News releases

Sound Transit Board completes identification of preferred East Link route

Publish Date

Alignment provides service to South Bellevue, savings for proposed tunnel in downtown Bellevue

The Sound Transit Board today completed work defining a preferred alternative for the East Link light rail project by selecting specific configuration options for a future route on 112th Avenue South in Bellevue.

"Our preferred alignment would provide effective service to riders in South Bellevue and downtown Bellevue while enabling a partnership for building a tunnel in downtown Bellevue," said Sound Transit Board Chair and Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon. "Bypassing South Bellevue, as some have proposed, was not an attractive option. The preferred route keeps us in a position to deliver an excellent project within our resources."

"The three months of public meetings we've just completed on options for 112th Avenue reflect our commitment to continue working with community members," Reardon said. "My goals have been to be fair and transparent. We appreciate the time hundreds of residents took to participate and the unique coalition that some of the most directly impacted property owners has formed to work constructively with us. We understand there are still residents close to the proposed alignment who have concerns about impacts. We are committed to identifying effective mitigation for the final alignment we select next year."

In April, Sound Transit and the City of Bellevue's signed a term sheet in which the agency agreed to identify up to $75 million in project savings in order to afford a potential downtown Bellevue tunnel alignment which was not part of the original project budget. The City agreed to provide up to $150 million in city right of way, in-kind services and other means to reduce the overall project costs.

"Today's action furthers our efforts to provide a tunnel for downtown Bellevue while effectively serving the many residents in Bellevue and throughout the Eastside who would transfer between local buses and light rail in South Bellevue," said Sound Transit Board and Bellevue City Council Member Claudia Balducci. "The South Bellevue Park-and-Ride serves commuters from Bellevue as well as the entire Eastside. It's a vital transit connection. Bypassing South Bellevue is not a good option."

"East Link will finally enable residents throughout Bellevue and the Eastside to reach destinations in Bellevue, Redmond and all up and down the I-5 corridor without worrying about congestion," Balducci said. "It will also stimulate economic growth throughout the Eastside and the entire region. We need to build East Link as quickly as possible while making sure we implement effective mitigation."

The alternate "B7" alignment that some have advocated along the I-90 and I-405 freeways would either bypass South Bellevue altogether or further expand the financial gap that must be filled to build a tunnel by developing a brand new South Bellevue facility near I-405. The preferred alignment's station serving residents and businesses in the area of Bellevue's Southeast 8th Street would not be built under this option.

The preferred alignment crosses Lake Washington on I-90, with a station serving Mercer Island. On the east side of the lake it heads north along Bellevue Way to a station at the existing regional transit hub at the South Bellevue Park-and-Ride, where expanded bus facilities and a new parking garage with 1,400 spaces would be constructed. From there, the preferred alignment continues north on 112th Avenue. The Board today selected an alignment running on the west side of 112th Avenue, consistent with the requests of an organized coalition of affected property owners. In downtown Bellevue the preferred alignment includes tunnel option, as advocated by many in the community, as well as an at-grade option. Today's Board action identified a preferred location of the Hospital Station in the Eastside BNSF corridor at Northeast 8th Street. The preferred alignment travels to Redmond via the Bel-Red corridor. For a map of the updated preferred alternative see:

While the identification of a preferred alternative is an important step in the process, it is not a final decision. All of the alternatives in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) will continue to be carried forward and evaluated. The new alternatives introduced by the Board since publication of the Draft EIS will be evaluated in a Supplemental Draft EIS this fall and included in the Final EIS. The Board will select the final East Link route in 2011 after completion of the final EIS. East Link construction is scheduled to start in late 2013 or early 2014. Service to Bellevue is scheduled to open in 2020 under the at-grade option or 2021 under the tunnel option. Service to the Overlake area of Redmond is scheduled to open in 2021.

The updated East Link preferred alternative modifies the alternative that the Sound Transit Board identified in 2009 and modified last April when the Board identified a potential downtown tunnel and a surface alternative through downtown Bellevue. Both the at-grade alignment and the tunnel will advance through preliminary engineering as the Final EIS is completed.

In all, the preferred East Link route runs approximately 18 miles east from downtown Seattle to Mercer Island and South Bellevue, crossing Lake Washington in center roadway of I-90. The first 14 miles to the Overlake Transit in Redmond are funded for construction and estimated to cost $2.4 billion (2007$) with a surface alternative in downtown Bellevue and $2.6 billion (2007$) with a tunnel. Under longstanding agreements with federal, state and local partners, the I-90 corridor is being readied for light rail by constructing new HOV lanes across the lake on the outer roadways, adding 24-hour HOV service both eastbound and westbound while preserving the existing number of general purpose lanes.

East Link will connect Mercer Island, Bellevue and Redmond to the Link light rail system that opened last year between downtown Seattle and Sea-Tac Airport and with the University Link line from downtown Seattle to the University of Washington opening in 2016. With the completion of Sound Transit 2 expansions in 2023, it will be part of a regional light rail system stretching 55 miles. When complete to downtown Redmond, the East Link line will serve up to 50,000 daily riders on one of the region's most congested travel corridors.

While the Sound Transit 2 ballot measure does not fund a light rail segment between Overlake Transit Center and Redmond's downtown areas, the Board identified a preferred route for a future connection that runs along State Route 520 and along the northern edge of Marymoor Park.