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Thursday, November 9, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Guest columnist

... and add a separate trail

Special to The Times

Last month, Port of Seattle CEO Mic Dinsmore and King County Executive Ron Sims proposed that the Port buy the existing Eastside rail line from Burlington Northern Santa Fe and give it to King County. The county would turn the existing rail corridor into a trail and would give Boeing Field to the Port. The costs and details remain murky.

Transferring Boeing Field to Sea-Tac airport management probably makes sense. Development of a north-south trail on the east side of Lake Washington could be a wonderful opportunity. Doing both at minimal cost to taxpayers would be a remarkable accomplishment.

But all the indications are that it will not be at a minimal cost. Press accounts suggest the cost will be in the hundreds of millions. The money will come from the Port, which collects an increasing amount every year from King County property taxes. Whether the Port pays or the county does, it's the same taxpayer dollars.

And the destruction of a key operating rail line — one that could be the transit corridor of the future — is a disastrous mistake. The better choice is to preserve the rail while adding a trail system; there is room in the right of way for both.

A lot of the existing corridor is up to 100 feet wide, easily wide enough for an operating rail line, a trail and a barrier or fence to separate them. We could have a spectacular transportation corridor, accommodating transit, bikes and pedestrians through some of the fastest-growing communities in the state.

It's possible that an aggressive effort in Washington, D.C. (with the federal Surface Transportation Board) and in Washington state could save the line or encourage BNSF to transfer it to a short-line operator at a lower cost. If the joint announcement means that Dinsmore and Sims have given up on this option, it is a sad outcome for King County taxpayers and future transit riders.

The potential trail would be a great asset; saving the rail is critical and maybe we can have both — a transit/trail corridor without an impossibly high cost in tax dollars.

There is still an opportunity to work together on a better deal. We can build the trail, preserve operating rail alongside, and create a remarkable asset for King County.

Alec Fisken is a Port of Seattle commissioner.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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