(The following was prompted by the Seattle Times. I emailed it to their editorial board as a “Special to the Times” submission and decided to post it since they will likely decline to print it.)
Bel Red Real East Link Problem
The June 30 front page article in the Seattle Times suggests relocating the 25 acre East Link rail yard outside of Bel Red would make the 900 acre development a magnet for developers. First of all Sound Transit’s current preferred location should be no surprise to anyone since it was included in the 2008 Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
Even if the Bellevue City Council does manage to relocate the rail yard, it's unlikely East Link will enhance Bel Red development. The problem is light rail noise. East Link noise will far exceed Bellevue City codes for maximum permissible sound levels. Sound Transit has been forced to spend millions “sound proofing” homes more than 300 feet away Central Link. Noise from East Link 4-car trains operating on elevated tracks will surely exceed those from Central Link, street-level, 2-car trains.
These noise concerns are what prompted the BCC to force ST to provide detailed plans to mitigate the noise for properties along the route into Bellevue. Yet ST plans for Bel Red appear devoid of any attempts to mitigate the noise there. Properties along a huge swath, well beyond 300 feet on both sides of the tracks, will likely need to be “sound proofed” to be “livable” with light rail trains trundling through every 4-8 minutes for 20 hours a day.
The Bellevue City Council is surely aware (or should be aware) East Link noise levels will far exceed their allowable noise limits. The fact they are still apparently willing to approve permits ST needs for Bel Red would presumably free ST from any legal responsibility for any adverse noise impact. Thus, any subsequent mitigation will likely require BCC funding, potentially millions.
The council could have avoided the Bel-Red noise and maintenance yard problem by opting for a far less expensive and more esthetically appealing “South Lake Union” type streetcar system. It could either loop through or run on parallel tracks through the area west of 140th or 148th with connections to the Bellevue T/C. (BRT routes across 520 to a University light rail station T/C would be far better for meeting "Microsoft" transit needs.) Frequency would be set by local demand rather than by some futile attempt to meet cross-lake transit demands.
Street level tracks could be used in Bel Red since the reduced frequency along with the lower speed would not be nearly as hazardous to north-south vehicle traffic as high-speed, four 74-ton, light-rail-car trains every 4 minutes.
(Street-level cars work fine on South Lake Union route.) The tracks would be less intrusive and provide greater accessibility from more stops than East Link’s two elevated light rail stations.
In conclusion, Bel Red streetcars would end the debacle of East Link 4-car light rail trains trundling through for 20 hours a day. The BCC, in combination with potential Bel Red developers, needs to consider this option.