The Seattle Times reports on last night's Bellevue City Council vote on its light rail alignment. The agreement, which comes after years of debate and acrimony centering largely on the path the rail route would take through South Bellevue (a majority of the council's seven members, backed by Bellevue megadeveloper Kemper Freeman, had supported a more expensive route that would bypass most homes and businesses, cross a vulnerable wetland, and required the construction of a new park-and-ride), allows Sound Transit to complete design of the 14.5-mile, $2.7 billion line.

Under the agreement, Bellevue and Sound Transit will jointly fund a tunnel through downtown Bellevue.
Bellevue agreed to share the cost of the tunnel, but last-minute changes in the agreement commit the city and Sound Transit to jointly find ways to cut the costs. [Council members Jennifer] Robertson and [Kevin] Wallace said they hoped the city's maximum cash and in-kind contributions could be reduced from $160 million to $100 million.

Even with those cost cuts, Robertson said, she advocates putting a property-tax increase before voters next year to pay for the tunnel.Councilman John Chelminiak, a strong supporter of Sound Transit's planned route, said, "I've been around government for quite a long time in this area, and there are rare moments when people sitting on a board have an opportunity to make a decision of this magnitude and a decision that leaves an incredible legacy in the community. Tonight is one of them."

This year's Bellevue city council races divided candidates who supported Sound Transit's light rail route (incumbents Claudia Balducci and John Chelminiak and open-seat candidate John Stokes) and those who opposed it (challengers Patti Mann and Michelle Hilhorst and open-seat candidate Aaron Laing.) So far, all the pro-Sound Transit candidates are winning, although Stokes and Laing are separated by fewer than 200 votes. The council members who opposed Sound Transit's route ultimately voted in favor of the whole alignment, in large part because Sound Transit agreed to partly fund the downtown Bellevue tunnel, which had unanimous council support.

Meanwhile, a private survey by the Bellevue-based firm Hebert Research found that light rail construction will shutter dozens of Bellevue businesses, drive shoppers elsewhere, cause thousands to lose their jobs, and cost this city more than $1 billion over four years.

However, two grains of salt: The survey suggested, falsely, that light rail will run on surface streets through downtown Bellevue instead of in the tunnel. And Hebert made a similarly grim pronouncement about even partial closure of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, suggesting it would cost downtown businesses billions of dollars, an estimate that assumed the city and state would do no mitigation to offset the impacts of viaduct closure.
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