City, Sound Transit on track to cut light-rail costs

Bellevue and Sound Transit are closing in on cutting a big chunk of the city's cost for the East Link light-rail project.

Staff and elected representatives from both sides have identified a litany of cost-cutting possibilities for the project that are likely to be advanced for further study in the coming weeks. Depending on which options are selected down the road, project cost could be reduced anywhere from $21 to $44 million. That still leaves the two agencies with some work to do to eliminate a total of $60 million in project costs, for which Bellevue is currently on the hook.

June 18, the Bellevue council will give the OK to continue studying some of these new options, which include shifting Bellevue Way to the west near the winters house, elevating the roadway near the intersection of Bellevue Way and 112th Avenue to allow the train to cross under the road, and adjusting the scope of the downtown tunnel. Sound Transit's Board of Directors will do the same at its June 28 meeting. These decisions do not change the chosen route. They just push new options through further design to see if they will save money.

"It's not the final step, but it's an important step," said City Manager Steve Sarkozy.

A final, detailed alignment decision will come near the summer of 2013.

The new design ideas still have many unanswered questions, but one sure thing is the elimination of an elevated crossing of the train from the east to the west side of the street. New ideas include adding elevation to the road, so the train can cross underneath, just above a complex water table featuring the confluence of several streams and culverts. What will still have to be decided is whether Southeast Fourth Street into the neighborhood will have to be closed, or whether a gated crossing at Southeast Sixth is needed.

While staff and councilmembers saw savings potential in the neighborhoods, others wanted to make sure they were still protecting the residents and focusing the cost savings efforts on other parts of the route.

"I think it's important for us to not try and save nickels and dimes in ways that would lead to much greater impact," said Councilmember Claudia Balducci.

Councilmembers and staff have been working together for months with their Sound Transit counterparts to cut costs and find an agreeable route. Representatives said this collaborative process has been effective at building a good relationship between the two organizations and calming a very contentious issue.

But some of the frustration returned to City Hall Monday as Don Davidson opened Monday night's meeting with a frustrated speech about the project. He referred to a report about the potential of saving money through an underground tunnel, saying he had advocated for an underground route for years, but he was immediately shut down due to the route being too expensive.

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