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Sound Transit board reinstates engineering funding for light rail into downtown Redmond

A map of the upcoming East Link light rail from Sound Transit. - Courtesy Graphic
A map of the upcoming East Link light rail from Sound Transit.
— image credit: Courtesy Graphic

East Link, the planned Sound Transit link light rail system coming to Redmond and the Eastside, is one step closer to reality.

On Thursday, after the Reporter’s deadline, the Sound Transit board of directors was scheduled to approve a budget amendment authorizing the reinstatement of funding for engineering on the last segment of the route from Overlake into downtown Redmond.

Redmond Mayor John Marchione, who is a member of the Sound Transit board, said engineering is the final step taken before construction begins.

The dollar amount to be reinstated to cover the Redmond extension is $28.6 million, of which $4.1 million will be for 2016.

Marchione is one of three Eastside representatives sitting on the Sound Transit 18-member board. The other two board members are City of Issaquah Mayor Fred Butler and newly elected King County Council member Claudia Balducci.

Marchione said the funding was originally approved in 2007, but when the recession hit and Sound Transit saw a 35 percent drop in revenue in 2009, things had to be scaled back. Overall, planning and engineering work was reduced in order for the regional transit system to deliver services, he said.

The Redmond extension will be part of Sound Transit 3 (ST3), a ballot measure scheduled for November that represents the next set of mass transit investments for the region. Marchione said construction costs for the three-mile Redmond extension from the Overlake Transit Center into downtown will be about $650 million.

In addition to approving funding to build the East Link portion in Redmond, Marchione said another major portion of ST3 is an investment in light rail in Federal Way.

He added that ST3 was originally scheduled for 2020 but they were able to accelerate things. And if things are approved and on schedule, light rail could be coming to downtown Redmond as early as 2025 — about seven years earlier than originally planned and only two years after it is scheduled to come to Overlake.

“It’s a big step,” Marchione said about reinstating the funding.

He said much of the work is done already: The route has already been determined; the required environmental reviews are complete and the project has already received federal approval.

Along with the route, locations for light rail stations have also been determined. Marchione said there are planned stations in downtown, behind the Half Price Books store along the Redmond Central Connector and one just east of Marymoor Park, where State Route 520 “starts to bend.”

Marchione said there will are also plans for a park and ride in southeast Redmond, which will have 1,600 stalls — about 4-5 times bigger than the downtown Redmond and Overlake transit centers, which have 325 and 350 stalls, respectively.

Marchione said he began working with Sound Transit staff about a year ago on figuring out what needed to be done to reinstate the engineer for the Redmond project.

“This will add another transportation option in downtown Redmond,” he said about light rail.

Marchione added that East Link, which would also connect riders to downtown Seattle and the University District, will be significant for the Eastside because Redmond has about 84,000 jobs within its city limits and about 59,000 residents. The city’s daytime population is about 120,000.

“We practically double every morning,” Marchione said.

By having a light rail system, he said, it eases some of the burden on the area’s freeway system by taking cars off the road, which will help with the growth that is already happening and planned for the region.

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