One community in the Pacific Northwest isn’t so keen on costly tunnel creation when it comes to new light rail track. Bellevue, east of tunnel-happy Seattle, is promoting a redesign to a planned light rail extension that eliminates one station embedded in a tunnel and moves track to either at-grade or elevated levels when possible.
The various proposed changes through Bellevue to the $2.8 billion East Link project have the potential to save up to $60 million. As of now, Sound Transit officials will determine this month which exact track and station realignment proposals to study further and come forth with a final decision on any changes in early 2013.
The major proposed change moves a downtown Bellevue station from a tunnel up to a hillside to match a track popping out of the earth onto an elevated crossing. This move alone has the potential to save the City of Bellevue over $20 million on the $160 million portion they have agreed to put toward the project.
A few different ideas remain on the table for reconfiguring the station planned for 110th Avenue Northeast. New proposals involve stacking tracks, eliminating a mezzanine level or even moving the station altogether so the tracks could exit a tunnel onto elevated supports near City Hall Plaza.
But the city didn’t stop there. Along with the station move, designers propose moving two sections of track from cuts to at grade. Officials want to replace the original idea of the light rail tracks in a cut near Winters House on Bellevue Way to at grade with a bit of a shift of either the track location or the actual historic house. These proposals could save up to $8 million, depending on the final alignment and decision on whether or not to relocate Winters House. By reconfiguring road closures, elimination of another cut near the downtown station by placing the tracks at grade could save up to $9 million.
As with any plan, the Bellevue proposals are all preliminary and need further research in order to study the impacts on the overall line in terms of ridership changes and neighborhood disruptions. But the simple fact that Bellevue is exploring all avenues to placing a light rail extension in its community in a cost-effective manner, even rethinking original ideas, gives reason to explore the entire line through town. Hopefully that benefits everyone involved.