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Tuesday, July 11, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Bellevue Council prefers light rail over buses

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

The Bellevue City Council on Monday night became the fourth Eastside government to say it favors light rail over buses for a high-capacity transit line planned from Seattle to Redmond.

Over the past few weeks, the council has heard from hundreds of residents debating the merits of light rail versus bus rapid transit, including a handful who spoke Monday night. Council members said the trains won out because they're cheaper in the long run and would connect easily with the light-rail line already under construction from Seattle to Tukwila, and later to the SeaTac.

"The concept is, 'Do it right and do it now,' " said Deputy Mayor John Chelminiak.

An Eastside transit line will be the centerpiece of a Sound Transit funding package that will go before voters in November 2007. The Sound Transit board is expected to choose between light rail and bus rapid transit Thursday and had asked cities for feedback before making the decision.

Also Monday, Bellevue council members approved a new law pushed by developer Kemper Freeman that will allow bigger signs downtown. Freeman wanted Lincoln Square Cinemas to be able to post large movie signs on its façade, and council members agreed big signs would make downtown more vibrant and interesting.

The transit question, though, drew the most discussion. Redmond, Kirkland and Issaquah already had sent letters to Sound Transit supporting light rail. Now Bellevue has added support for light rail, which would run through the city, most likely to Redmond's Overlake area.

"People really want to see this built," Councilwoman Claudia Balducci said.

The vote was 5-2, with councilmen Don Davidson and Conrad Lee voting no. Davidson said the question posed by Sound Transit — either light rail or bus rapid transit that would later be converted to light rail — was unfair and slanted.

"Sound Transit asks, 'Do you want light rail or do you want light rail?' " Davidson said. "We don't have any choice."

Lee said the council shouldn't endorse any type of transit until neighborhood concerns — from increased crime to environmental impacts — are addressed.

If high-capacity transit goes through Bellevue, Sound Transit also will have to decide eventually whether to build all or part of the line on the ground, on an elevated line or through a tunnel. Chelminiak said he supports a downtown tunnel, and other council members said they were interested.

In approving the bigger signs for movie theaters, performing-arts center and arenas downtown, the council voted 6-1.

The signs will be allowed to cover 400 square feet, up to 35 percent of a building's façade and reach as high as 85 feet above ground.

Freeman wanted the signs for the 16-screen multiplex at his Lincoln Square development. Three large metal frames already are installed on the building's west side, facing Bellevue Way Northeast. Movie signs, resembling movie posters, were placed in the frames about a month ago, before the new law was passed, said Matt Terry, city planning director.

Ashley Bach: 206-464-2567

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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