And you thought the debate about tunnels in the Pacific Northwest was so Seattle. Not anymore. Bellevue has gotten in on the act too.
The Sound Transit Board announced a plan to place a tunnel under downtown Bellevue as part of its East Link route, connecting the region, including Seattle to Bellevue, with light rail. The board favored the tunnel 15-2.
The original $2.4 billion plan approved by voters in 2008 included at-grade light rail connections through downtown, but after years of study and debate, the board and the city decided the only way to ensure trains—and the more than 50,000 daily riders—wouldn’t get stuck in traffic was to move the trains underground. Oh what fun we all have tunneling in King County.
But now, as with all tunneling projects, the next question to pop up centers around funding. The original plan didn’t take into account a tunnel, so now Sound Transit needs to come up with money to pay for the more than $325 million addition. The City of Bellevue plans to pony up about $160 million on the plan. The city and Sound Transit have given themselves until Aug. 10 to come to an agreement on sharing costs and Sound Transit is even considering selling property to help pay for their portion.
With members on the Sound Transit Board expressing concern about moving forward on a plan without any clear defining way to pay for the project, the tunnel comes with plenty of doubters. But those in favor of taking the congestion away from the main downtown core sing pretty loud too.
The newly defined route connects trains from Seattle’s International District across the Interstate 90 floating bridge over Lake Washington. From there, trains shift north on elevated track along Bellevue Way and then moves back to at-grade on 112th Avenue Southeast before going underground, a plan the City of Bellevue has strongly championed even though it hasn’t always been as giddy about the rest of the route. For example, Sound Transit had to agree to noise and traffic mitigation along 112th as part of the deal.
The East Link plans fall in step behind Sound Transit’s northern plan, as work is already underway to connect downtown Seattle—with a tunnel, of course—to the University of Washington and then farther north to Northgate.
Those waiting in line for trains to travel south (here’s looking at you Federal Way) have had their plans slashed as price tags for other projects get stretched.
Of course, even if these preliminary plans come to fruition, don’t expect to see any trains on tracks until at least 2022, even with construction starting in 2015. Tunnels take a long time to build. Just ask folks in Seattle.