Bellevue City Council to make decisions on light-rail cost-cutting measures

The Bellevue City Council is expected to decide on a number of measures to cut costs of East Link light-rail and reduce the city's cost on the project.

At its meeting June 25, the council is expected to endorse possible cost-cutting plans to be further studied by Sound Transit to see the impact they would have on the project. The decision does not change the final alignment, it merely allows staff to further study the proposed measures to see if they are viable and beneficial.

In a pact last year between Bellevue and Sound Transit, the city agreed to provide $100 million in low- or no-cost contributions toward the cost of a tunnel. Another $60 million in “contingent” contributions by the city is the target of cost savings efforts; the city’s goal is to reduce that contribution to zero.

Both sides have identified a number of cost-cutting possibilities and, depending on which options are selected down the road, the 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.

Cost-saving ideas under consideration include shifting Bellevue Way to the west to accommodate the light rail line, a street-level alignment on 112th Avenue Southeast near Southeast Fourth Street, and changes to the downtown tunnel station.

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.

Several councilmembers showed frustration with the process, as a result of the many questions that remain about the proposed options. Councilmember Don Davidson, for the second week in a row was upset by the process, and the route in general, which he voted for when the council created the memorandum of understanding with Sound Transit last year. He reiterated his support for a deep bore tunnel, which was suggested by Build a Better Bellevue, only a day before announcing an appeal of the federal approval of the route. Davidson wanted to see how the lawsuit would shake out before supporting anything.

"We can't seem to get off this alignment," he said. "It's a terrible alignment. I watch you guys struggle to make it better, but you can't."

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