Bellevue’s independent study of an East Link light rail route that would take trains away from Bellevue Way Southeast is $50,000 short of completing everything meant to be studied, but –pressed for money and time - the council Monday was ready to tie up the process and send the report to Sound Transit at the end of the month.
The final report will be presented to the public between 5:30 and 7 p.m. Wednesday June 29. (Read the study's interim report here.)
The city’s study has cost $650,000 so far, just short of the $670,000 that was budgeted for the study, but it would have cost $50,000 to finish everything that the study had called for because of changes in scope, said city transportation director Goran Sparrman. Those changes included expanding the study to the downtown Bellevue station and looking at two options on BNSF rail line instead of one, city officials said in a report Monday.
Consulting firm Arup had not completed analyzing several aspects of what is known as the B7 revised alternative, which is a line that follows Interstate 405 along the BNSF rail line. The reports not completed are constructability – that is, methods of building the light rail line; drawing visual renditions of intersections; studying noise walls; and other design and environmental analysis, Sparrman said.
However, the Sound Transit board is set to make a decision on its preference for a light rail route through Bellevue at the end of July, and some council members said that the report had enough information.
“I am disappointed that we have a $50,000 gap there, but we do, and I guess they did the work, and we didn’t really give a blessing on that and money has been a sensitive issue," Mayor Don Davidson said. “We got the information and we can wrap it up.”
Davidson added that Sound Transit still wasn’t convinced him of the feasibility of its preferred East Link light rail line, which runs light rail from Interstate 90 to downtown Bellevue along Bellevue Way.
The transportation agency’s criteria favors a route that follows alongside Bellevue Way Southeast for much of the route, but some neighbors who would be able to see the proposed path say that route would be noisy and disruptive to the neighborhood and potentially damaging to the historic Winters House on Bellevue Way.
Several council members questioned why changes were made without the council’s consent; Sparrman said that the $670,000 contract allowed for changes of up to 10 percent.
The council in a split vote last year commissioned an independent study of a light rail line that follows Interstate 405 along the BNSF railroad line to see if that route could be made more appealing. Arup’s study so far shows ways to improve ridership for that route by moving a park-and-ride into a residential neighborhood – which would require purchasing several homes in that neighborhood. The modifications also make B7 more expensive than Sound Transit’s original design.
The report does not directly compare Sound Transit’s preferred light rail route to the route being studied by the city.
Several council members said that the study had enough information and said there was no reason to continue.
“It’s very difficult to decide whether to spend $50,000 or $35,000, and based on the information given to us, they’re just wrapping up things we already know,” said Deputy Mayor Conrad Lee.
“There comes a point where the music stops and you gotta land someplace. I’m getting to that point,” said councilman Grant Degginger, who ultimately voted against sending the report to Sound Transit. Degginger, along with council members Claudia Balducci and John Chelminiak, were opposed to the city's initial decision last year to launch the study.
Chelminiak Monday voted in favor of sending the report to Sound Transit. He said the council should send the report without any “sound bites.”
“Just say, ‘Here’s the report, consider it,’ ” Chelminiak said.
Chelminiak joined Davidson, Lee, and council members Kevin Wallace and Jennifer Robertson in a vote to send the report to Sound Transit. Council members Degginger and Balducci voted against it.
The issue of the East Link light rail line has become a contentious issue for the council in the past year, with residents both for and against Sound Transit's preferred alternative speaking before the council, and pitting residents against council members. The issue culminated most recently in an ethics probe that looked at potential conflicts of interest on issues raised by the Seattle Times about Wallace, and by several residents about Degginger and Balducci. Last week, the report cleared Degginger and Balducci of any conflicts, but the consultant had not completed his report on Wallace.
According to Sound Transit the decision on the line will be made in July, the project will be designed by 2015, and construction will be completed by 2022.