I was pleased to read in the papers that Build a Better Bellevue was suing to block East Link on environmental grounds. This should be an easy suit to win. Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act (23 United States Code Sec.138) protects parks and recreation areas, historic sites, and waterfowl and wildlife refuges that may be affected by a project with U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) involvement. Under the law, the Secretary of Transportation cannot approve a transportation project that uses or adversely affects such properties unless (1) there is no feasible and prudent alternative, and (2) the project minimizes the impacts as much as possible.
Sound Transit admits that East Link encroaches on the Mercer Slough Nature Park. It’s important to note all of the configurations ST considered for Segment B south of Bellevue also encroached. The BBB proposal to tunnel from the South Bellevue P&R though downtown does not encroach and is surely feasible. Sound Transit may argue that it’s not prudent because of the additional cost, as least in their estimation.
The surest way to stop East Link’s devastation of the park as well as the Bellevue residential area along the current route is to offer a “no-build” alternative to light rail. The 1-90 center roadway is ideal for inboard and outboard bus rapid transit (BRT). The HOV traffic could be moved to a 4th lane on the outer roadway allowing more than 12 buses per minute to use the center roadway. The lanes would have more than enough capacity for both current bus routes and additional express buses serving the entire eastside. BRT capacity would dwarf light rail’s and it would be accessible from every eastside P&R not just the South Bellevue P&R. No one could possible rationalize BRT is not both "feasible" and "prudent".
The Sound Transit spokesman commented that all of the organization’s public involvement on route selection led him to conclude: “We are confident our process was compliant with the federal process and went above and beyond”. All the public involvement in the world doesn’t change the fact it “violates” the law.
I wasn’t surprised the Bellevue City Council avoided commenting on the issue. Three years ago I raised this issue in one there “extended sessions”. They simply ignored it as they did with all my other East Link concerns.
In conclusion I urge the BBB to offer the BRT solution as the “feasible and prudent” alternative to East Link rather than the tunnel. Commuters throughout the eastside would benefit.