(I wrote the following in response to the Bellevue City Council’s latest newsletter warning residents about East Link . It was way too long to present during the 3 minute public comments they allow at meetings.)
Earlier this week I once again drove along 112th Ave on my way from the Bellevue Golf Course driving range to Chase’s Pancake House for their potato pancakes. While it was clear preparations were underway the tree-lined avenue still had a pleasant ambience. That’s all about to change thanks to the Bellevue City Council. Nearly all of the several hundred trees on the east side will be ripped out and an elevated roadway constructed to accommodate light rail tracks and high voltage power lines. It didn’t have to happen.
More than 8 years ago I told the city council the Sound Transit East Link DEIS was sheer fantasy. That claims East Link was the equivalent of 10 lanes of freeway ignored the reality of Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnels limitations on capacity. That the council should make approval of the 10 permits in the DEIS needed for construction contingent on Sound Transit considering two-way BRT on the I-90 Bridge center roadway. Even a cursory study would have concluded BRT would have 10 times light rail capacity, 10 years sooner, at 1/10th the cost, effectively ending East Link. (They could have funded the study themselves for less than what they spent on a totally futile attempt to reroute light rail into the city.)
Instead the council rewrote the city’s land use code allowing the devastation along the current route. They approved a shoreline permit allowing Sound Transit make a mockery of environmental regulations, claiming light rail noise would have no impact on Mercer Slough while demanding they spend millions shielding properties hundreds of feet away; inevitably ending the quiet solitude of the park. They even allowed Sound Transit ignore the Revised Code of Washington requiring any high capacity transit planning consider lower cost options.
They acquiesced to Sound Transit delays in adding 4th lanes to the outer roadways that would have reduced congestion from commuters from both sides of the lake. Recently the council allowed Sound Transit ignore their MOU concerning replacing the South Bellevue P&R; effectively ending access to transit at P&Rs for many east side commuters. Sound Transit’s confiscation of the bridge center roadway will increase outer roadway congestion, inevitably leading to gridlock with the projected doubling of cross lake commuters they used to justify East Link.
The council ignored Sound Transit’s own website that limited East Link to one three or four car train every 8-10 minutes; at best, one 4-car train every 8 minutes, or 30 74-seat light rail cars an hour. They could have easily added the same capacity with fewer than 50 buses without spending a dime on light rail tracks, disrupting cross-lake commuters, and devastating the route into Bellevue.
Instead last year the April 29th Bellevue Reporter front-page article featured the council heralding the East Link light rail extension “breaking ground” as a “cause for celebration”. When East Link finally begins operation, Sound Transit intends to use it to replace cross-lake buses. (Apparently like Sound Transit, the council doesn’t recognize the outer roadway congestion is not due to too many buses.)
During peak commute, East Link will only have capacity to accommodate riders from about 50 buses an hour; that’s less than the current peak frequency. Those on buses continuing into Seattle will be the lucky ones, avoiding the hassle of transferring to and from East Link at South Bellevue or Mercer Island. Especially since those forced to transfer will frequently find trains full when they arrive at the two stations.
The bottom line is many commuters have already lost access to transit from Sound Transit closing South Bellevue P&R. Light rail construction will soon begin disrupting those living or commuting along the route into Bellevue. Light rail confiscation of the bridge center roadway will inevitably lead to gridlock on outer roadways. When East Link begins operation the vast majority of I-90 corridor commuters won’t even have access. East Link will do nothing to reduce the congestion they’ve endured for years between Issaquah and I-405. Reducing congestion with light rail along the route is another Sound Transit fantasy.
It will all happen “courtesy” of the Bellevue City Council.