Debate between south Bellevue light-rail alignments dominates public hearing
By NAT LEVY
Bellevue Reporter Staff Writer
December 2, 2010 · Updated 11:13 AM
A public hearing over Sound Transit's East Link Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement quickly morphed into a familiar debate about two controversial alternatives for light-rail through south Bellevue.
Speaker after speaker marched to the podium at Bellevue City Hall Tuesday to argue for or against the route that uses the BNSF rail corridor (B7), or the one that pushes through 112th Avenue and Bellevue Way (B2M).
The debate has been ongoing between the city of Bellevue, which formally supports B7 because the route veers away from the Surrey Downs neighborhood and Bellevue Way, and Sound Transit, which prefers B2M because of predicted increased ridership and cost savings.
The B7 supporters both outnumbered, and out-voiced B2M supporters, but both sides exhibited the passion that has framed this debate for the last few years.
B7 supporters and B2M detractors pointed to the impact B2M would have on the Surrey Downs neighborhood, including the nearby park as major concerns.
They worried that Sound Transit was trying to cram in the cheapest and quickest option.
"There's no reason for urgency," said Ann Guilford. "Let's not be short-sighted when planning this long range project; the goal is to do what's right for Bellevue."
The SDEIS was released earlier this month and adds several alternatives on the B, C, and D sections of the alignment.
Bellevue is attempting to take an even closer look at its B7 alternative. The council voted in October to green-light further study of its preferred alternative, in order to give Sound Transit a better picture of the ways the council believes the B7 is superior.
Sound Transit is expected to take a final vote on the preferred alternative for each segment of the project in April 2011, which would occur well before Bellevue's six-month study, the first in a potential three-piece examination that could take several years, concludes.
Some of the B7 supporters urged Sound Transit to step back and delay a final vote until at least next fall so Bellevue's study can factor in the decision making.
But supporters of Sound Transit's alternative echoed the message that it was time to get to work. They said any alternative is going to have issues given the size and scope of the project.
"My main interest is that we not get distracted by looking at too many alternatives, and we allocate enough resources to on-ground mitigation," said Joe Burcar, a B2M supporter. "No matter where the corridor ends up, there's going to be impacts. We just have to to do the best job we can in mitigating those impacts for the neighborhoods we go through."
Though Bellevue supports the B7, the Sound Transit SDEIS says the route is more expensive, takes on fewer riders and has greater environmental risks.
But, B7 supporters said, Sound Transit is not accounting for the already difficult traffic that would become even more snarled by constant construction on Bellevue Way for a number of years. Many of those who testified against B2M or for B7, asked how can Sound Transit justify creating such a traffic issue, while simultaneously wrecking a proud and vibrant neighborhood.
"I suggest that this is insanity so we can increase ridership," said Bellevue resident Larry Graham, much to the delight of other B7 supporters, who showered the statement with applause.
The public hearing was just one in a number of ways people can comment on the SDEIS. The comment period is open until Jan. 10, 2011, and individuals can comment on the by emailing email@example.com, or sending a letter to Sound Transit.Contact Bellevue Reporter Staff Writer Nat Levy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 425-453-4290.