Photo courtesy of SoundTransit3.org

Bellevue Council votes to support Sound Transit 3

In a lengthy meeting Monday night, the Bellevue City Council voted 4-1 to publicly support the Sound Transit Proposition 1.

Two speakers gave short presentations to the council and then a few members of the public gave testimony before the vote.

Shefali Ranganathan, executive director at Transportation Coalition, spoke for the “pro” side, citing the need to clear road congestion as one major reason the council should support Proposition 1, or the $53.8 billion Sound Transit 3 package.

“We’re all stuck in traffic on our highway system,” she said. “And we have run out of room to build any more. In 2014, congestion cost our region $3.2 billion, or about $1,500 per commuter. At the end of ST3, there will be eight light rail stations and one bus rapid transit station in Bellevue.”

According to Ranganathan, just like we currently regret not adding a mass transit system in the 1960s, so will our children regret us not adding one now.

Sound Transit 3 would have 116 miles of light rail and would interconnect dozens of communities, she said.

On the “con” side, Bellevue Councilmember Kevin Wallace gave a presentation emphasizing that the plan proposes such low ridership numbers that the cost is simply unjustifiable when cheaper, more effective options exist, and that Sound Transit 2 would already provide a decent light rail system at 90 percent of Portland’s system and larger than Denver’s.

“Good light rail is coming,” he said. “We’ve already targeted the highest-density areas. And McCleary is coming to a head in January. It will need a similar amount of funding. I believe our obligation is to education and we should take care of that first.”

As a result of his presentation, Wallace recused himself from the council’s vote to avoid any claims of impropriety. He claims that some representatives from the other side of the issue have been crossing the line from their role as a public entity and campaigning on the proposition. He wanted to avoid that issue.

A significant portion of Sound Transit 3’s plans would affect Bellevue as a transit hub of the Eastside.

Sound Transit proposes a light rail line from South Kirkland Park and Ride to Central Issaquah in the plan. It would connect with the already-planned spur coming from Redmond and have stops in Downtown Bellevue (part of Sound Transit 2), Richards Road, Eastgate near Bellevue College, a provisional stop in the Lakemont area and finishing in Central Issaquah. The provisional station would not be built in Sound Transit 3, instead requiring additional funds.

This 11.75 mile line would be completed by 2041 under the proposed plan. It would be — by far — the most expensive capital expenditure on the Eastside. Sound Transit estimates it would add anywhere between 12,000 and 15,000 daily riders with an additional $28 million yearly operations and maintenance cost. From end to end, Sound Transit estimates the line would take 23 minutes and would have high reliability.

Bellevue is also centered in a major Interstate-405 Bus Rapid Transit proposal, where buses would leave northward from the Lynnwood Transit Center and then come down Interstate 405 through Bothell, Kirkland, Bellevue, Renton, Tukwila and into Burien. The 38-mile route would use eight existing stations and add three more at a cost of between $812 and $869 million. Sound Transit estimates that between 15,000 and 18,000 daily riders would take the bus rapid transit at 87 minutes transit time from end-to-end.

Council members had plenty to talk about after the presentations and public comments.

Councilmember Conrad Lee, the sole nay vote on the council (Councilmember Jennifer Robertson was not in attendance), urged voters to do their own research and said they would see Sound Transit 3 was something that could wait.

Councilmember Lynne Robinson gave a slideshow of her own and was matter-of-fact with the region’s transportation needs.

“We hardly have the capacity now and we don’t have capacity for future growth,” she said.

The Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area is growing by more than 80,000 people every year and commutes on certain major thoroughfares (such as Mercer Street in Seattle and the I-405 bottleneck in Bothell) have ballooned.

But opponents of Proposition 1 say that self-driving vehicles, which are being tested in multiple U.S. cities today, are the future for commuters in the area. Either way, Wallace said ST3 is a costly way for the Eastside — and specifically Bellevue — to get burned.

“ST3 is not congruent with Bellevue’s plans for transportation,” he said. “We need more bus hours and more bus rapid transit hours, which can be done at a fraction of the cost of light rail.”