Panel: Tunnel won't be only option studied for light rail
Seattle Times Eastside bureau
Sound Transit will look at elevated, surface and tunnel routes for light rail in downtown Bellevue, and not just the tunnel options proposed by the Bellevue City Council.
Sound Transit officials said Thursday the added expense of a Bellevue tunnel could mean dropping an extension of the line to downtown Redmond.
Bellevue's concerns about a lack of space and neighborhood impacts aren't enough to limit further study by such a large degree, board members said.
"Tunneling increases both cost and risk," said Mary-Alyce Burleigh, a Sound Transit board member and Kirkland city councilwoman. Surface "light rail has been used successfully in just about every North American downtown."
The transit board approved 19 potential rail segments to study for an Eastside light-rail line, a wider range of routes than Bellevue had wanted.
Connie Marshall, a transit- board member and Bellevue city councilwoman, said the board will eventually realize that a tunnel in downtown Bellevue is best, but she conceded that "at this stage of the project, we need a wide range of alternatives."
Sound Transit won't choose a preferred route for the Eastside line until 2008 and will wait until April to decide whether the line ends near Microsoft or continues to downtown Redmond.
Under a proposal being considered by the board, the line would end at Microsoft, at least initially, but design and other planning would be completed for a line into downtown Redmond.
At the Thursday meeting, a Microsoft representative urged the transit board to extend the line to downtown Redmond. About 80 percent of the company's employees in Redmond live on the Eastside, and 40 percent live in the Bellevue-Redmond-Sammamish corridor, said Jim Stanton, a Microsoft manager for community affairs.
Voters next fall will be asked to approve an $11 billion Phase 2 plan for regional light rail that will include an expansion into Snohomish and Pierce counties, as well as the Eastside line.
South of downtown Bellevue, Sound Transit has agreed to study four routes that would travel on at least part of Bellevue Way Southeast and another on the old rail line along Interstate 405.
The board eliminated two routes that would have run along 118th Avenue Southeast, and another on the old rail line.
In downtown Bellevue, transit officials will study the three tunnel options the city wanted, along 108th Avenue; on 106th Avenue and Northeast Sixth Street; and Bellevue Way and Sixth Street. The city will also look at elevated lines along 110th and 112th avenues, as well as a surface line split between 108th and 110th avenues.
East of downtown, in the Bel-Red Corridor, Sound Transit picked three routes on Northeast 16th Street supported by the city, but also included a surface route along Highway 520.
The last section of the Eastside rail line, if built in full, would run from Microsoft to downtown Redmond.
The transit board agreed with Redmond city officials and will study three routes through the central part of the city, along the north edge of Marymoor Park; Leary Way Northeast; and Redmond Way.
A fourth Redmond route, along Bear Creek Parkway, was eliminated because it wouldn't serve downtown Redmond.
Staff writer Mike Lindblom contributed to this story. Ashley Bach: 206-464-2567 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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