New tunnel, more grumbling as Bellevue light-rail decision nears
By JOSHUA ADAM HICKS
Bellevue Reporter Former Staff Writer
July 1, 2010 · Updated 3:20 PM
Community grumbling and tunnel cropping continue as Sound Transit tries to find a design that will make East Link light rail work for Bellevue.
The agency is considering another shortened downtown tunnel, this one connecting with 112th Ave. NE – where many residents don’t want to see light rail at all.
The newest tunnel proposal could save upwards of $75 million on East Link, according to Sound Transit project manager Don Billen. It would create a tunnel below 110th Ave. NE, between NE Second Street and NE Sixth Street.
A large contingent of Bellevue residents supporting the BNSF alignment, known as B7, showed up for a workshop with Sound Transit planners Tuesday.
Residents of the Surrey Downs neighborhood voiced concerns about noise, land acquisitions, decreased property values, and traffic impacts.
“We’re about to see a nose dive in our quality of life,” said Gretchen Davis.
Sound Transit chose the 112th Avenue alignment as its preferred alternative, in part, because of its potential to attract more riders with a stop at the South Bellevue Park and Ride.
The city is studying the possibility of moving that facility southward to connect with the B7 line. Such a plan could prove costly, but Bellevue councilmember Kevin Wallace says it may not be any worse than paying for mitigation along 112th Avenue.
The Sound Transit board is due to name its preferred option for 112th Avenue on July 22.
112th Ave. Options (See maps below article)
Two of the options on 112th would run East Link along the west side of the road, displacing 46 homes and seven businesses. These routes would also have the greatest impact on parks and wetland buffers, with an estimated 2.3 to 3.4 acres affected.
Three of the alternatives would run East Link along the center of 112th Avenue. Opponents say this could disrupt traffic on an already heavily congested arterial. It would also affect between .6 and 1.8 acres of parks and wetland buffers.
A sixth option would run East Link along the east side of the road, displacing five businesses and impacting the Bellevue Club. No homes would be directly affected with that alternative, although it could impact up to 2.4 acres of parks and wetland buffers.
Only two of the options – one center-running and the other east-running – connect with the shortened downtown tunnel.
Sound Transit has pitched multiple tunnel options over time, with each turning out smaller than the last.
The latest version would run light rail off of 112th Avenue and into a shortened tunnel below 110th Ave. NE, with portals near NE Second Street and NE Sixth Street.
Sound Transit is trying to accommodate Bellevue’s strong desire for a downtown tunnel that would protect its central business district from light-rail impacts.
The city has pledged $150 million toward a downtown tunnel. That, along with the projected savings from the latest shortened-tunnel proposal, would bring Sound Transit within $95 million of its East Link budget.
The city of Bellevue and Sound Transit are looking for ways to close the remaining gap with federal grant money and cost savings.
The backup plan is to run East Link at-grade along 108th Ave. NE, which would cost up to $320 million less.
All of the shortened tunnel options are designed with a 112th Avenue route in mind, but they are compatible with the BNSF line as well.
Light-rail noise is a lingering concern for Bellevue residents, especially with East Link struggling to mitigate the impacts of screeching metal wheels and ringing bells in Tukwila. Some of the racket there has exceeded federal noise standards.
Sound Transit’s emergency mitigation measures have failed in certain cases, but the agency says it can do a better job in Bellevue.
Surrey Downs residents remained skeptical Tuesday night, saying the existing mitigation measures might not be enough to fully protect their homes.
City Council member Claudia Balducci, who also serves on the Sound Transit board, acknowledged that noise is an important issue that will affect everyone in the vicinity of 112th, regardless of alignment.
"It's really important to look at the issue of crossing gates and where the bells will be ringing, and how much," she said.
Nearing a decision
Sound Transit has published a concept design report for all 112th Avenue light rail options, and will brief the City Council at City Hall on July 6 and July 19 before making its decision on a preferred alternative for 112th Ave. NE.
Residents can share their preferences with the agency during a July 7 workshop at City Hall from 6:30-8:30 p.m., or by contacting 206-398-5459.
Sound Transit will also hold an informational open house on July 14 at City Hall from 6:30-8:30 p.m.