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News Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Council Roundup: light rail savings ideas culled

Moving the downtown East Link station out of the tunnel could save $23 to $39 million. Also, property tax hike for capital project backlog?

The City Council has narrowed the list of ideas it is recommending to Sound Transit for further study as the two organizations work to reduce costs on the East Link light rail project.

The council on Monday voted 6-1 in favor of the shorter cost savings list and directed city staff to draft a letter to Sound Transit outlining their preferences. The council will consider the letter at its next meeting on Oct. 22. Councilmember Don Davidson voted against the recommendations.

On Oct. 25, Sound Transit's Board of Directors is expected to provide its own direction on narrowing the list of cost-savings options.

In essence, the council agreed to eliminate two cost savings ideas from further study. One was a "Texas T" ramp that would connect Southeast Fourth Street to 112th Avenue Southeast; the other was a stacked tunnel station downtown. Here are the options the council is recommending for further study by Sound Transit:

  • Bellevue Way Southeast/Winters House: Shifting Bellevue Way to the west and adding a southbound, high-occupancy-vehicle lane (HOV) on the west side of the street, from where the South Bellevue Park and Ride is located now, north to the Bellevue Way and 112th Avenue Southeast "Y" intersection This would allow space for a street-level light rail in front of the historic Winters House. The estimated cost savings is $7 to $11 million, though the city would contribute $11 million towards the HOV lane, which would cost an estimated $20 million if built separately from the East Link project.
  • 112th Avenue Southeast: Raise 112th over an at-grade light rail alignment, known as "road over rail," at Southeast 15th Street (cost neutral compared with an earlier, elevated light rail line over the street). Also recommended, closing access to Southeast Fourth Street, except to emergency vehicles ($9 to $16 million savings). In addition, continue to study a light rail trench under Fourth Street to maintain access to vehicles (cost neutral).
  • Downtown tunnel: Relocate downtown tunnel station to an above-ground station on Northeast Sixth Street ($23 to $39 million savings). Also, continue to analyze ways to improve the downtown tunnel station on 110th Avenue Northeast, beneath Northeast Fourth Street ($6 to $10 million savings).
  • Other cost-savings ideas along the East Link line: Modify the design of elevated structures, reduce the number of stormwater vaults through low-impact development designs and speed up tunnel construction through additional temporary road closures ($15 to $20 million total). 

Since early this year, Sound Transit and Bellevue have been working in a collaborative design process to identify cost savings. The objective has been to reduce the city's financial contribution for a downtown light rail tunnel.

Bellevue and Sound Transit entered into a memorandum of understanding last year, in which the city agreed to provide $100 million in low- or no-cost contributions toward the cost of a tunnel. An additional $60 million in "contingent" contributions by the city is the target of the cost savings efforts; the city's goal is to reduce that contribution to zero.

After more engineering and environmental analysis is completed in early 2013, the city council and Sound Transit will make a final decision on whether to adopt the cost saving ideas. East Link is expected to begin service in 2023. 

council study session item 

Feedback: Bernard van de Kamp, Transportation Department Assistant Director, 425-452-6459, or bvandekamp@bellevuewa.gov

Property tax hike for capital project backlog?
The City Council Monday learned it could chip away at a backlog of key capital projects by raising property taxes 4 percent in 2013 and 2015.

City Manager Steve Sarkozy told the council that the new revenue could be dedicated to priority capital projects, such as East Link and expansion of Wilburton and Bel-Red arterials. The 4 percent property tax would fund the projects and a 1 percent property tax in 2014 could provide maintenance operating funding, Sarkozy said.

"A 4-1-4-1 kind of approach would be a good way to strategically address the backlog of unmet needs at a relatively nominal cost to property owners," the city manager said.

Sarkozy presented the property tax increase idea during his introduction of a "status quo" preliminary 2013-2014 budget. He said he was offering the idea in response to council concerns about important, but unfunded capital projects. Lower interest rates and labor costs associated with the recession mean the city has more buying power at this time, he noted.

A 4 percent property tax increase would add about $21 to the annual bill for the owner of a $500,000 home. It would generate about $1.4 million, with which the city could issue $15 million worth of bonds.

The council asked the city manager to come back with more details about the property tax increase idea at a future meeting, possibly as early as Oct. 22.

Over the next several weeks the council will discuss the proposed budget, which includes just incremental growth. The general fund, which covers core services such as police, fire, transportation and parks, is budgeted to grow 4.4 percent in 2013 and 3.2 percent in 2014.

"We're not adding in this budget, but we're also not cutting further," Sarkozy said of a draft budget that follows ones that were trimmed in 2011 and this year.

The third and final public hearing concerning the budget is set for Nov. 19. At Mayor Conrad Lee's request, people invited by the council will participate in a focus group on Nov. 8 concerning the budget.

Feedback: Toni Rezab, Assistant Finance Director, 425-452-7863 or TRezab@bellevuewa.gov

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