Sound Transit Board adopts East Link route and stations

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Downtown Bellevue tunnel contingent on agreement for City of Bellevue support

The Sound Transit Board today selected a route and stations for building the East Link light rail extension to serve the communities of East King County, culminating five years of study and community involvement.

"This is a significant step forward for the more than 50,000 people each weekday who will ride East Link as part of a regional system stretching more than 50 miles," said Sound Transit Board Chair and Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon. "Our close work with community members and partners has culminated in a route that maximizes ridership and benefits to the public, fits within our financial reach and mitigates project impacts."

"Today's action reflects the City of Bellevue and Sound Transit's commitment to establish a partnership for a tunnel through downtown Bellevue," said Sound Transit Board and Bellevue City Council member Claudia Balducci. "A tunnel not only avoids impacts to traffic in downtown Bellevue but provides the best transit service for riders all over the region."

"I applaud the spirit of compromise and collaboration that led to this landmark decision that will connect urban centers, improve our mobility, and enhance our economic prosperity for generations to come," said Sound Transit Board member and King County Executive Dow Constantine. "East Link will make commuting easier for thousands of residents and boost the competitiveness of our region in attracting new employers and jobs. This is the vision that voters in Bellevue had in mind when they approved East Link in 2008."

"Getting light rail across Lake Washington will enable future phases of expansion to reach other Eastside destinations," said Sound Transit Board Vice Chair and Issaquah City Council Deputy President Fred Butler. "We have taken an important and long-awaited step toward expanding transportation capacity and commuting options for residents of East King County and the entire region."

The route and stations selected by the Board will be reviewed by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). After Sound Transit receives a Record of Decision from the FTA the project will move into final design. Sound Transit is expected to start construction of East Link in 2015 or 2016 and launch passenger service in 2022 or 2023.

The route was approved by a 15-2 vote of the Sound Transit Board. The resolution includes a tunnel through downtown Bellevue that is contingent on the City of Bellevue providing $160 million of the approximately $300 million (2010$) additional cost of building a tunnel.

Sound Transit Board members and staff recognized community members' important role in shaping the East Link project. Over the past half decade Sound Transit's commitment to incorporating public input by holding 28 open houses, workshops and hearings; attending 249 meetings with local groups, property owners and residents; and reviewing 1,587 comments during the formal environmental review process.

The East Link route is shown on the attached map. From Seattle it heads east from downtown 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 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 Sound Transit Board selected 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.

The commitment of $160 million by the City of Bellevue for building a tunnel through its downtown has been a focal point of recent negotiations between Sound Transit and the city on a term sheet that anticipates establishing a binding memorandum of understanding by Oct. 25. Other elements in the term sheet include commitments by Sound Transit to evaluate design changes on 112th Street to address noise and traffic impacts and participate in a city project to add one southbound HOV lane to Bellevue Way. The term sheet also calls for the parties to establish a cooperative permitting process.

Information about the East Link project, including the Final Environmental Impact Statement for East Link, is 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 the 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.

East Link is a key component of the Sound Transit 2 plan that provides a foundation for future regional transit system expansion proposals. The project will expand on the completed Central Link light rail system between Sea-Tac Airport and downtown Seattle, as well as Sound Transit 2's northward and southward expansions and the University Link connection that is now under construction.

East Link riders will enjoy one-seat rides between Redmond, Bellevue, Mercer Island to Seattle's downtown, Capitol Hill, University of Washington, Roosevelt and Northgate neighborhoods, and in peak periods to the cities of Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood as well. (During off-peak periods not every train will provide service north of Northgate.) Connections between East Link and light rail stations south of downtown Seattle will be available at Seattle's International District/Chinatown Station.