Bellevue neighbors present new East Link alignment they say could save money
By NAT LEVY
Bellevue Reporter Staff Writer
March 1, 2011 · Updated 2:59 PM
As Sound Transit and Bellevue continue to develop their desired East Link light-rail routes, a group of Bellevue neighbors is working on a wrinkle in the Bellevue Way/112th Avenue alignment (B2M) that they say could save money and assuage the worries of many Bellevue citizens.
Led by Bill Thurston, president of the Bellevue Club, the alignment shifts the track on Bellevue Way/112th Avenue over to the west side of the road, removing a key at-grade crossing, eliminating visual interruptions, and reducing traffic and safety concerns.
Thurston and his team began displaying the model to citizens and government officials in December, with positive reviews, he said.
The biggest benefit, Thurston said, is the ability to remove an at-grade crossing from Southeast Sixth Street, moving it to a less congested area on the line.
"When you take these intersections out of play your traffic and your safety become lesser issues," Thurston said.
Furthermore, this change in the crossing could remove the noise of bells that nearby home owners have decried throughout the planning process.
The route could lead to a higher number of property acquisitions, but those costs would potentially be offset by savings on other parts of the route. With fewer homes on the border of the line, more parkland could be developed.
Claudia Balducci, Bellevue City Council member and Sound Transit board member, said she hesitated on the 112th option originally because of the potential property acquisitions. She said she was convinced when a group of residential owners said they would like to be bought out. Balducci, who has seen Thurston's presentation, said she would be more likely to support the modified alignment after knowing the opinions of affected residents.
"First, I would need to hear from property owners on both sides that this is what they want," she said. "When there's an option to not take their properties, we sort of lean in that direction, or at least I do."
In addition to the park lands that could come from more acquired properties, Thurston wants to set the track back from the street and sidewalk with a row of trees. He hopes this would cut down on some of the visual issues espoused by many opponents of the B2M line.
Thurston said he originally favored the BNSF rail corridor (B7) line because of the effect the B2M would have on Bellevue Club as well as other nearby businesses. It could cut out the Southeast 15th Street entrance to the Bellefield Office Park, as well as running near the Lincoln Business Plaza. Rail lines would run through, or adjacent to outdoor swimming pools and tennis courts at the club, as well. Thurston said, this alignment is the best option for the nearby businesses, as well as the residents who want to stay when light-rail comes.
But the battle between the City Council and Sound Transit has hijacked discussion, Thurston said.
"The city's position of pushing B7 is really shutting down any dialog of improving this (B2M) alignment."
The plan is still in its infancy at this point, however. Representatives from Sound Transit have seen Thurston's presentation, and the Bellevue Club and neighboring Lincoln Plaza submitted comments in Sound Transit's East Link Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement. But, no formal study or presentation of the new west side alignment has taken place.
Sound Transit spokesman Geoff Patrick said the organization would consider the new route if it can fulfill the cost savings it boasts, but staff would still have to further analyze it.
"While we're pleased to have the engagement, it's a little bit early on our side to comment substantively about the content of the ideas," he said.
Ultimately, it's the board's decision where the line runs, Patrick said. But it remains unclear exactly what steps would have to be taken to change the preferred route to include tracks on the west side.
Contact Bellevue Reporter Staff Writer Nat Levy at email@example.com or 425-453-4290.