Council awards East Link engineering contract for its preferred alternative
By NAT LEVY
Bellevue Reporter Staff Writer
December 8, 2010 · Updated 11:58 AM
Even the naming of a consultant to perform conceptual engineering reports can't escape the contentious debate that surrounds East Link light-rail.
The Bellevue City Council Monday voted 4-3 to award a contract of $670,723 to Arup North America Ltd. to present design work for the council's preferred alternative (B7) for rail through South Bellevue that travels along the BNSF rail corridor and veers away from neighborhoods near Bellevue Way.
Council focused on the cost and time frame of the study, not the qualifications of the consultant, which all council members agreed were exceptional.
The contract comes as a result of a council vote last month to go forward with the first of a three-phase design project to bring plans for the B7 up to a higher level for the consideration of Sound Transit, which has the final say over the placement of light-rail tracks.
Arup's analysis and concept report should take approximately six to seven months to complete, a time frame that doesn't mesh with Sound Transit's plan to make a final decision on its preferred route next spring.
Aside from the timing issues, council members pointed to the funding of the study as a potential problem. The study will use $270,000 of existing funds out of the 2010 budget and the rest (approximately $400,000) will be paid out of the 2011-12 budget. Transportation Director Goran Sparrman said the budget contains $1.3 million over the two years for consultant work out of the overall $6.2 million budget for East Link analysis.
Council members voting against the study worried about the ramifications of the city spending almost one-third of all money for consultants over the next two years on this study.
"2011, we're spending that money tonight; that's the consultant money," said Council Member John Chelminiak. "We're shooting the entire 2011 East Link consultant money for this."
But the majority of the council felt the study was necessary for full examination of the project.
"Getting this segment right is worth the investment of that amount," said Council Member Jennifer Robertson. "
The council has several opportunities throughout the process to evaluate the study, and the consultants included three public meetings to discuss aspects such as a new park and ride in the south Enatai neighborhood as part of B7.
At the halfway point, the consultants installed a "tipping point," a final time when the council can cut the project off and stop the funding. The time frame for this decision occurs around when Sound Transit's decision could come down in the spring.
Arup has performed studies of light-rail and other transportation projects around the world, including Bellevue. Arup designed Council Member Kevin Wallace's Vision Line last year, a fact he freely admitted during the meeting. He assured council that Arup's extensive experience in light-rail makes Wallace's line a very small past project for the firm, which will have no bearing on the objectivity of the consultants.
"Their credibility is really the highest you can get," he said. "That they did the study for me, that is nothing to them."
Another discussion of light-rail, this one focusing on where the $6 million budget is being spent and how the council should frame its comments on Sound Transit's Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement, will occur at the Dec. 13 meeting.Contact Bellevue Reporter Staff Writer Nat Levy at email@example.com or 425-453-4290.