The Bellevue city council will decide in April whether to continue its commissioned study on whether a light rail line that follows Interstates 90 and 405 could be made more appealing than Sound Transit's preferred line along Bellevue Way.
Sound Transit's preferred alternative -- known as B2M -- curently follows Bellevue Way and 112th Avenue into downtown Bellevue to connect the existing Seattle Central Link light rail line to the Eastside through Mercer Island. However, Sound Transit has said that though a preferred alternative has been identified, its decision is not final.
Hired consulting firm Arup continues to look at ways to improve the environmental, noise, aesthetic and economics of a light rail line that would follow the freeways and an existing unused BNSF railway bed instead of Bellevue Way said Arup's John Eddy, the project manager. The alternative line that the city is studying is known as B7.
Proponents of the city council's alternative say that Sound Transit's current preference is too disruptive visually and sound-wise to the homes in the Surrey Downs and Enatai neighborhoods. The vibrations from the trains in the B2M model also would cause damage to the Winters House, a historic home in Mercer Slough Park.
However, the B7 model is a longer, more expensive route that would take more time to build than B2M, would require building across Mercer Slough, and would require that Sound Transit purchase more private property than B2M. Sound Transit's analysis also concluded that B7 would not pick up as many riders as the B2M route, because it does not connect with the existing South Bellevue Park and Ride.
Eddy said that Arup is working to find ways to adjust B7 so it is less expensive, less noisy and disruptive and more attractive to riders than Sound Transit's original concept of B7 and its current preference for B2M.
"If we can drive those in the right direction, then work can continue after April," Eddy said.
Bellevue's B7 analysis looks at different ways to bring the line across Mercer Slough, introduces the concept of a new four-level 1,600 space park and ride near the I-90 onramps on Bellevue Way, which would bring the riders but require the purchase of more properties than currently planned. The Park and Ride could be sunken to minimize the impact to the remaining homes.
About 200 comments have already been collected by the city on the B7 alternative. More than a third are concerned about the neighborhood impacts of B2M-- specifically noise and train proximity to the Surrey Downs and Enatai neighborhoods. Almost as many were concerned about the proposed new Park and Ride and its possible negative impacts to the neighborhood. The rest were split among cost, B7's new impacts to Mercer Slough and other concerns.
Sound Transit will issue its final environmental impact statement in June. After that, the plans would go to the Sound Transit board to select the exact route, and then it would go to the Federal Transit Administration for final approval before design and construction can begin.
The East Link line connecting the Central Line in Seattle to Bellevue is expected to be complete by the end of the decade.
By April, the city will have spent $670,000 on the study of the B7 alternative, which the majority of the city council prefers. The council approved this expenditure in October, with council members Jennifer Robertson and Kevin Wallace and Mayor Don Davidson in favor and council members Claudia Balducci and Grant Degginger against. Deputy Mayor Conrad Lee and Councilman John Chelminiak were absent.
There will be additional costs if the council decides in April to continue studying this alternative, Eddy said.
In the meantime, questions have been raised about whether Councilman Kevin Wallace had a conflict of interest when he voted in favor of studying the B7 alternative. The Seattle Times reported today that Wallace Properties Development, a commercial properties firm, worked with GNP Railway, a railroad company on raising money for expansion. GNP's plans included the portion of the BNSF railroad line that would be affected by the city's B7 alternative, however, creditors forced GNP into bankruptcy organization and Wallace Properties dropped its plans.
Wallace told the Times that he considered the issue "water under the bridge" because of the bankruptcy, but if the plans had gone forward, he would have discussed any conflicts of interest at that time. Read the Seattle Times' coverage here.