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Wednesday, December 10, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Residents Debate Light-Rail Route -- Under Or Out Of Our Neighborhood, Some Say

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

Hearing schedule

Here is a schedule of the remainder of the hearings:

-- Today: Union Station in Seattle. Open House from 4 to 7 p.m. Presentation and comments from 7 to 9 p.m.

-- Tomorrow: Rainier Community Center, 4600 38th Ave. S., 4 to 9 p.m.

-- Saturday: Seattle Central Community College, 1701 Broadway, Seattle; 9 a.m. to noon.

-- Foster Senior High School, 4242 S. 144th St., Tukwila, 1:30 to 5 p.m.

-- Dec. 17: Tyee High School, 4424 S. 188th St., SeaTac, 4 to 9 p.m.

The light-rail trains planned by the Regional Transit Authority should travel in a tunnel under the Roosevelt area of Northeast Seattle - or not come through their area at all, neighborhood residents say.

"The notion there would be an aerial or street-level train running through Roosevelt is shocking to me," said Dan Vaughn, who lives within two houses of one of the potential routes.

Comments from Vaughn and his neighbors dominated last night's RTA meeting on the proposed light-rail route, the first of six public meetings scheduled this month.

Voters a year ago agreed to build a new light-rail line through Seattle as part of the $3.9 billion bus-and-rail network. About half the total cost of the three-county project is expected to be spent building the light-rail line between Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, downtown Seattle and the University District.

But left open for further discussion were several specific details about the light-rail route, such as whether it would travel in the Rainier Valley along Rainier Avenue or Martin Luther King Jr. Way, how much of the line would be built on the surface streets and how much elevated and away from the traffic, and whether the rails will go to SeaTac hotels or to the airport's passenger terminal.

Although most of the answers will be determined by cost estimates and engineering studies, the public will have some say in the eventual route.

Perhaps the key question still to be answered is whether the line will go in a tunnel under Capitol Hill. In the next year, engineers will take hundreds of soil samples along the proposed route. Should the RTA's engineers determine that boring through difficult terrain would break the budget, they instead would recommend a route that would go by the Seattle Center, along South Lake Union and through Eastlake.

The RTA's current plan calls for the line to stop at Northeast 45th Street in the University District. If more federal money is available, the line could go to Northgate.

Paul Bay, director of the light-rail division, said, "I am determined to get to Northgate." To achieve his goal, the federal government would have to pay about half the cost of the light-rail line, a percentage that has been reached in other cities.

Although there isn't enough money for construction of the Northgate portion, the budget will include designing the extended route, selecting one of three options through the Roosevelt neighborhood.

But Renee Davis, co-chair of the neighborhood group, said that if the trains aren't in a tunnel the route should go along Interstate 5 and not even stop in Roosevelt.

South of the city, the RTA will choose between going to Sea-Tac along Highway 99, or going along Interurban Avenue South to Southcenter and then to the airport.

Bay said the Southcenter decision involves tradeoffs. Tukwila city officials are arguing for a route past the shopping center, but the route would add seven to 10 minutes to the commute from the airport to downtown Seattle. Bay said the added time could also reduce ridership, as well as cost more to build.

This week's meetings begin the public portion of the process. After an open house and a short presentation, citizens were invited to ask questions or leave written comments.

The RTA is trying to determine whether all environmental questions have been posed, whether the right station locations have been chosen and whether the trains should be on the ground or elevated.

A conceptual design, cost estimates and environmental impacts of the proposed routes will be included in a draft environmental report to be published in about a year.

In 1999, at a stage called "preliminary engineering," the RTA will choose the specific route and could determine whether the budget will allow the Northgate extension.

Acquisition of land and right-of-way will take place in 2000, and construction is to begin by 2001.

The first sections built will be in Tukwila and between downtown Tacoma and the Tacoma Dome. The Tukwila area will include the rail yard and maintenance base for the system.

David Schaefer's phone message number is 206-464-3141. His e-mail address is: dsch-new@seatimes.com

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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