Bellevue City Council member Claudia Balducci, who was just appointed to the Sound Transit board by King County Executive Dow Constantine, says she will consider voting against any eastern light rail alignment that fails to serve Bellevue's park-and-ride and major population centers, in direct opposition to the will of a majority of the council she represents. The Sound Transit board is expected to vote on its "preliminary preferred" eastern alignment on March 25.
The Bellevue council and Sound Transit had both adopted a preferred eastern light rail alignment that went past the South Bellevue park-and-ride, along Bellevue Way SE, and through downtown Bellevue (at grade in Sound Transit's version, underground in the council's).
However, last year's elections left the Bellevue council with a 4-3 majority in favor of replacing that preferred alignment with one that would avoid both the park-and-ride and downtown, running on old BNSF railroad tracks along I-405.
Last month, freshman Bellevue council member Kevin Wallace (elected as part of a slate supported by light rail opponent Kemper Freeman last year) introduced a proposal to vote on a letter supporting his so-called "Vision Line" alignment, which largely duplicates a route Sound Transit already rejected. Sound Transit spokesman Geoff Patrick says "I would have a hard time articulating the fine differences between" the Vision Line and the previously rejected proposal, which showed "significantly lower ridership" than other routes.
In response to pressure by the Bellevue council majority, Sound Transit agreed to study cost and ridership for the Vision Line; those results are due back on January 28.
Although Wallace appears to have backed off from his push for an immediate council vote on the alignment, he told me yesterday that “Obviously, a majority of the council at this point is on record supporting” a line that largely duplicates Wallace's "Vision Line." The council will discuss the south Bellevue portion of the line at its meeting tonight, which will be televised on Bellevue public television.
Balducci is appointed as an individual, not a representative of the Bellevue council, so she can vote any way she wants on Sound Transit's preferred eastern alignment. However, she has an obvious political interest in assuaging her fellow council members—not least because she is up for reelection in 2012.
"As you can imagine I’ve put quite a lot of thought into [how I plan to vote]," Balducci says. "My first step is going to be to work as hard as I can to come up with some common ground" with other council members.
"I think it’s far better to be all pulling on the oars in the same direction than to go off on my own. That said, if the council were to select an option that just didn't make sense and I couldn’t justify it, it is an individual appointment and I would have to decide as an individual."