FTA issues Record of Decision approving East Link light rail alignment

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Sound Transit Board launches final design work following key agreements with Bellevue, WSDOT

The Sound Transit Board today received the Federal Transit Administration's Record of Decision for the East Link light rail project and voted unanimously to launch work on the final design for the route between Seattle, Mercer Island, Bellevue and Redmond.

The FTA approval of the East Link project culminates more than five years of work to select the route. The Record of Decision (ROD) comes right on the heels of two other key agreements: the Tuesday, Nov. 15 signing of an agreement with the City of Bellevue for a partnership to build a tunnel in downtown Bellevue, and the Nov. 3 signing of a final agreement with the Washington State Department of Transportation for access to the I-90 floating bridge.

"We are grateful for the strong partnerships with the Federal Transit Administration, Washington State Department of Transportation and City of Bellevue that enable the Board to move forward today," said Sound Transit Board Vice Chair and Deputy Issaquah City Council President Fred Butler. "And we are especially grateful for the contributions that hundreds of community members made to shaping this project over the past five years."

"With endorsements and support from voters, the city, the state, and now the federal government, November 2011 will be remembered as a turning point in the history of transit for the Eastside," said Sound Transit Board Member and King County Executive Dow Constantine. "Now it's time to finish the design and start construction."

"East Link will improve people's commutes on both sides of Lake Washington while stimulating our local economy and making us even more attractive for new employers," said Sound Transit Board and Bellevue City Council member Claudia Balducci. "It's time for Sound Transit, the City of Bellevue and all of the partners in this project to move forward while building on the collaboration that got us where we are today."

The agency is working to start construction of East Link in 2015 and launch passenger service in 2023. The project is estimated to create more than 20,000 direct, construction-related jobs over the duration of the work and 34,000 to 42,000 indirect jobs as the stimulus spreads throughout the economy.

FTA Record of Decision
The ROD concludes the more than environmental review process that Sound Transit launched in September 2006 in cooperation with community members and local and regional governments. Sound Transit received more than 1,800 comments during the environmental review and held 28 open houses, hearings and workshops to gather community input. The ROD finalizes the alignment that the Sound Transit Board selected through this work, completing the required process under the National Environmental Policy Act.

As part of the environmental review Sound Transit advanced the design and engineering on the now-final alignment that is described below to approximately 30 percent completion. The ROD enables Sound Transit to move into the final design process. Sound Transit will continue to work closely with community members and partners in designing the project.

Memorandum of Understanding with the City of Bellevue
Following Monday's approval by the Bellevue City Council and the Oct. 27 approval of the Sound Transit Board, Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl and Bellevue City Manager Steve Sarkozy on Tuesday signed a historic agreement for a partnership to build a tunnel through downtown Bellevue.

The memorandum of understanding (MOU) establishes a collaborative framework for Sound Transit and the City of Bellevue to share the additional cost of a tunnel and work together during the final design and construction processes to manage costs and impacts. Benefits of the partnership include saving time for transit riders as well as motorists by avoiding at-grade street crossings in downtown Bellevue and establishing a grade-separated light rail alignment all the way from Seattle to the Bel-Red Corridor.

The tunnel is estimated to cost an additional $276 million beyond the cost of an at-grade alignment through downtown after factoring in cost savings from locating East Link's South Bellevue alignment along 112th Avenue Southeast. The MOU establishes a firm funding commitment by the City of Bellevue for up to $160 million (2010$), identifies the City's preferred design for the alignment along 112th Avenue Southeast and commits Sound Transit to review and consider the design changes.

Other key elements of the agreement include mechanisms to share risks and benefits between the parties and commitments to work collaboratively in the final design process to manage the project's scope, schedule and budget. The agreement provides that Bellevue will process land use code amendments to establish a consolidated permit process and other actions including resolving technical code issues.

Umbrella Agreement for building light rail in the I-90 center roadway
Sound Transit and the Washington State Department of Transportation began negotiations in 2009 to implement the long-envisioned construction of light rail across Lake Washington in the center lanes of I-90. The agencies executed a preliminary agreement in January 2010 and signed a final umbrella agreement on Nov. 3.

Under the terms of the umbrella agreement for the use of the center roadway, Sound Transit is providing the funding needed to complete two new HOV lanes on the outer roadways of the I-90 across Lake Washington. These new lanes will enable light rail to significantly expand the carrying capacity of I-90 while maintaining the existing number of general purpose and HOV lanes. Sound Transit's funding of the new HOV lanes will be used to offset the rent and reimbursement payments required by WSDOT for the use of the center lanes.

East Link alignment
From downtown Seattle the East Link route heads east on Interstate 90, with a station at Rainier Avenue. Continuing eastward the route crosses Lake Washington in the center lanes of I-90, with a station serving Mercer Island. Entering Bellevue, the route moves north along the east side of Bellevue Way in an elevated configuration to a station and new parking structure at the existing South Bellevue Park and Ride. North of the station the route transitions to at-grade and retained cut configurations and continues along and crosses to the west side of 112th Avenue.

At the south end of downtown Bellevue the route moves into a tunnel beneath 110th Avenue Northeast to an underground station adjacent to the existing Bellevue Transit Center. Beyond the station the line runs east crossing Interstate 405 in an elevated configuration and turns north to serve an elevated station near Group Health and Overlake Hospital. The line continues eastward along the Bel-Red corridor in a combination of elevated and at-grade alignments to serve stations at 120th Avenue Northeast, 130th Avenue Northeast, Overlake Village and Overlake Transit Center. While the ROD approves a route for a potential future extension of East Link between Redmond's Overlake Transit Center Station and downtown area, construction of this segment was not funded by the Sound Transit 2 ballot measure.

East Link documents including the project's Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision are available at http://projects.soundtransit.org/Projects-Home/East-Link-Project.xml  

Riding East Link between Seattle and downtown Bellevue is projected to take less than 20 minutes. By comparison, in the afternoon peak period it can currently take approximately 45 minutes to travel between Seattle and Bellevue via I-90.

As the region's population continues growing in the decades ahead East Link will provide tremendous new transportation capacity to the I-90 corridor. Increases in the length and frequency of trains over time offer the capacity to carry from 9,000 to 12,000 people per hour in each direction, which would more than double the person-carrying capacity of I-90 and is roughly equivalent to seven to ten freeway lanes of vehicle traffic. By 2030 East Link is projected to carry more than 50,000 riders each weekday.