Bellevue, Sound Transit, engaged in 'high-level' discussions over light-rail route
By NAT LEVY
Bellevue Reporter Staff Writer
July 11, 2011 · Updated 4:22 PM
With the deadline for Sound Transit’s final light-rail alignment choice quickly approaching, the city of Bellevue has amped up talks between the two agencies.
Several council members said a team of Bellevue negotiators including Council Members Grant Degginger and Kevin Wallace along with City Manager Steve Sarkozy have been meeting with Sound Transit representatives to discuss the routes. Specifically, mitigation efforts and the negotiations for a tunnel through downtown Bellevue appear to be primary talking points. A public discussion about the talks Monday revealed that Bellevue may be more willing to work with Sound Transit on its preferred route.
“We’re going to move forward in a very positive manner to try and resolve all the issues around the Sound Transit route,” said Bellevue Mayor Don Davidson.
The Bellevue council has held several multi-hour executive sessions, open only to council members and city staff. But it remains unclear whether these negotiations are the topics as participants have been asked not to divulge the information.
Bellevue and Sound Transit cite differing preferences for alignments through South Bellevue. Sound Transit has held firm on its desire to run the rail up Bellevue Way and 112th Avenue, while Bellevue would prefer to avoid those roads and run the line across the Mercer Slough and travel parallel to Interstate 405 on the BNSF rail corridor. With enhanced study in the form of a concept report by engineering firm Arup North America, the ridership of Bellevue’s preferred B7 line improved, but because of a new park-and-ride station the line could cost as much as $140 million more than Sound Transit’s option.
Both bodies want to include a downtown tunnel, but that could cost as much as $300 million extra, with the two sides splitting the cost.
Both South Bellevue routes could feature intensive mitigation. Sound Transit’s B2M will impact traffic during construction and nearby homes will be affected. Bellevue’s B7 will require a bridge routed in the unstable peat soil in the Mercer Slough, and the potential taking of the Sheraton and Red Lion Hotels.
City Council Member Jennifer Robertson said the study proved that Bellevue’s route is viable, but it remains more expensive. As the negotiations continue, Bellevue will keep its possibilities open, she said.
“The city of Bellevue has considered all options, politically as well as legally,” she said.
These negotiations represent a return to a more conciliatory discussion over the issue in recent weeks. At a light-rail open house last week, more than 200 people attended, and the discussion remained informative and strayed from the back-and-forth fights about route preferences that have broken out at other hearings and open houses. Officials were pleased with this civil tone.
“Sometimes our council doesn’t match the civility present in this room,” Davidson said at the open house.
The contentious issue has led to animosity between boards and members in the past. Sound Transit’s Board of Directors has showed frustration with Bellevue for asking for a more expensive rail line while places like Federal Way are begging to have any configuration come through their city.
Differences of opinion in Bellevue have led to shouting matches between council members, and accusations of conflict of interest from citizens that resulted in an investigation of three members. Council Members Degginger and Claudia Balducci have been cleared of any issues, but Wallace remains under examination for a failed deal with GNP Railway to develop and operate an area between Redmond and Snohomish.
Sound Transit was expected to release its final Environmental Impact Statement this week, and the board may make its final route decision at the July 28 meeting. It would then go forward for federal approval before beginning final email@example.com or 425-453-4290.