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Bellevue Wants Light Rail Off Its Streets

Amy Radil

The light rail meeting between Bellevue officials and the Sound Transit board Thursday had the trapping of a diplomatic summit. But the two groups have miles go to agree on a new light rail route through Bellevue. And Sound Transit says time is short if the project is going to stay on schedule.


Bellevue officials want to keep light rail trains off of their downtown streets. But Sound Transit studies suggest that those surface routes capture the most riders for the least amount of money. The Sound Transit board sat down with Bellevue's mayor and city council members Thursday to try to find some common ground.

Bellevue mayor Don Davidson says he visited the surface–level light rail system in San Jose, California. He says a fire in the downtown shut down that city's entire line, and passengers had to be bused from one station to another.

Davidson: "When I see reality like that on the street, it really brings it home to me how vulnerable these systems are."

Sound Transit is currently evaluating a tunnel option, two different surface routes through downtown Bellevue, and an elevated route along highway 405 that would use a "moving walkway" to get passengers downtown. Bellevue city council member Kevin Wallace supports the elevated route, which would have lower ridership in the downtown but would also cost the least to build. Wallace, a real estate lawyer, says his main goal is to keep the train from disrupting the downtown.

Wallace: "Whether it's elevated along the freeway or in a tunnel or in a rail corridor, Bellevue's light rail must avoid Bellevue's roads."

Sound Transit board members from around Puget Sound attended the meeting to pound on the issue of cost. They expressed fears that light rail will not get to their cities, and voters will not approve continued funding as they approved Sound Transit 2, if the agency overspends now. King County council member Julia Patterson:

Patterson: "I have a mandate to be true to the promise that was made through the region–wide ballot measure of ST2 and that means we have to have a very frank discussion at some point about the cost of the different scenarios and the ridership."

The tunnel option has the highest projected ridership system–wide and in downtown Bellevue. But it costs at least $300 million dollars more than the other options. Some Bellevue city council members said they are open to compromise and not wedded to only one route. But discussions will have to move quickly. Sound Transit wants to settle on its choice by the end of April, to move forward with environmental analysis.

I'm Amy Radil, KUOW News.

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