The Bellevue City Council could have used the permitting process and the fact eastside taxes provide more than enough funds to insist on whatever light rail route or tunnel they preferred. Instead, their recent East Link agreement with Sound Transit is just the latest example of the council acquiescing to a total debacle.
Fifteen years ago Sound Transit could have added 4th lanes to the I-90 Bridge outer roadways and initiated two-way bus rapid transit (BRT) on the bridge center roadway. BRT had 10 times light rail capacity at 1/10th the cost and could have provided access from every P&R on the east side. The 4th lanes would have reduced vehicle congestion on the outer roadways and BRT could have provided direct bus connections between each of the east side P&R lots reducing congestion throughout the area. The fact ST never considered BRT for their 2008 DEIS was a monumental blunder
Sound Transit’s DEIS included the following alternatives in Segment C: Downtown Bellevue:
• Bellevue Way Tunnel (C1T)
• 106th NE Tunnel (C2T)
• 108th NE Tunnel (C3T)
• Couplet (C4A)
• 112th NE Elevated (C7E)
• 110th NE Elevated (C8E)
The C4A configuration was the only “at grade” alternative. It was only some 2 ½ years later the “Final EIS” included the following:
There are two preferred alternatives in this segment, one with an at-grade profile (Preferred Alternative C11A) and one with a tunnel profile (Preferred Alternative C9T). ST2 provides funding for an at-grade or elevated alternative in Segment C. Additional funding sources would be required for the Sound Transit Board to select a tunnel alternative in this segment.
They used that argument to insist their Prop 1 proposal hadn’t included funds for a tunnel and demanded Bellevue share the additional $320 million tunnel costs. The councils acquiescence was particularly egregious since eastside taxes had supported Central Link for years and Sound Transit recently apparently “found money” to pay for an unplanned tunnel extending Central Link all the way to Northgate.
The tunnel alternatives in the DEIS included underground stations near Bellevue Square or Bellevue T/C. The council, in order to reduce their “tunnel cost”, decided to locate the downtown station at street level near the City Hall. As a result, light rail access in downtown Bellevue will be far less convenient than current ST560 bus stops at Bellevue T/C and at 2nd and 105th. Its difficult to believe City Hall will be an attractive access point or destination for large numbers of riders.
The route into Bellevue has been the most contentious of all; and for good reason. Noise issues have forced Sound Transit to spend untold millions to extensively modify homes more than 400 ft away from Central Link. East Link 4-car trains will undoubtedly have higher noise levels for longer periods of time than Central Link’s 2-car trains.
The council managed to “persuade” ST to “trench” along Bellevue Way adjacent to the Winters House. Further north, rather than “trenching”, they’ll construct an overpass so light rail can cross under 112th. . It’s not clear whether trenching will reduce noise to acceptable levels. Further north the elevated roadway and grade level trains will surely create noise issues for many residents. Apparently Sound Transit will buy out the “lucky ones” but the vast majority will have their lives changed forever by the construction and subsequent operation of light rail.
The noise issue also raises questions about light rail’s ability to attract development to the Bel Red area, one of East Links major selling points. The council recently made an issue of Sound Transit plans to locate a large maintenance facility in the area. Apparently the council wasn’t aware the DEIS had included four alternative locations for large maintenance facilities there. Again, they’ve presumably acquiesced to the facility despite their claims it was a “surprise” and “not acceptable”. What they continue to ignore is the light rail noise issue. What are their plans to “mitigate” that problem to the extent developers will be attracted to the area?
I first appeared before the council in early 2009 to argue Sound Transit had blundered in never considering BRT for their “no build” option in the DEIS. I told the council simple mathematics belied Sound Transit claims in the 2008 DEIS a 4-car train every 9 minutes could carry up to 24,000 riders per hour and whatever capacity light rail had was of limited use since most cross lake commuters didn’t have access. I urged them to authorize their own study of BRT. Instead they insisted on funding studies of alternate light rail routes into Bellevue, the equivalent of paying for “studies” to determine which side of the Titanic was safer.
The bottom line is the BCC/ST East Link agreement will result in $2.8 billion (2007 dollars?) spent on a light rail system that will devastate Bellevue during the several years of construction with no real assurance their “mitigation” efforts will be successful along the route into Bellevue or in the Bel Red area.
When completed in 2023(?) the only downtown access other than T/C will be at City Hall rather than where most potential riders would prefer. The only access for I-90 corridor commuters will be a South Bellevue P&R which will never have the capacity or the accessibility needed. Both the downtown area and the P&R already have excellent bus service and the Bel Red area could be far better served with a South Lake Union type streetcar system.
Sound Transits closure of the I-90 center roadway in 2016 to begin installing light rail, forcing all traffic onto the outer roadways, will change cross-lake commuting forever. Their own 2004 studies show the 4th bus/HOV lanes they plan to add prior to the closure won’t have the capacity needed to avoid increased cross-lake congestion.
When East Link begins operation in 2023 the South Bellevue P&R limitations will still force the vast majority I-90 corridor commuters onto the outer roadways. The lack of access and the City Hall station location will limit light rail ridership to a fraction of the 50,000 they’ve promised for East Link. Many of those who do ride will be those who previously rode the bus. Meanwhile all the other cross-lake buses, HOV and cars will face ever-increasing congestion.
This blog continues my efforts to keep that from happening.