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News Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Council Roundup: Paying for a light rail tunnel

Also, open house today on East Link options

Visualization of a light rail tunnelThe City Council on Monday wrestled with the complicated issue of how to pay for a downtown tunnel for the East Link light rail line.

Council members unanimously agree that a tunnel is needed to minimize traffic impacts and to reduce travel times for the regional transit system.

However, Sound Transit has estimated a tunnel would cost $320 million (in 2007 dollars) more than a street-level route through downtown, and Bellevue has signed a non-binding agreement to contribute $150 million (also in 2007 dollars) worth of cost savings to help fill the gap. (Bellevue's contribution is estimated at $160 million in 2010 dollars.)

Currently, Bellevue and Sound Transit are negotiating a binding agreement, or memorandum of understanding, that spells out exactly how the city would reach the needed $160 million in contributions. Unless extended, the deadline to sign the memorandum is Oct. 25.

The agreement identifies several actions Bellevue can take to reduce Sound Transit's costs by at least $100 million. They include providing rights of way and easements, contributing a portion of the cost to relocate city-owned utilities, contributing project-related tax revenue, purchasing properties for the East Link project that also serve city purposes, and other actions.

The list is based on the council's direction that Bellevue contributions should first reduce Sound Transit costs without requiring new cash expenditures from the city, and, if a cash investment is required, that it also result in benefits to the city beyond the East Link project. The other $60 million of the $160 million is considered a "contingent" contribution yet to be negotiated.

How to cover the $100 million worth of contributions was the main topic of discussion during Monday's presentation. Given that Bellevue already has a long list of capital needs, mainly transportation and park projects totaling $480 million according to one estimate, committing resources to the tunnel involves tradeoffs.

One important tradeoff involves timing: whether to delay some capital projects in order prioritize others that serve city needs and the needs of East Link. Another tradeoff is whether the city should raise property taxes or fees in order to increase the amount of money available to pay for capital needs, including projects that potentially could be part of the East Link contribution.

"We're framing these questions so that we're all on the same page, so that we can make some really vital decisions on the future of Bellevue," said Mayor Don Davidson, who acknowledged how complex and sometimes confusing the issues can seem.

East Link will run from Seattle, through Bellevue, to the Overlake area of Redmond. Construction is forecast to begin by 2015 and service is expected to start by 2023.

council study session item
Light Rail and Bellevue 

Feedback: Dan Stroh, Planning Director, 425-452-5255 or dstroh@bellevuewa.gov

Open house today on light rail options
Funding a downtown tunnel is one of several topics that will be featured at an open house today on East Link, as well as at an upcoming public hearing:

  • Open house: The open house from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at City Hall will cover topics including design options for the light rail segment south of downtown, information on tunnel funding and potentially adding a high-occupancy vehicle lane on southbound Bellevue Way, from the 112th Avenue Southeast intersection to Interstate 90.
  • Public hearing next week: A public hearing will be held during the council's regular meeting that begins at 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 26, in the council chambers of City Hall. Suggested comment areas will be similar to topics presented at the open house.

In addition to the open house and public hearing, city staff continue an effort to contact approximately 160 residents in the Enatai and Surrey Downs neighborhoods whose homes would be most affected by the light rail route. They are meeting with them individually or in small groups to explain options and hear concerns.

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