New developments emerge in Bellevue light-rail saga
By JOSHUA ADAM HICKS
Bellevue Reporter Former Staff Writer
July 9, 2010 · Updated 3:42 PM
New developments are happening fast in the Bellevue light-rail saga as the Sound Transit board nears its decision on a preferred routing alternative for 112th Avenue NE.
Planners last month presented six options for a potential route on that stretch of road, and two of them featured a new downtown-tunnel concept that would save an estimated $75 million on East Link construction.
Now City Council member Kevin Wallace is asking whether Sound Transit should subtract those savings from the $150 million Bellevue promised to help make a tunnel affordable.
The answer to that question will help determine how the city balances its budget this year. The savings could allow Bellevue to cut its offering in half.
"Then it becomes a discussion about re-prioritization of capital expenses instead of finding new revenue to pay for light-rail tunnels," Wallace said.
Sound Transit project-development director Ric Ilgenfritz said during a study session Tuesday that planners will be "more than willing" to re-analyze the cost models that helped Belleve decide how much it would contribute toward tunnel construction. This will help determine whether Wallace's reduction idea is appropriate.
Also on Tueday, councilmember Claudia Balducci announced that she will not be present with the Sound Transit board when the group votes July 22 on a preferred routing option for 112th Avenue NE. She is scheduled to meet that day with federal officials who oversee her work with King County, but has said she will try to vote by phone if it's possible.
The appointment was set at the beginning of the year, before Sound Transit set a timeline for choosing its preferred alignment, she said.
Balducci is one of three Sound Transit board members from the Eastside, and the only one from Bellevue. She voted as a City Council member in favor of light rail along 112th Avenue NE for Southeast Bellevue.
The council majority supports a different alternative known as B7 that would route light rail along the BNSF rail corridor just west of I-90.
A new group is set to emerge this weekend to advocate for that route.
Community leaders from Surrey Downs, Enatai, and Bellecrest plan to launch Building a Better Bellevue on Saturday with 10,000 mailers, a new web site, yard signs, and a fundraising campaign aimed at brining in $100,000.
The group says Bellevue neighborhoods are under "direct attack by Sound Transit," and that the agency is trying to force its will on the city.
A letter from Building a Better Bellevue, set for release on Saturday, says: "The decisions Sound Transit is forcing on our city are precedent-setting, and the process by which they are being driven forward are of concern to residents and homeowners throughout Bellevue."
Advocacy groups have emerged from the light-rail debate in the past, like Citizens for Responsible Transit, which formed primarily around supporters of the 112th Avenue alignment. One of the founding members of that organization, Michael Marchand, lives in the Enatai neighborhood of Southeast Bellevue.
"There's a lot of people arguing on behalf of an issue because they want to be right or because they're concerned about what's in it for them," Marchand told The Reporter in March. "We're about what's going to benefit the region as a whole."