Light rail is coming to the Overlake neighborhood, with construction slated for sometime in 2013 or 2014, but funding is not currently available for a downtown station, according to Redmond Mayor John Marchione.
State voters approved a 2008 funding measure for Sound Transit 2 (ST2), a program that would expand regional mass transportation in Western Washington and increase Link light rail by 36 miles. With Link light rail service running from Sea-Tac Airport to Westlake in downtown Seattle, Sound Transit is now focusing more attention on East Link, the portion of of the rail that will run from downtown Seattle to downtown Redmond.
Planners have prepared the East Link Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS), which provides information about how the project will impact the environment — both natural and built — as well as local neighborhoods near the route. The SDEIS is available for viewing at a number of locations including the Redmond Regional Library at 15990 NE 85th St. as well as online at www.soundtransit.org/eastlink.
Redmond residents and other Eastsiders will have the opportunity to comment on the SDEIS on Tuesday Nov. 30 at a public hearing and open house at Bellevue City Hall, 450 110th Ave. NE, Bellevue, WA. 98009. The event will run from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and the hearing will commence at 5 p.m. For those unable to attend, Sound Transit is also accepting written comments by e-mail at email@example.com or snail mail at Sound Transit, Union Station, Attention: East Link SDEIS Comments, 401 S. Jackson St., Seattle, WA. 98104. Comments must be received or postmarked by Jan. 10, 2011.
Input will be taken into account for a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which will be presented to the Sound Transit board and scheduled for approval summer 2011.
Don Billen, the East Link Light Rail Development Manager, said they are in the preliminary engineering and environmental analysis phase. After this will come the advanced planning, which will involve finalizing routes and station locations, among other things.
WORKING CLOSELY WITH REDMOND
Billen and his team were “very, very thorough” in their planning process and worked closely with the City of Redmond in planning the Redmond portion of the route.
“One of the keys to success is to integrate transit with planned land use and of course, the city is responsible for that,” Billen said.
One of the biggest changes that has come from the collaboration has been the city’s recommendation to move the Overlake Village Station about 1,000 feet north of its original location on 152nd Avenue Northeast to right along State Route 520.
“We basically found that it would be a faster alternative,” Billen said.
He added that the new location also means fewer businesses would have to be displaced, which would cost less.
Joel Pfundt, a principal planner for the public works department for the City of Redmond, said the city has been involved in the project since the beginning.
“We’ve been doing our own studies here to provide proactive comments and make sure we can give them feedback,” he said.
Pfundt also said light rail will be a critical component to Redmond’s transportation system and they are doing their part in coordinating with Sound Transit along the way by building supportive infrastructure where routes are planned. He said this was an added cost for the city, but they want to do everything they can to ensure the project is successful. He added that the project has received a lot of support and people are excited for the final product.
Marchione, who also sits on the Sound Transit board, said most of those who oppose light rail have said the project is too costly. The overall ST2 program was projected to cost $15.7 billion with East Link costing about $2.4 billion. The money comes from a sales tax increase approved by voters in 2008. But with sales revenues down, that number has been reduced to roughly $11.8 billion. The revised cost for East Link is now $2.3 billion. About $895 million in federal grants will also fund ST2, but that will mostly go to the northern track from the University of Washington to Lynnwood.
Project planners are looking at all the ways they can save money from eliminating the project’s reserves to reducing the budget for the final designs and other soft costs.
ABOVE OR BELOW IN BELLEVUE?
One thing that will up the cost of East Link is the current debate whether to have light rail above or below ground in downtown Bellevue. If the track is underground, that would mean an additional $300 million added to the bill. Billen said if this is the case, the City of Bellevue would provide half of the money. Half of Sound Transit’s portion would come from additional cash and the other half from savings they realize along the way. Despite the additional money needed in this case, Billen said this would not affect light rail plans for Redmond.
“It would not affect our ability to build to Overlake or to finish planning to downtown,” he said. “It would likely cause a year delay with our opening in Bellevue.”
This would push the opening to 2021, which would coincide with the opening of light rail in Redmond. Construction in both cities is planned for around 2013 and 2014.
DOWNTOWN PLANS UNCERTAIN
The original location for the downtown station was near Redmond Town Center on 161st Avenue Northeast but Billen said this would displace several businesses since the street is very narrow. Instead, on recommendation from the city, they are planning on moving the station location somewhere near 161st Ave. NE, while still providing walking access to downtown.
Marchione is anxious to see the expansion to downtown.
“We don’t have funding for that right now, but if funding does become available, I’d like to expand East Link to downtown Redmond,” he said.
Marchione said once it’s here, light rail will mean a greater density, walkability and housing in downtown as well as more convenience for those who want to go to the airport, Seattle or Bellevue, but don’t want to drive their cars. He also hopes light rail will pick up commuters east of the city to lessen the cut-through traffic in town.