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Friday, January 28, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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All aboard? UW dickers on light rail

Seattle Times staff reporter

The University of Washington and the agency building Puget Sound's light-rail system have yet to hammer out an agreement for construction through the university. And unless the two can work out their issues by early summer, the whole project could be delayed, adding hundreds of millions of dollars to its cost.

Negotiators from Sound Transit and the UW have been meeting regularly since September to decide a host of issues, including how much the university will get for land; mitigating construction noise and dirt; protecting vibration-sensitive research; and determining where the stations will be built.

The only result of the talks so far is an agreement on what areas they need to negotiate.

"We are in there, trying to work out those issues," said Weldon Ihrig, executive vice-president at the UW. "My truthful answer is, we have both sides identified; now we are working on a schedule (to resolve them)."

Sound Transit must get approval of the UW regents for any work done on university property because the UW is a government agency whose property is not covered under the provisions of eminent domain.

It needs an agreement with the university by this summer in order to start construction on the 24-mile system by next year. University negotiators have called that schedule aggressive, and no one will say whether the two sides can meet it.

"It is aggressive, there's no question about it," said Paul Bay, director of light rail for Sound Transit. "We are 99 percent in agreement on what are the issues of concern."

Any delay in construction will add to the costs. One year over schedule will add about $200 million to the cost of the system, or half the amount needed to extend the line between the UW and Northgate.

Among the areas of discussion so far:

Rail stations - The UW and Sound Transit are looking at least at four possible sites along 15th Avenue Northeast for two rail stations. The UW would rather not have those stations on university property; Sound Transit says the stations would be cheaper and easier to build there. Both sides have resigned themselves to having stations 250 feet below ground, serviced by elevators, something the UW originally opposed.

Land costs - If the stations end up on UW property, Sound Transit would have to buy about half an acre of university land. It would also have to lease land near those sites and at the north edge of Lake Union for storing construction equipment and removal of the soil from tunneling. The two sides have not agreed on a price.

Northgate as the end of the line - The UW wants some assurance that the rail line will not end at the university but will continue to Northgate as planned. Officials said they cannot handle the extra traffic and parking problems it would cause. Sound Transit does not have the money to extend the line to Northgate, but officials there and at King County and the city of Seattle are looking for federal money. Whether that can be worked into the agreement is not clear.

Impact on research - The planned rail line will run under a physics research lab, the oceanography building and the future life-sciences building. Scientists there are worried that vibrations and electromagnetic interference from the trains could harm sensitive research. Bay said Sound Transit is willing to install dampeners on the tracks and also put air-cushioned tables in research labs to handle vibrations - at a cost of $10,000 to $100,000 per table. The UW may also ask for some relocations, something Sound Transit would rather not do.

Impact of construction - The UW wants reimbursement for measures to control construction dust at its buildings and wants Sound Transit to move dirt from tunneling by barge, not trucks. Sound Transit is considering those options.

Though the university holds the trump card in this relationship - because Sound Transit cannot take its land, and other alternatives are too expensive - both sides agree that the route should go through the university.

"There's no reason not to have it," said Chris Knaus, student regent at the UW. "We are a public university. Would you say no to public transportation?"

Roberto Sanchez's phone message number is 206-464-8522. His e-mail address is rsanchez@seattletimes.co.

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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