‘It’s really helping us build some firsts in Bellevue’: Checking in on transportation projects in the city

The council received an update on transportation projects at a recent study session.

The Bellevue City Council received an update on several major transportation projects in the city at its Oct. 7 study session.

All the projects discussed are part of the Transportation Capital Investment Program. The council was last updated in April.

Currently, transportation represents about 40 percent of the 2019-2025 Capital Investment Program (CIP), with about $278 million of funding allocated specifically to transportation. Of that, $209 million, or 75 percent, is given to ongoing building programs, with $69 million, or 25 percent, put toward ongoing maintenance programs.

Of all the categories that make up the CIP, transportation gets the most funding. Debt service, the second-highest priority, is allotted 25 percent, for example, with parks and community services coming third at 13 percent. Community development, fire and “other” are the remaining categories of interest.

CIP transportation revenue comes from grants and interlocal sources (8 percent), major taxes (46 percent), a Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan (22 percent) and the Neighborhood Safety, Connectivity and Congestion Levy (20 percent), which was passed by voters in 2016.

“There’s no better investment than transportation — this is something people face every day,” Councilmember Conrad Lee said.

Since the April update, the city has reached out to the community for feedback on private and public projects to ensure needs are met, typically through mailers that inform residents of educational events.

“We recognize the importance of public outreach on all of our projects and making the public aware of the status of our projects and when we are going to construct,” transportation assistant director Ron Kessack said, adding that he’s seen a lot of community engagement on social media.

TIFIA “Match” projects

Kessack said that by getting a TIFIA loan, it was required that the city provide a 67 percent match for costs. Bellevue worked with the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) so that it could utilize projects that were previously in the most recent CIP or projects already finished in the BelRed area, according to Kessack.

Three projects have been completed through the loan, and two are under construction. Renovations affecting 124th Avenue Northeast through Spring Boulevard to Ichigo Way will entail the raising of the roadway over the impending light rail alignment. That particular project is a collaborative effort between the city and Sound Transit. Currently, 124th is closed for construction, and will be for several more months as progress is made.

The other project impacts Spring Boulevard through 116th Avenue to 120th Avenue. It will result in four new travel lanes extending east to 120th Avenue Northeast. Construction is slated to be completed by the end of 2019.

Other notable construction projects

In addition to the 124th project, which will result in the avenue’s widening, among the most-anticipated enterprises are improvements to the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trail alongside Interstate 90, in the Factoria area. The project will result in the construction of a bridge over Factoria Boulevard, with a tunnel underneath the freeway ramp. As an effect, the ramp will be widened to relieve congestion. According to Kessack, the contractor on the project has started to build platforms for pile-drilling. Residents can expect to see extensive construction in the coming months.

The other major project noted in the city’s presentation is a project impacting Newport Way and 150th Avenue Northeast. Called the Congestion Reduction Project and done in coordination with franchise utilities, the refurbishings will result in the widening and channelization of roads to reduce traffic during peak afternoon hours.

Levy projects

As of Oct. 14, 22 projects have been completed via the Neighborhood Safety, Connectivity and Congestion Levy. Fourteen (14) are under construction. By the end of 2020, about 90 locations in Bellevue will have seen levy construction work.

“It’s really helping us build some firsts in Bellevue,” said John Murphy, the city’s senior planner and levy coordinator, who cited bike signal additions and high school-based flashing school zone signs as examples.

Murphy noted that as of 2019, more than half of the schools in the Bellevue School District have some sort of levy-funded project nearby.

The levy, which will be effective in Bellevue until 2037, allots $2 million a year specifically to neighborhood congestion reduction. For safety and connectivity projects — which cover five areas including neighborhood safety and sidewalk and trail maintenance — about $5.4 million is awarded.

Completed projects have sought to make sure areas around schools are safer for children and families walking, biking and driving in a given region. Murphy highlighted a few examples during the presentation but invoked renovations done on 119th Avenue Southeast as a beacon. Before construction, the road had a particularly wide shoulder that made the area unsafe for on-foot commuting. Following the remodeling, a sidewalk was installed in the place of additional road.

“This project is helping do what we want to do — a safe connection for kids walking,” he said.

What comes next

At the end of the year, the city will be releasing a progress report that will further discuss much of the information covered at the Oct. 7 study session. Since the levy required a vote of confidence from the community when it was on the ballot, Murphy said that it’s important that the public has a clear understanding of what their vote has led to.

“We want to make sure the community sees what their vote is actually translating to,” Murphy said.

In 2020, the city aims to complete the projects included in the 2017-2020 schedule. It is also looking to start talks on projects for 2021 so that, when funding is available, design and construction can immediately start.

For a more comprehensive update on completed and upcoming projects, go to the meeting’s presentation materials (https://bit.ly/2BdyWGI) or the council agenda item (https://bit.ly/31f5L0r).

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated which agency the city of Bellevue worked with. The city worked with the U.S. Department of Transportation. The number of locations being impacted in Bellevue by levy construction work has also been clarified. There will be 90 locations impacted by the end of 2020.