Community turns out for light-rail open house
By NAT LEVY
Bellevue Reporter Staff Writer
September 20, 2011 · Updated 11:02 PM
Light-rail negotiations and discussion continue to grind forward, and the community hasn't lost interest.
This civil engagement was evident at an open house for several design alternatives for East Link light-rail Tuesday. Close to 200 people attended the two-hour event filled with spirited discussions between citizens, staff members and Bellevue City Council representatives.
Tuesday's open house was the first community opportunity to comment on a number of options for street crossings on Sound Transit's preferred route up 112th Avenue and Bellevue Way. Three options include a crossing at street grade at Southeast Sixth Street, which is Sound Transit's original proposal; an above-ground crossing over the top at Southeast 15th that dives into a trench under Southeast Fourth; and an at-grade crossing at Southeast 15th Street.
Interested citizens got plenty of face time with local and Sound Transit representatives. Of all those present, Robert Rosell may be one of the most affected Bellevue residents. With a home on Southeast 23rd and Bellevue Way, Rosell said he lives the closest to the line. He favors the trains coming in, but would have liked to have seen the line go elsewhere. He is concerned that if the project budget drops due to economic issues, relief for the neighborhoods could be compromised.
"If they do come down Bellevue Way, if they run out of money, what they may take away is the mitigation to minimize damages to the neighborhoods," he said.
The open house and other public outreach run parallel to the ongoing negotiations between Bellevue and Sound Transit on how to fund a $300 million downtown tunnel. The two sides are negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding to iron out a $160 million contribution from Bellevue. Bellevue and Sound Transit are running up against an Oct. 25 deadline to sign the deal, which some Bellevue council members have called unrealistic.
"As with most bureaucracies, this process is grinding along more slowly than anyone would like," Bellevue Council Member Kevin Wallace said at Monday night's council meeting.
This charge of an impossible deadline has frustrated some members of the community. Mark Van Hollebeke is a downtown Bellevue resident who wants the two sides to get something done as soon as possible. He believes the City Council wouldn't be in this situation if it had spent more time focusing on the design and mitigation of Sound Transit's route, rather than pushing for its own preferred route, which runs parallel to Interstate 405 and ultimately proved to be more expensive than Sound Transit's track.
"I feel like we're in this time crunch because the majority of the City Council spent so much time on B7R, now they have little time to address the mitigation measures."
Mitigation for nearby residents, and financing of the tunnel have been the primary focus negotiations.
Bellevue is expected to make a contribution of $100 million in the early portion of the project, with an additional contingency cost of up to $60 million, Planning Director Dan Stroh said at Monday's council meeting.
$40 million of the $100 million investment would come at a cost of less than $3 million to the city through breaks in land donations and other measures, Stroh said. Another $60 million could likely come from property acquisitions and projects the city could do that would benefit the rail line.
The council has discussed the rail line at every meeting since it returned from summer break earlier this month. Discussions will continue throughout the month, into October. Citizens will have another chance to comment on proposed designs and negotiations between the groups at a public hearing Monday at City Hall starting at 8 p.m. A draft agreement between Sound Transit and Bellevue is expected to be shown to the public in mid-October in anticipation of the deadline.
But despite the consistent meetings and negotiations between the two bodies, much will remain unknown when the October deadline arrives. After this agreement is made, Sound Transit still has three years of design time before construction begins. Council member Grant Degginger, one of the three Bellevue representatives in negotiations, reminded the council that it won't have every detail it wants when decision time comes, but that shouldn't deter them from working out a deal.
"I don't want this to be a foil," he said Monday. "We're not going to know every aspect of every piece of mitigation on that road before we enter this agreement."Contact Bellevue Reporter Staff Writer Nat Levy at email@example.com or 425-453-4290.