Sound Transit board makes light-rail decision, exchanges barbs with Bellevue mayor
By JOSHUA ADAM HICKS
Bellevue Reporter Former Staff Writer
July 23, 2010 · Updated 1:07 PM
The Sound Transit board voted unanimously on Thursday to advance planning of an East Link light-rail line along the west side of 112th Avenue in Bellevue.
The decision puts Sound Transit at odds with a Bellevue City Council majority that doesn’t want trains moving through that part of town.
The City Council voted 4-3 this year to recommend a line known as B7, which would run East Link along the abandoned Burlington-Northern rail corridor west of I-90 on its way downtown.
Sound Transit halted planning for that route in April, when its board of directors named 112th Avenue as its preferred route.
The city council sent a letter to the Sound Transit board this week reiterating its support for B7 and opposing all options for 112th Avenue.
Bellevue Mayor Don Davidson spoke before the board on Thursday, criticizing Sound Transit for sidestepping the City Council’s recommendation.
“Shame on you,” he said. “You wouldn’t expect an agency outside your government to say your local government is irrelevant.”
Board member Julia Patterson responded to Davidson’s comments by reminding the mayor that Bellevue is still pleading for a downtown tunnel that does not fit within the voter-approved budget for East Link. She said Sound Transit has “bent over backwards” to accommodate that desire.
“Are you saying that you want the B7 alignment and you want us to continue to try to find a way to build a tunnel for Bellevue as well?” Patterson asked.
“Yes,” Davidson replied.
“I am not going to throw the residents of Bellevue under the train for the downtown,” the mayor continued. “I want excellence in all parts of our community.”
Board member Joe Marine later spoke about Davidson’s comments, saying: “I’m a little offended by the mayor of Bellevue coming up here and trying to shame us.
“Understand that there is a reason this is a regional board. It is not one community driving this. If it was, I would imagine Seattle’s alignment might look different.”
A tunnel was part of the voter-approved plan for light rail through downtown Seattle. However, the city did not always get its way, losing out at one point on a station it wanted – and that Sound Transit had promised – in the First Hill neighborhood.
There were six options available for running East Link along 112th Avenue: two for the east side of the road, two for the west, and two for the center.
Businesses and residents in the area formed an alliance last week to support the west-running alignments, which protect the property of three major hotels.
Condo owners along 112th Avenue will lose their homes with the favored alignment, but the vast majority said they prefer buyouts to dealing with noise and vibrations from having light rail across the street.
Residents of the Surrey Downs community face the same impacts, but Sound Transit hasn’t proposed buyouts for most of them, since few of their homes will be displaced. A special light-rail committee for the neighborhood has shown strong opposition toward the 112th Avenue options.
“It might have been easier to join the alliance, but our community firmly believes the fundamental facts of the situation cannot be changed,” said Surrey Downs resident Betsy Blackstock. “None of the (112th Avenue) alignments are acceptable.”
Sound Transit board member Claudia Balducci is part of the Bellevue City Council minority that supports the 112th Avenue route.
“This is a very good option for the city, and I think we should embrace it,” she said.
One of the main advantages of the 112th Avenue alignment was its inclusion of the South Bellevue Park and Ride, which experts say would maximize ridership.
The city hired a firm to draft plans for moving that facility southward to connect with the B7 line, but the top designs each had drawbacks, including additional costs, property takings, and environmental impacts.