Extra Fizz: Bellevue Council Pushes Rail Alignment Rejected by Sound Transit

By Erica C. Barnett September 20, 2010

We didn't cover this because I was away all week last week, but there was some big news out of Bellevue this past Monday: As Seattle Transit Blog reported, the Bellevue City Council (which remains divided 4 to 3 against Sound Transit's preferred light-rail alignment through South and downtown Bellevue) received a briefing last week that included a proposal by a private consultant and longtime Sound Transit critic on how the council could continue to study the rejected "B7" alignment through South Bellevue.

Several council members were not aware the consultant, Bill Popp, was working on a new scope of work for Bellevue light rail; council member Kevin Wallace, a proponent of B7, acknowledged that he has had "ongoing discussions" with Popp but said he had not requested a new study of B7.

"In my 11 years on the council I have not seen council members requesting proposals from consultants, so I live to be surprised," said council member Grant Degginger, who backs the "B2" alignment supported by Sound Transit. "The staff didn't write what's in this packet. It was written by a consultant, verbatim, in his words."

"The overall goal of this is to say, 'Look, we want to have further study on a route that runs along the [BNSF] rail corridor," said B7 supporter Kevin Wallace, "and this scope of work ... outlines a variety of concepts that are geared toward an alignment that is cooperative in nature."

Essentially, B7 supporters prefer that alignment because it would avoid Surrey Downs and other largely single-family neighborhoods in South Bellevue. Sound Transit opposes that alignment because it doesn’t meet the agency’s environmental and cost standards, would run across the Mercer Slough wetland preserve and in the abandoned Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad right-of-way alongside I-405, would serve the fewest homes and jobs, and bypass the existing South Bellevue Park-and-Ride and requiring the construction of a new park-and-ride at a cost of between $170 million and $210 million.

Degginger expressed concern that the council's discussion was being directed by an outside consultant and a Sound Transit opponent. He pointed out that  a city council consultant's own analysis has found, at a cost of $300,000, that Sound Transit has adequately studied B7 already. And he expressed confusion that a letter from Popp, a longtime Sound Transit opponent, said that the council had asked him for further study of the rejected B7 alignment. (The letter also referred to Jim MacIsaac, a "member of an organization ... that is a petitioner in the lawsuit that will be heard by the state Supreme Court on Thursday in an attempt to stop light rail across I-90," council member John Chelminiak said. "Doesn't that violate the law?"

"I'm very curious as to why this letter wasn't included in the [publicly available city council] packet," Degginger said. "We have a still-incomplete assessment of the materials that were provided to you and council member Wallace."

Adopting the scope of work proposed by B7 alignments last week would cost the city about $200,000; completing engineering for that alignment would cost as much as $3 million and take as long as nine months to complete. Bellevue only has $270 million left in its fund to study light rail through the city.
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