Bellevue council wants more time for light-rail negotiations
By NAT LEVY
Bellevue Reporter Staff Writer
October 20, 2011 · Updated 9:09 AM
Echoing past statements, the Bellevue council will ask Sound Transit for more time to work out details of light-rail tunnel funding and design tweaks.
The council has been staring down the barrel of an Oct. 27 deadline to sign a Memorandum of Agreement with Sound Transit to outline how Bellevue will come up with its investment of up to $160 million for a downtown tunnel, and where and how the rail line would cross over 112th Avenue from the east to west sides. Several councilmembers have indicated for weeks that the Oct. 27 deadline is an unrealistic one.
The council did not address the letter, which was mentioned following an hour-and-a-half executive session, extensively in public session Monday. Mayor Don Davidson described the time line as "awful short."
The announcement came quickly after an hour-and-a-half executive session. The council voted unanimously for staff the draft a letter to ask Sound Transit to push back the deadline, which was set by the transit organization. Councilmembers said they hadn't seen the letter, so they didn't know what the new timeline would be. Councilmember Jennifer Robertson said drafts of the agreement need to be available for public and council review before the body can sign off on such a large commitment.
"It's the biggest expenditure in the city's history, so we need to make sure we have an agreement that the council understands and the public understands," she said.
Sound Transit spokesman Geoff Patrick said any extension would have to be agreed on by the board, which has expressed interest in finding a solution as quickly as possible.
Sound Transit board Vice President and Issaquah Councilmember Fred Butler said the board wants to take some form of action at the Oct. 27 meeting. Butler, who is one of three Sound Transit board members negotiating directly with Bellevue councilmembers, said the negotiations are coming together well, and he hopes they can come to an agreement in the next week and a half.
"I believe we have a pretty clear understanding of the framework, and the specifics, but a lot of time the last little bits can be the most difficult," he said.
He said other possibilities such as authorizing Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl to negotiate under narrow parameters set by the board could satisfy the board's desire to act and Bellevue's request for more time.
The decision to ask for more time comes as new details about potential design changes became available. According to Sound Transit figures, new options for crossing 112th to the westside of the road could provide significant changes to cost, property acquisitions and noise disturbances. An option for an elevated track across 112th into a trench under Northeast Fourth Street would cost approximately $15 to $20 million more than the current plan and require the taking of more property, but it would eliminate all street crossings. The second new option would decrease the cost of the project by $25 to $30 million, but it features the highest number of noise impacts, with 30 percent more than the original option and the firstname.lastname@example.org or 425-453-4290.