Other posts have explained in detail why Sound Transit Prop 1 extensions will be a financial debacle. This post is an attempt to detail the environmental damage from the East Link light rail extension. The 2008 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) concerning East Link can best be described as “fantasy”.
First of all, East Link violates Section 4(f) of the Dept. of Trans. Act that protects parks, recreation areas, waterfowl and wildlife refuges from encroachment unless there is no feasible or prudent alternative or the impact is de minimis . No one can rationally argue that cross-lake BRT is not a feasible or prudent alternative. Also, no one can reasonably argue that a light rail system that requires homes more than 300 ft from Central Link light rail to be “sound proofed” in order to be “livable” would qualify as de minimis.
The noise from the elevated light rail tracks near the South Bellevue Station will devastate the quiet solitude of the Mercer Slough Park. What’s absurd is the ST Shoreline Substantial Development Permit Application goes into great detail about the number of trees and the fractions of acres impacted by light rail but makes no mention of the noise from light rail trains trundling through the area 20 hours a day. ST efforts to mitigate the noise for residents along the route will likely leave many with a lifetime of noise both inside and outside their homes.
The DEIS claim East Link would have a peak hour capacity of up to 24,000 riders per hour (rph) equivalent to between 6 to 10 freeway lanes is sheer fantasy. The Puget Sound Research Council light rail guidelines would limit East Link to 4440 riders in each direction with a 4-car train every 8 minutes. However, operating costs for light rail (~$25.00 per mile per car, excluding depreciation) would likely limit each train to 2-cars because of operating costs with the 13 mile Lynnwood extension.
Another DEIS fantasy is the claim “Travel times across I-90 for vehicles and trucks would also improve or remain similar with East Link”. Sound Transit claims adding the 4th lanes to the outer roadways (R8-A configuration) will provide sufficient additional capacity for all cross-lake vehicles is belied by FHWA conclusion center roadway was still needed for vehicles with R8-A. The resulting outer roadway congestion will surely degrade environment.
The most “fanciful” environmental statement of all is the DEIS claim “The East Link Project would also offer environmental improvements over the No Build Alternative”. They ignore the devastation along the route into Bellevue instead claiming East Link will decrease “daily vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by approximately 200,000 miles”. (Sound Transit never considered two-way bus only lanes on the center roadway as the “No Build” alternative.)
Their plans to require 20,000 transit riders switch to light rail at the South Bellevue and Mercer Island light rail stations far exceeds even 4-car train light rail capacity. Its clear most buses will have to continue into Seattle on the outer roadway adding to the increased congestion from future growth. East Link will probably add to VMT since many of those riding bus routes that terminate at the light rail stations will decide to drive rather than ride because of the inconvenience of transferring during commutes into and out of Seattle.
In conclusion, East Link is a potential environmental nightmare. The only way to keep it from becoming a reality is to stop East Link. Even if completed, it will likely be torn out and replaced by BRT on the center roadway as the previous post predicts. The environmental insanity is allowing it to happen in the first place.