Contrary to “popular” opinion the Bellevue City Council has ample justification for refusing to approve the 10 permits Sound Transit needs for East Link. It’s true, applicable state regulations include RCW 36.70A.200, which stipulates “No local comprehensive plan or development regulation may preclude the siting of essential public facilities”. It’s also true RCW 47.06.140 states “Essential public facilities” include “regional transportation systems” such as “high capacity transportation systems” and RCW 81.104.015 defines “high capacity transportation systems” as including “rail fixed guideway systems” such as “light, heavy, or rapid rail system”.
However, there is nothing in any regulation stipulating that “high capacity transportation systems” (HCT) are limited to “rail fixed guideway” systems. There is also the question as to whether East Link, which will be limited to one 4-car train every 8 minutes, or 30 cars per hour in each direction, can even be classified as HCT. Particularly in comparison with bus rapid transit (BRT) which could provide more than a thousand buses an hour in each direction on the I-90 Bridge center roadway.
The fact BRT could provide access to every eastside P&R, whereas East Link access for I-90 corridor commuters will be limited to South Bellevue and Mercer Island light rail stations makes it a far more effective HCT system. The BCC can surely decide that BRT is a “better HCT” for its residents and disallow East Link permits.
The BCC can also disallow the permits because East Link violates federal environmental law. Section 4(f) of the Dept. of Trans. Act protects parks, recreation areas, waterfowl and wildlife refuges from encroachment unless there is no feasible or prudent alternative or the impact is de minimis.
The noise from the elevated light rail tracks near the East Link South Bellevue Station will devastate the quiet solitude of the Mercer Slough Park. 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 ST to “sound proof” homes more than 300 ft from Central Link light rail in order to be “livable” would qualify as de minimis. The BCC is surely “legally justified” in preventing this disruption to the park for more than 20 hours a day. The fact that residents along the route would also benefit is only more reason to do so.
However, the most obvious justification for disallowing the permits does not involve East Link “legality”. It’s the utter stupidity of ST “Integrated Transit Service” (ITS) to terminate all cross-lake buses at the South Bellevue and Mercer Island light rail stations. As a result, the billions spent on East Link will create a light rail system that limits I-90 transit capacity to 30 light rail cars an hour, the equivalent of thirty-eight 70-ft articulated buses; a fraction of current transit capacity, and a far cry from the promise East Link would double the person-moving capacity of I-90.