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Port Commission Takes First Step in Transfer of Rail Corridor to Kirkland

Port of Seattle commissioners voted unanimously in a special meeting at City Hall to declare 5.7 miles of the old rail line surplus and authorize its transfer to the city.

The dream of a cross-Kirkland trail chugged a little farther down the tracks toward reality Tuesday when Port of Seattle commissioners voted to transfer 5.7 miles of the to the city for $5 million.

In a special meeting at City Hall, three of the five port commissioners voted unanimously to approve the first reading of a resolution declaring those 5.7 miles in Kirkland as surplus to the port’s needs and authorizing their transfer to the city.

“I’m really delighted to be doing the first reading of this resolution in Kirkland,” said Commissioner John Creighton of Bellevue, recalling growing up not far from the tracks. “This has been an important part of my public life. I think we’ve achieved a great result. It is preserved for the public. I remain committed to having this corridor remain for dual use.”

The Kirkland portion of the former Burlington Northern railroad stretches from the Totem Lake area south almost to state Route 520, and would be developed over time in the city’s plans, first as a trail and later also as a light transportation corridor.

The port purchased the railway in 2009 and last year began negotiating the sale of the Kirkland segment to the city. The Kirkland City Council .

The vote Tuesday by the port commission is seen as the first step in the transfer, with the deal likely to be closed in mid-April.

While port commissioners and city officials hailed the move as providing significant environmental and economic benefits for Kirkland and the region, several testified during a required hearing that if the old Burlington Northern tracks are removed as envisioned, the route will no longer be viable for rail use.

“This entire process has been a systematic destruction of using this for rail,” testified Martin Evans, noting the severe congestion on the almost adjacent Interstate 405. “This transfer is kind of the final death blow.”

Others testified that the route should be developed for both pedestrian and bicycle and rail use, but that it wouldn’t happen if the rails are removed. “It cannot work if you rip up the tracks,” said Will Knedlik, a former state legislator from Kirkland. “Trains are not flying carpets.”

But Kirkland City Manager Kurt Triplett insisted the route would be preserved for both uses. “You have preserved the options for rail and a trail along this corridor,” Triplett told the commissioners. “You have fulfilled your commitment to preserve this for the public.”

Said Kirkland Mayor Joan McBride: “The selling of the Kirkland segment not only helps us achieve the cross-Kirkland trail, which has been a goal for decades, but also will help stimulate economic growth. This segment instantly links Kirkland schools and parks and will become an attraction to cyclists throughout the region.”

King County Council member Jane Hague, who lives in Bellevue and represents much of Kirkland, also testified, applauding the commission’s and Kirkland’s “vision and courage.”

The transfer remains subject to a “due diligence” period of inspection by Kirkland, which will end March 20, a second reading of the commission resolution, and final transfer of the title in April.

“I would put it at about a 95 percent chance this transaction will proceed,” Triplett said before the meeting. “But you never want to pre-judge the due diligence period. I’m very excited.”

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