Practices gets on fast track

Interstate 405, a major artery of the Eastside’s transportation system, has seen its share of congestion relief work in recent years, including two projects now under construction in Bellevue.

On Tuesday, officials with the state Department of Transportation briefed City Council members on progress and previewed of what lies ahead.

In the past five years the state Legislature has authorized more than $6 billion in state gas tax and other revenue for dozens of congestion relief projects statewide. Of that, $1.51 billion has been budgeted for projects along the 30-mile length of I-405. So far, one project in Kirkland has been completed, four are under way and three others are scheduled to break ground in the next two years.

In Bellevue, the biggest impact will be felt in August when the Department of Transportation closes all southbound lanes of I-405 on three consecutive weekends to remove the Wilburton Tunnel.

"It's going to be a busy summer," said Mayor Grant Degginger. "But it will be a small inconvenience for a really great project that will enhance mobility in the area."

State transportation officials provided updates on three projects in Bellevue:

  • I-405 South Bellevue Widening Project: Designed to relieve congestion in one of the area's worst sticking points, in and out of downtown Bellevue, the $197.2 million project will add one southbound lane from Southeast Eighth Street to Interstate 90 and one northbound lane from 112th Avenue Southeast to Southeast Eighth Street. Work started in spring 2007 and is scheduled for completion in late 2009. To make room for more southbound lanes, crews will remove the Wilburton Tunnel and southbound I-405 will be closed from Southeast Eighth Street to I-90, from 11 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Monday on the weekends of Aug. 8 to 11, Aug. 15 to 18 and Aug. 22 to 25. Workers will use six large excavators, described as "crunchers and breakers," and a crane with a wrecking ball to do the job. The suggested detour will route southbound I-405 traffic to westbound SR 520, southbound I-5, eastbound I-90 and back to southbound I-405. A local, "open for business detour," will be available for traffic out of downtown Bellevue, but delays are expected. Transportation managers recommend that motorists avoid the area if possible, use alternate routes or reschedule trips. 
  • Northeast 10th Street Bridge: The Department of Transportation and City of Bellevue are working together to extend Northeast 10th Street from 112th Avenue Northeast east over I-405 to 116th Avenue Northeast. It’s designed to provide better access between downtown Bellevue, west of I-405, and the city’s growing hospital district east of the highway. It also relieves congestion on busy Northeast Eighth Street. Stage 1 of the project, building a section of road from 116th Avenue Northeast to I-405, was completed in mid-May. Work on Stage 2, to finish the connection over I-405, is expected to be complete in fall 2009. Landscaping and a storm water pond west of I-405 are also part of the $63.7 million total cost.
  • Northeast Eighth Street to SR 520 Braided Ramps: Still in the planning phase is a $255 million project intended to eliminate the "weave" between drivers heading north on I-405 out of downtown and those on I-405 who are exiting to SR 520. The work, scheduled to begin in 2009 and wrap up in 2011, will include stacked lanes to separate traffic, a new on-ramp at Northeast 10th Street to SR 520 and a new overpass at Northeast 12th Street.

For more information on Department of Transportation projects in Bellevue and elsewhere on I-405, visit the DOT's project website.

Priorities for new mental illness, drug dependency services tax outlined
Funds from a new county sales tax designed to pay for mental illness and drug dependency services should initially be targeted at community-based programs, jail and hospital diversion initiatives and school programs to assist youth, Council said Tuesday.

In 2005, a state law was passed authorizing counties to impose a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax for new or expanded mental health and chemical dependency treatment services. The tax, which went into effect in 2008, is expected to generate $32.4 million this year.

During a study session, council members told staff that in the coming year, programs benefiting the homeless should be emphasized. Of the $32.4 million in 2008 tax funds expected to be collected by King County, about $18 million is being proposed to be spent on housing for homeless people facing mental illness or drug dependency challenges.

The council is expected to adopt an interest statement in the next several weeks outlining city's other priorities for the new tax funds. Those priorities include:

  • Increased access to basic mental health and chemical dependency services for low-income people. The council noted that two local mental health counseling agencies were forced to close their doors in 2007 due to a lack of adequate funding;
  • The need to increase funding for mental health and substance abuse services in schools, and additional funding support for suicide awareness and prevention training and education;
  • The construction of an adult crisis diversion center, and funding for respite beds and a mobile behavioral health crisis team. Law enforcement officers from across the county should have access to the diversion center. 

A final budget for the tax funds is expected to be adopted by the King County Council in late September.

Council seeks summer close to Light Rail Best Practices work
Council members on Tuesday put the Light Rail Best Practices Committee on a fast track to finish a nearly year-long effort that will help the Council prepare for a proposed light rail system in Bellevue.

Officials want to use recommendations based on a Light Rail Best Practices Report to help them amend the city's comprehensive plan before Sound Transit releases a draft environmental impact statement on East Link, which would extend light rail from Seattle to Bellevue. Having the amendments in place could help Bellevue influence future decisions by Sound Transit.

At their study session, Council mapped out a tentative schedule that would have the Light Rail Best Practices Committee conclude its work and issue a final report by June 17. The Planning Commission would hold a public hearing on July 9 and forward its recommendations to the Council by July 23. Council members hope to take comments on the report until July 28, then adopt comprehensive plan amendments on Aug. 4, before their summer break.

Formed in July 2007, Bellevue's Light Rail Best Practices Committee was a response to community concerns about what Sound Transit's proposed light rail extension could mean for Bellevue. Since then, the Council-appointed Committee has conducted monthly meetings to take comments from people interested in the issue and observed first-hand the light rail systems in Portland, San Diego and San Jose.

The purpose of the Best Practices project has been to learn from the experiences of other cities and to create a set of  "best practices" for developing light rail in Bellevue. The Committee's report contains recommendations on a range of actions, including draft comprehensive plan amendments.

A "Roads and Transit" measure that would have extended light rail through Bellevue to the Overlake area of Redmond was voted down in November 2007, but a transit-only measure could appear on the ballot in November of this year. Sound Transit's Board will decide by the end of July whether to seek voter approval for an East Link project.

The city's Light Rail Best Practices web pages offer more information about the Light Rail Best Practices project. Sound Transit has more details about the East Link project.

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