Sound Transit's Preferred Route: At grade through downtown Bellevue
Here at the Meydenbauer Convention Center in downtown Bellevue, the Sound Transit board and the Bellevue City Council are holding their first-ever joint meeting to discuss a new Sound Transit report about six potential light-rail alignments through or near downtown Bellevue. The report found
A moderator opened the meeting by asking participants to express their hopes and fears about light rail, but most of the board and council members have used their opening remarks to grandstand on behalf of their preferred alignments.
On one side is a majority of the Bellevue council, who want to build light rail either in a tunnel under downtown Bellevue or along I-405 to the east of downtown. Bellevue mayor Don Davidson (in Bellevue, mayors are also members of the city council) talked about wanting to "accommodate the environment" while satisfying Bellevue residents "who are being inundated by light rail." Bellevue council member Kevin Wallace, whose "Vision Line" alignment had the worst performance of all the downtown alternatives Sound Transit considered, said that his main goal was "to protect the character of Bellevue's single-family neighborhoods and [avoid] Bellevue's roads. Bellevue council member Conrad Lee, meanwhile, complained that no one on the Sound Transit has ever contacted him in his 16 years on the council. "Up until now, there has been nothing but rumors, innuendo, and posturing," Lee said.
On the other side are most members of the Sound Transit board, who want light rail to go through downtown Bellevue but don't want to provide the additional $300 to $500 million it would cost to put rail in a tunnel. Their faction includes Bellevue council member Claudia Balducci, who noted that people who say they want compromise often "think that means getting concessions from the other side of the table"; Lakewood City Council member Claudia Thomas, who told the Bellevue contingent that "you can't have everything you want"; and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, who said that rising gas prices and federal laws restricting the use of fossil fuels will lead people to drive less in the future.
"My fear is that we sometimes look at the way things have been in the past and think that’s the way we’re going ton continue to do things in the future," said McGinn.
McGinn showed up an hour late for the 1:30 meeting because he was answering questions from Stranger readers at the Slog.
[caption id="attachment_26626" align="alignleft" width="281" caption="Bellevue City Council member Kevin Wallace"][/caption]
With only 45 minutes left in the meeting, the consultants are still presenting the various alternatives, and it looks unlikely that any real discussion among the various factions will take place today.
UPDATE AT 3:30: Now we're getting into questions, which, unsurprisingly, are actually statements. For example, Wallace just asked if it would "be accurate to conclude that from the experience of a commuter, having a five-minute ride through downtown would be the equivalent of having a five-minute ride plus a four-minute walk on a moving sidewalk?" (Wallace's plan includes a tent-covered skybridge and moving sidewalks between a station east of downtown Bellevue and downtown. I'm checking with Sound Transit staff to find out if Wallace's proposal pays for those amenities.)
UPDATE at 4:00: As expected, nothing has been decided. The joint group has directed Sound Transit staff to look at the tradeoffs in each alternative; however, King County Council member Julia Patterson just expressed confusion at "where we are now versus where we were at the beginning of the meeting." The group has set an April deadline for meeting and discussing the downtown Bellevue alignment again.
Seattle Transit Blog has a thorough report on the study, which found that the Bellevue council majority's preferred alternative would cost slightly less than the other alternatives but would have the lowest ridership, the fewest jobs and residences within walking distance of a station, and the lowest potential for transit-oriented development of any alternative.