Sound Transit Board identifies preferred East Link light rail route

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Decision moves Eastside light rail extension closer to construction

The Sound Transit Board of Directors today identified a preferred route for extending light rail to Mercer Island, Bellevue and Redmond, with both tunnel and surface options in downtown Bellevue.

“Today’s action puts us a big step closer to implementing the Sound Transit 2 ballot measure that voters passed last November,” said Sound Transit Board Chair and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels. “East Link light rail will provide the fast, frequent and reliable transit service that we need between the largest employment centers in Washington.”

The preferred route is shown in the attached map. The final route will be selected in 2010 based on additional evaluation as part of preparing a final environmental impact statement. East Link construction is envisioned to start in 2013 or 2014. Sound Transit is working to open light rail service to Bellevue in 2020 and to the Overlake area of Redmond in 2021.

“I am very pleased with the decision today,” said Sound Transit Board member and Redmond Mayor John Marchione. “Building light rail to the Overlake Transit Center is a major priority. It is what we promised to the voters and it’s our obligation to deliver. Today was a big milestone toward achieving that goal.”

“We heard loud and clear from the City of Bellevue and other major stakeholders that they think a tunnel is the right way to go in Bellevue,” said Sound Transit Board member and Issaquah Deputy Council President Fred Butler. “We have a lot of work ahead of us and we are all willing to roll up our sleeves to find the best solution.”

“This is a momentous day for our region and the citizens of the Eastside,” said Sound Transit Board and Kirkland City Council member Mary-Alyce Burleigh. “We have a lot of work to do still, but we are closer to bringing light rail to the Eastside and connecting our major population and job centers.”

East Link will connect Mercer Island, Bellevue and Redmond to the Link light rail system that opens this year between downtown Seattle and Sea-Tac Airport. With the completion of Sound Transit 2 expansions in 2023, it will be part of a regional light rail system stretching 55 miles. The East Link line will serve up to 48,000 daily riders on one of the region’s most congested travel corridors.

The identification of the preferred route follows extensive involvement by local residents and businesses in reviewing options for the long-discussed light rail connection across Lake Washington on I-90. More than 500 people attended public hearings on the route alternatives detailed in the East Link Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) that was published in December 2008, and Sound Transit received 765 comment letters.

The DEIS studied 19 different East Link route alternatives with up to 13 stations. The study examined benefits and impacts associated with running the line on surface streets, on an elevated trackway or in a tunnel through portions of the alignment.

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. Under longstanding agreements with the 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.

From South Bellevue the preferred route proceeds from I-90 north along Bellevue Way Southeast in a predominantly at-grade configuration, with a station serving South Bellevue neighborhoods. (DEIS Alternative B3 — 112th SE Bypass with modifications.)

In downtown Bellevue, the Board identified two preferred routes: a tunnel route (DEIS Alternative C3T — 108th Tunnel) as well as a surface route (DEIS Alternative C4A—At-grade Couplet). The Sound Transit 2 ballot measure that voters approved last year included funding for an at-grade or elevated alignment through downtown Bellevue. As Sound Transit moves forward with evaluating a more expensive tunnel alternative, it will work with the City of Bellevue through the remainder of 2009 to identify additional external funding sources that the Sound Transit Board may consider prior to the completion of the Final EIS. While a tunnel option could offer higher ridership than the at-grade or elevated alternatives evaluated in the Draft EIS, it is not financially feasible without additional funding sources.

From downtown Bellevue to Overlake Transit Center, the board identified a preferred route serving the Bel-Red corridor, Overlake Village and Microsoft’s campus, running in a combination of elevated and at-grade alignments located parallel and just to the north of Bel-Red Road. (DEIS Alternative D2A — NE 16th At-grade.)

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. (DEIS Alternative E2 — Marymoor.)

More information on the East Link project, including the DEIS and next steps, is available at www.soundtransit.org/eastlink

The preliminary cost estimates for the preferred route, which will continue to be refined, range from $2.7 billion in 2007 dollars for the at-grade option in downtown Bellevue to $3.2 billion for the tunnel option.