Light Rail | Bellevue City Council not budging on 112th Avenue
By JOSHUA ADAM HICKS
Bellevue Reporter Former Staff Writer
July 21, 2010 · Updated 3:41 PM
The Bellevue City Council missed its last chance to name a preferred route for light rail along 112th Avenue Monday.
The group instead voted 4-3 to send a letter to Sound Transit opposing all available options and reiterating its support for B7, an altogether different route that would utilize the abandoned Burlington-Northern rail corridor west of I-90.
The move accentuates differences between the council and the Sound Transit board over where to build light rail through Southwest Bellevue.
The Sound Transit board has already tapped 112th Avenue as its preferred alignment, and the agency was looking for input on where to run the tracks along the street.
Council member Claudia Balducci said the council's letter sends a message that the city is reluctant to build light rail at all.
"It says you don't have a willing partner," she said.
Council member Kevin Wallace disagrees with that assessment.
"I hope the board doesn't take this as an aggressive posture," he said. "We're just trying to identify that all the options for 112th Avenue are very problematic from our position."
The board is due to name a preferred alignment for 112th Avenue on Thursday.
Sound Transit developed six options for consideration. Two would build tracks along the west side of 112th Avenue, two along the east side of the road, and two along the center.
The City Council's letter echoes thoughts from Surrey Downs residents, who also support B7. The neighborhood's light-rail committee remained mum on the subject of 112th Avenue alignments and pushed harder for the B7 line during a months-long process of community forums with Sound Transit and city officials.
Meanwhile, residents from 112th Avenue banded together with businesses in the area – like the Bellevue Club, Red Lion Hotel, and Hilton Hotel – to support the west-running options, which would place light rail closer to Surrey Downs.
The new alliance opposes all east-running options because those alternatives would take out parking at the Red Lion and Hilton hotels, as well as tennis courts and a swimming pool at the Bellevue Club.
Condo owners along 112th Avenue would lose their homes with the favored west-running routes, but the vast majority say they prefer buyouts over having to deal with noise and vibrations from light rail across the street.
Surrey Downs residents are stuck with those same impacts regardless of which route wins approval for 112th Avenue. Sound Transit hasn't proposed buyouts for most of those residents, since few of their homes will be displaced.
The issue of where to build light rail through Southwest Bellevue has been a divisive one for Bellevue's elected officials.
The City Council at one point voted 4-3 in favor of a 112th Avenue alignment. But the 2009 election brought about a new majority that supports B7.
Councilmembers Balducci, Grant Degginger, and John Chelminiak prefer the 112th Avenue alignment, while Don Davidson, Conrad Lee, Wallace, and Jennifer Robertson support B7.
The council voted along those same lines Monday, when it approved the B7 letter for Sound Transit.
The city this year hired a firm to prepare preliminary designs for relocating the South Bellevue park and ride so that it links with B7. Sound Transit values that facility because of its potential to attract light-rail riders.
The South Bellevue park and ride does not connect with B7 in Sound Transit's plans. The proposed relocation is a compromise aimed at making B7 more attractive.
"It puts the park-and-ride structure where Sound Transit wants it and the tracks where the city wants them," Wallace said.
One of the top two alternatives for relocating the park and ride, known as A-2, would locate the facility between 113th Ave. SE and Bellevue Way SE at an estimated cost of $170 million.
The six-story project would displace 12 homes in the Enatai neighborhood and add around 3 minutes to the commute for buses that use the facility. A long walkway would connect riders to a light-rail platform over the Bellevue Way highway ramps.
A second option, known as Alternative C, would create a new seven-story park-and-ride directly over the Bellevue Way ramps, costing an estimated $210 million, displacing one home, and causing additional impacts to the Mercer Slough Nature Park.
Balducci doesn't like what she sees in either of the designs.
"Those options are all difficult," she said. "There are a lot of real problems there.
"If you keep pushing for solutions that can't be built, I have to question the commitment to building this (light rail) project."
The council this year also authorized an independent study to determine whether Sound Transit did a balanced comparison of the various Southwest Bellevue routes before choosing 112th Avenue.
The review found "that Sound Transit's East Link DEIS (Draft Environmental Impact Statement) fairly compares the B7 alignment with other Segment B (Southwest Bellevue) alternatives."
However, the report also noted slight inconsistencies in the methodology used to determine traffic impacts, station costs, and station impacts.
Balducci says there was nothing in the review to condemn Sound Transit's comparison of the routes.
"It's not as though B7 took a step forward," she said. "I thought it took a step back.
"The flavor of the report is that Sound Transit followed industry standards and, in many cases, best practices."
Balducci, a member of the Sound Transit board, will have a direct say in the board's vote Thursday. She told The Reporter she would support a west-running alternative for 112th Avenue, going along with the recent groundswell of support for those options.
The Sound Transit capital committee essentially ruled out the center-running options on
July 18 July 15 by including only side-running alternatives in a resolution for the board.