Sound Transit names preferred light-rail routes for Bellevue

(Original version posted April 22, 3 p.m.)

Sound Transit’s board of directors voted unanimously on Thursday to name routes C9T, C11A, and B2M as its preferred options for light rail through Bellevue.

The decision gives Bellevue hope for a downtown tunnel with C9T, but it contradicts the city council’s own South Bellevue routing preference.

The city council voted 4-3 in March to name B7 – running just west of I-405 along the BNSF rail corridor – as its first choice for that part of town.

The B2M alternative would place light rail along the east side of Bellevue Way SE, with a stop at the South Bellevue park-and-ride, and then following 112th Ave. SE to the downtown core.

Residents of the Surrey Downs neighborhood strongly opposed that route, fearing adverse impacts to their community.

Sound Transit board members Dow Constantine, Fred Butler and Claudia Balducci – also a Bellevue City Council member – emphasized Thursday that they wanted planners to take a close look at the potential impacts of B2M and how to mitigate them.

The board’s selection of C9T, C11A, and B2M means that Sound Transit will perform in-depth analysis and design for those routes.

But Surrey Downs residents aren’t giving up on B7. They want to see further studies on that alignment, regardless of whether the funding comes from Sound Transit, the city of Bellevue, or private sources.

“We think B7 is still very much the best alternative,” said Scott Lampe, co-chair of the Surrey Downs East Link Committee. “It’s a matter of whether they can get adequate studies done.”

No routes are officially off the table as planning continues for East Link, but the focus on Sound Transit’s preferred options will likely give those alignments the best chance for surviving.

Nearly all interest groups in Bellevue favor the C9T route for downtown, but that alignment could cost up to $320 million beyond the voter-approved budget for East Link.

The city council voted 4-3 on Monday to approve general terms for Bellevue to pay up to $150 million toward closing the gap for C9T.

Funding from the city would come by way of cash, free access to rights-of-way, waived inspection fees, one-time revenues resulting from the East Link project, and other sources.

Sound Transit has also agreed to find $75 million in scope reductions and $95 million in additional funding capacity through grants, cost savings, and leveraging of existing funds.

Option C11A, a surface route along 108th Ave. NE that the city vehemently opposes, is the backup option if funding is not available for the tunnel.

"We've given ourselves an alternative we know we can afford if the tunnel doesn't turn out," said Butler. "This is a fair, reasonable and prudent course of action for the board to take."

The Sound Transit board had indicated it would choose only C11A for downtown if Bellevue’s city council did not approve the terms to fund a tunnel on Monday.

The precise alignment of B2M near 112th Ave. SE is still unknown. Surrey Downs residents and their supporters on the city council want to make sure the line doesn’t run above the Surrey Downs neighborhood.

Sound Transit is scheduled to conduct a 60-day work plan to hammer out the details of B2M with residents and other interested parties.

Balducci cautioned that a 60-day process may be too short.

“That seems very fast, and I just want to urge the staff to make sure that there is really adequate community involvement,” she said.

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