When the Port of Seattle and King County recently acquired the Eastside Rail Corridor from Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway in a complicated three-way agreement, the public acquired a valuable corridor to be developed into a bike and recreational trail, which will preserve its potential for transportation options, possibly including high-capacity transit.
There was fear that, as the rail line began to fall into disuse, the valuable corridor would be carved up by underlying property owners or sold off piecemeal. King County Executive Ron Sims had the foresight to recognize that the corridor was a valuable public asset and proposed a method to bring it into public ownership.
The agreement went through numerous iterations, including an original plan for King County to trade Boeing Field to the Port of Seattle in exchange for purchasing the corridor, and also an intent to remove the rail lines throughout the corridor to make it exclusively a recreational trail.
But after a rare display of open-mindedness and cooperation between county officials and other government entities as well as a willingness to listen to public voices, a deal was reached that might just satisfy all the parties and benefit the public for the long term.
How, exactly, the corridor will be used still remains to be seen.
Port commissioners will be investigating the Eastside Rail Corridor for transit and rail use. A regional public process is being scheduled to take recommendations on trail location and design. The public process will hopefully be concluded within a year.
While some groups, such as Eastside Rail Now! feel that the corridor should be developed exclusively for rail and not for recreational trail use, we feel that a hiking and biking trail along with high capacity transit is consistent with the lifestyle and needs of Eastside and greater Puget Sound residents.
The Eastside is in desperate need of transportation solutions. Interstate 405 is arguably the most congested highway in the state. With gasoline prices headed towards $5 a gallon, and with tolls inevitably coming to the 520 bridge, it is clear that Eastside residents need viable alternatives to the automobile.
We are pleased to see the foresight and the regional and inter-governmental cooperation that went into securing this valuable transportation asset for public use.
While the region’s transportation issues won’t be solved by this one acquisition, this is the type of positive regional government behavior that gives us confidence that those issues can eventually be solved.