After months of sometimes intense debate, the City Council on Monday came together in dramatic fashion to unanimously approve a long-term agreement on the East Link light rail project.
The 7-0 vote to approve a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Sound Transit paves the way for bringing light rail to Bellevue and the Eastside. Also approved unanimously was a companion transit way agreement that allows for use of city rights of way for the project and establishes processes for obtaining permits to construct in city streets.
The MOU includes a financing plan to help pay for a downtown tunnel, an alignment plan that minimizes noise, traffic and visual impacts to neighborhoods, and "off ramps" that allow either side to void the agreement once the project design reaches the 60 percent stage in 2014. Design work is currently about 30 percent complete.
Prior to the vote, each councilmember reflected on the process that led to their decision. Comments included:
- Mayor Don Davidson: "It has not been easy. ... How do you get an MOU that works for everybody? ... All in all we got through it. I am very proud of the 7-0 vote."
- Deputy Mayor Conrad Lee: "We all support East Link. We all want light rail to come to Bellevue. However, we must keep in mind the details, the impacts to neighborhoods, the cost impacts, how to do it right the first time. ... Even though I have lots of concerns ... I will reluctantly go along with the majority."
- Claudia Balducci: "I have great faith that this government and Sound Transit have the skills it takes to bring this in and create a project that will make us proud."
- John Chelminiak: "There are rare moments when people sitting on a board have an opportunity to make a decision of this magnitude, a decision that leaves an incredible legacy to the community, and tonight is one of them."
- Grant Degginger: "I am very happy we finally got to this point. Having a downtown tunnel was essential. This was the right solution. It's important for the future of the city."
- Jennifer Robertson: "I have always supported a light rail tunnel in the downtown. Grade separation is crucial. It's vitally important to protect our intersections to make sure we have the best capacity and functionality of our roadways. ... The agreement's not perfect, but it makes sure we have a tunnel."
- Kevin Wallace: "We push as hard as we possibly can. At the end of the day, while I don't think this is the ideal situation for the city, I think it's the best we're going to get in a cooperative agreement with Sound Transit on the alignment. ... I can only apologize there is no better solution, but this is the best one we have in front of us."
The MOU frames how the city will make up to $160 million worth of contributions, roughly half the additional cost of building a downtown tunnel, compared with the cost of a street-level alternative. Contributions could come in the form of property acquisitions, utility relocations and easements.
City Manager Steve Sarkozy and Sound Transit's chief executive officer are expected to sign the MOU later this week.
East Link will run from Seattle, through Bellevue, to the Overlake area of Redmond.
For more information see the council agenda materials at http://www.bellevuewa.gov/pdf/City%20Council/PacketExtendedStudySession11-14-113c.pdf. Draft copies of the transit way agreement and other documents approved by the council is available, as well as background about this project are available at Light Rail and Bellevue.
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