Sound Transit issues Final Environmental Impact Statement for East Link

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Milestone positions Board to identify final light rail project to be built through Bellevue and Redmond

The upcoming extension of light rail to Mercer Island, Bellevue and Redmond reached a major milestone today with the distribution of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (Final EIS) for the East Link light rail project.

The Final EIS documents the numerous benefits of connecting our region's largest population and employment centers with fast, frequent and reliable mass transit service, as well as project impacts and required mitigation. The publication positions the Sound Transit Board to select an East Link route and stations on July 28 or thereafter.

By 2030 the East Link project is forecasted to move up to 50,000 riders each weekday.

After the route and stations are selected and Sound Transit receives Federal Transit Administration approval through a Record of Decision, 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 Final EIS reflects Sound Transit's strong commitment to involving the public. Over the last five years Sound Transit held 28 open houses, workshops and hearings and attended 249 meetings with local groups, property owners and residents. Sound Transit reviewed 1,887 comments during the formal environmental review process.

"Today is an important day for the East King County residents who are waiting to ride a vital part of the regional mass transit system Sound Transit is working to expand," said Sound Transit Board Chair and Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon. "We are committed to moving this project forward as rapidly as we can and continuing to involve the public in the design process."

"The years of work summarized in this document position us to turn our region's vision of fast and reliable mass transit into real tracks, trains and stations. We are now poised to move forward," said Sound Transit Board and Bellevue City Council Member Claudia Balducci. "The time we've spent on detailed analysis and involving the public give Sound Transit and the City of Bellevue the information needed to cooperatively identify the route and mitigation options in Bellevue that will deliver the best results."

"Light rail will not only improve the lives of thousands of riders each day but dramatically improve our region's competitiveness in the global marketplace," said Sound Transit Board Member and Redmond Mayor John Marchione. "The world-class businesses that are already here and those we want to attract need investments in the kind of transportation infrastructure that other regions of our size depend on. We will profoundly benefit from having a congestion-free mass transit connection between our region's major economic hubs."

"Getting light rail across Lake Washington positions us to provide connections to other Eastside Communities in future phases, and from Day 1, provide connections between Eastside bus routes and congestion-free light rail service," said Sound Transit Board Vice Chair and Issaquah City Council Deputy President Fred Butler. "It is critical to the entire Eastside that we moved forward without further delay in identifying an affordable and realistic final light rail route."

The upcoming meetings of the Sound Transit Board and the Board's Capital Projects and Executive Committees will include review of the Final EIS, which includes more detailed analysis of the preferred alternatives the Board identified last year, as well as all of the other alternatives studied in the Draft and Supplemental Draft EIS documents.

After crossing Lake Washington and Mercer Island in the center lanes of I-90, the preferred alternative moves north along Bellevue Way and 112th Avenue. In downtown Bellevue, the Board identified two preferred alternatives: a surface alignment that is consistent with the funding voters approved in November 2008, as well as a tunnel advocated by the City of Bellevue. The preferred tunnel alternative exceeds the East Link finance plan by approximately $310 million (2010 dollars); therefore the City of Bellevue must assist in the funding for this alternative to be selected. The City signed a term sheet last year for providing $150 million in financial support for a potential tunnel alongside approximately $150 million in additional support from Sound Transit, but no final agreement has been reached to date. Beyond downtown Bellevue, the preferred alternative follows the Bel-Red corridor and SR 520 to Redmond's Overlake Transit Center.

The official issuance date for the Final EIS is July 15, 2011. Review the documents, including the Executive Summary.

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.