Council continues analysis on railway corridor route for Bellevue light-rail
By NAT LEVY
Bellevue Reporter Staff Writer
September 14, 2010 · 1:27 PM
Amid extensive debate, consternation and emotion, the Bellevue City Council began a process that could eventually lead to further study of its preferred option of light-rail, which focuses on preserving the neighborhoods on 112th Street and sending the rail down previously used railway adjacent to Interstate 405.
The council deliberated for more than two hours Monday whether or not it should green-light further study of the B7 option for light-rail, which proponents said would create an "apples-to-apples" comparison with Sound Transit's preferred B2M option. Ultimately, the council directed staff to draw up preliminary data.
The 4-3 vote does not authorize further study and expenditure for the B7 option, but it directs staff to bring forth a cost analysis and scope of work that could tweak some of the aspects of the option, including the impact to residents on 118th Street, and a parking area in the Enatai neighborhood that would serve a similar purpose to the South Bellevue Park and Ride in Sound Transit's option.
Several councilors were appalled at how much was missing from a draft scope of work that didn't include a cost of further study (see below for the scope and other documents from Monday's meeting).
"It's very hypocritical for us to say we're fiscally conservative, and on the other hand throw an undetermined amount of money at a project that is still so undefined," said Council member Claudia Balducci. "I think it is spectacularly ill-conceived."
Balducci, who also serves on the Sound Transit Board of Directors, said at the meeting that the kind of study requested by some council members was similar to each alternative in the Draft Environmental Impact Study published by Sound Transit. She said the study of each alternative in that report cost around $750,000.
Council member Kevin Wallace made the motion to cap the potential cost of further study at $200,000, but several council members balked at the idea, saying it wasn't worth the cost because it wouldn't provide adequate detail for the option.
Wallace, along with Conrad Lee, Jennifer Robertson and Mayor Don Davidson voted in favor of further study, primarily because they wanted to see the process move along and learn more about B7, so objective data can determine the efficacy of the route.
"B7 continues to be headed for defeat because no one will develop the study," Wallace said. "Let's look at both options after you stack up all the mitigation and find what's the right choice."
Balducci, Grant Degginger and John Chelminiak worried that the council was opening a new discussion with the potential to mutate into another multi-million dollar alternative that could cost the city several years of planning time. Any extensive change would require new public outreach and consultation with affected parties.
Council members worried throughout the extensive debate that they were ignoring a crucial part of the light-rail project, a downtown tunnel. Several council members said every extra dollar being spent on further consulting for the B7 option and study of new alternatives takes away from funds the city can contribute to the tunnel, an option the council unanimously prefers.
During the public comment period prior to the discussion, Downtown Association President Leslie Lloyd echoed concerns that additional spending on studies would subtract from the city's budget for the tunnel.
"We want light-rail sooner rather than later," she said. "We need to connect to the region with the highest efficiency. Please don't allow the tunnel to go by the wayside."
Only three people commented on the item during the meeting, but all three urged the council to move forward and support Sound Transit's preference. They said the additional study of B7 is a waste of time and money.
"My concern about this is that you've spent a considerable amount already that neither confirms nor condemns the B7 route," said South Enatai resident Martin Paquette. "We continue to spend money to study this alternative that's studied in the EIS anyway, at the expense of the rest of the project," he said.
Nat Levy can be reached at 425-453-4290.
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