Bellevue City Council unanimous on new downtown light-rail tunnel
By JOSHUA ADAM HICKS
Bellevue Reporter Former Staff Writer
March 23, 2010 · Updated 9:14 AM
The Bellevue City Council voted unanimously on Monday in favor of a new routing preference for downtown light rail, choosing the C9T tunnel alternative along 110th Ave. NE.
The council voted 7-0 to approve a letter to Sound Transit expressing its support for that line and acknowledging that there are still cost and design hurdles to overcome.
“The message to Sound Transit is that we are behind a tunnel and we are serious about closing the funding gap,” said Councilmember John Chelminiak.
The Bellevue Downtown Association has thrown its support behind the C9T alternative as well, leaving little doubt about where the city expects to see East Link running in the central business district.
The city plans to create a memorandum of understanding with Sound Transit to address cost concerns and routing connections from the South Bellevue segment to downtown.
The C9T line would travel underground at Main Street and then turn onto 110th Ave. NE before making a stop at the Bellevue Transit Center. From there it would move aboveground on NE Sixth Street and travel east across Interstate 405 to connect with the abandoned BNSF rail corridor before making another stop in the hospital district around NE Eighth Street.
Sound Transit developed C9T – as well as three other downtown options – in response to concerns about the costs and impacts of proposed tunnel routes west of 110th Ave.
The council last year stated its preference for an underground line beneath 106th Ave. NE, but that route would cost $600 million over the voter-approved budget for East Link.
The C9T route will still run $285 million over budget, according to Sound Transit estimates.
Councilmember Claudia Balducci, a recently appointed member of the Sound Transit board, stated repeatedly on Monday that the city’s letter should acknowledge the funding gap for that routing alternative.
“We need to make a commitment to funding a fair portion of the gap,” she said.
The letter from City Council says the city may be able to contribute between $104 million to $150 million in the form of free access to rights-of-way and one-time tax revenues – special business-and-occupation or construction taxes, for instance – that result from the East Link project.
Other cost savings could come from the city assuming responsibility for East Link capital projects that provide mutual benefit for the city and by providing permitting assistance, the letter says.
Councilmember Kevin Wallace said he is concerned about light rail running through the Red Lion hotel property and the Surrey Downs neighborhood. He agreed to back C9T – over his own 114th Ave. NE Vision Line – but made clear that his support is contingent upon finding a way to go below ground at the Red Lion property.
Balducci noted that such a design may add $30 million to the cost of a downtown route. She said the city must be willing to increase its contribution or expect cheaper options – such as a flyover above the Surrey Downs neighborhood.
Wallace contends that the costs won't be nearly as high as initially estimated.
The city council agreed to add language in its letter that presses Sound Transit to explore a potential portal at the Red Lion site, as well as the option of connecting to the downtown tunnel by way of NE Second Street, rather than Main Street.
Mayor Don Davidson suggested the latter idea last week, saying the city could potentially begin its planned renovation of NE Second Street in conjunction with East Link construction.