Bellevue City Council sets terms to guide funding of light-rail tunnel
By JOSHUA ADAM HICKS
Bellevue Reporter Former Staff Writer
April 21, 2010 · Updated 7:07 PM
(Original story posted April 20, 1 a.m.)
The Bellevue City Council voted 4-3 on Monday to approve general terms for providing up to $150 million toward a tunnel for downtown light rail.
The Sound Transit board indicated last week that it wanted those terms in place before moving forward with advanced analysis of the downtown tunnel route that the city wants so badly.
The tunnel option, known as C9T, is expected to exceed the budget for the voter-approved ST2 plan by $185 million to $285 million. Sound Transit has made it clear that the city will have to come up with the tunnel funding on its own.
The board is expected to name its preferred routing options on April 22, and it gave the city council an ultimatum heading into that decision: agree to pay for a tunnel, or we'll go with the cheaper C11A surface route – which the city strongly opposes.
Council member Claudia Balducci said the city should agree to the terms, since the city would not yet have an obligation to uphold them.
"This is preliminary," she said. "We are giving up no control, by signing this term sheet, to say when the risk (of funding the tunnel) gets too hard for us."
With initial funding terms now in place, the board is expected to tap both C11A and C9T for advanced study during the final the environmental review process.
The Sound Transit board is also expected to choose the B2M route along Bellevue Way SE and 112th Ave. SE as its preferred alternative for South Bellevue, following a decision by the agency's capital committee last week.
Rumor had it that the majority of the council would vote no on the tunnel deal because of Sound Transit's apparent unwillingness to do an in-depth study of that route.
Mayor Don Davidson tried to get the council to promise $4 million toward further analysis of B7 if Sound Transit named the route as one of its preferred alternatives. The council voted 5-2 against his plan.
Several members said they feared Davidson's plan might kill the tunnel deal at the eleventh hour, with no chance of salvaging it before today's decision by the Sound Transit board.
Council member John Chelminiak made it clear what he thought the city had to do based on Sound Transit's ultimatum.
"It's time to put up, or shut up," he said. "If you're in favor of the tunnel, vote for the term sheet. If you're opposed to it, vote no."
The council debated whether to adopt the original terms for over three hours, finally voting to approve the agreement around 11:15 p.m.
Council members Davidson, Chelminiak, Balducci and Grant Degginger voted in favor of the agreement. Kevin Wallace, Deputy Mayor Conrad Lee, and Jennifer Robertson voted against it.
"I didn't get what I wanted," Davidson said. "Yet I do want to call the cards, because I think the tunnel is that important. I do want to call the cards on Sound Transit and try to work with them in a cooperative manner."
The funding contributions identified in Monday’s agreement include:
* Free access to right-of-ways that the city would purchase
* Reconstruction of certain roads – specifically NE Second Street and avenues in the Bel-Red corridor – to fit the final East Link alignment
* Reconfiguring the City Hall parking garage to accommodate the C9T tunnel, and replacing the lost stalls.
* Relocation of city-owned utilities
* Acquisition of properties of mutual benefit to the city and Sound Transit