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New light-rail plan avoids downtown core
Newly-elected Bellevue City Council member Kevin Wallace has released plans for a light-rail route that would utilize the BNSF rail corridor and keep trains out of the city's central business district.
Wallace's plan, dubbed the "Vision Line," would place Sound Transit's East Link tracks along the BNSF corridor through South Bellevue and along 114th Avenue Northeast to serve downtown.
The Vision Line aims to protect residential homes and downtown businesses. But it adds another option to a growing list of alternatives for Sound Transit's East Link light rail project.
Wallace is asking that Sound Transit consider his plan as part of the East Link environmental-review process.
"What I've come up with will provide as good a ridership as any other alternative at a much lower cost," he told The Reporter.
The city council already recommended a route that would run along Bellevue Way Southeast and 112th Avenue Southeast before moving through a downtown tunnel below 108th Avenue Northeast.
Sound Transit voted in May to focus on those same routes, along with a highly controversial downtown surface line along 108th Avenue Northeast and 110th Avenue Northeast that critics say would disrupt business and increase traffic congestion.
The agency recently added another downtown option: one that would place surface tracks or a tunnel along 110th Avenue.
Wallace contends that all tunnel options will be too expensive.
Sound Transit estimates that a tunnel on 108th Avenue Northeast would cost $500 million beyond what voters have approved for East Link. The agency has said that Bellevue will be responsible for coming up with the additional funds.
There are no estimates yet on how much a tunnel along 110th Avenue Northeast would cost, although that structure would be roughly three blocks shorter than the 108th Avenue tunnel option.
Many residents in the Surrey Downs and Enatai neighborhoods support the Vision Line because it utilizes the abandoned BNSF rail corridor instead of the Bellevue Way/112th Avenue Southeast route. This would keep light rail away from their homes.
Residents living near the BNSF line oppose Wallace's plan because it brings the trains through their neighborhood.
The Vision Line includes light-rail stations at at:
• The Wilburton Park and Ride near the intersection of 114th Avenue Southeast and Southeast Eighth Street
• Northeast Sixth Street and 114th Avenue Northeast
• Near the hospital district, on Northeast Eighth Street
Those who oppose an East Link line along the BNSF corridor say a station at the Wilburton Park and Ride would increase traffic backups near the intersection of Southeast Eighth Street and 114th Avenue Southeast, an area that is already highly congested during rush hour.
Wallace says issues like that can be addressed.
"We need to stop finding ways that we can't do the Burlinton Northern corridor, and start finding ways that we can," he said.
Bellevue Mayor Grant Degginger said he has questions about Wallace's plan as well. Among them, he wants to know how people would get from the Vision Line's downtown station, on Northeast Sixth Street near I-405, to the Bellevue Transit Center, in the heart of the business district.
Wallace proposes building a moving pedestrian walkway between those two points. The area could be covered with some form of canopy, he said.
Degginger says creating this type of walkway might increase costs to the point where they are roughly the same as building a tunnel option.
"Ultimately, what we want to do is compare the costs of Kevin's idea with the cost of a tunnel and other alternatives and see what choices are best," Degginger said.
The mayor also said he is concerned that a route along 114th Avenue Northeast might constrict any future expansion of I-405.
Wallace developed his Vision Line concept with financial backing from local stakeholders, including some representing downtown business interests.