Seattle Money for Bellevue Rail Will be Spent in Seattle, Sound Transit Says

By Erica C. Barnett November 18, 2011

We're standing by our assessment of Bellevue City Council member Claudia Balducci---who won on a pro-light rail platform despite a well-funded push by a challenger backed by rail opponent Kemper Freeman---as the big winner of this year's election.

However, we did wonder about one thing Balducci told us during our interview with her last week: Namely, that Sound Transit would not, as some have claimed, be spending Seattle's money to build a tunnel for light rail through Bellevue.

So we asked Sound Transit: Will Seattle taxpayers be on the hook for Bellevue's tunnel? The answer is: Sort of yes, mostly no.

Bellevue needs extra money from Sound Transit because its city council demanded a tunnel through the city's downtown as a condition of signing off on light rail through the city---an improvement that will cost a total of as much as $300 million, funded jointly by Bellevue and Sound Transit.

Sound Transit spokesman Geoff Patrick says the city will only pay for the portion of light rail to the Eastside that is actually inside Sound Transit's North King County subarea, of which Seattle is a part. Under the policy of "subarea equity," tax dollars Sound Transit collects in any of its three subareas must be spent to benefit that subarea.

Obviously, North King/Seattle could have used that money for other projects that originate and stop wholly within our subarea. So the question becomes: Does light rail to Bellevue benefit Seattle as much as other projects that could have been built for that same money (an estimated $110 million)? Patrick argues that it does. "There's a very strong argument there, because more than 40 percent of the riders on East Link are projected to originate within North King County," Patrick says. "There's nearly as high a demand for rail on the west side as there is on the east side."

Others, of course---including some Seattle city staffers---disagree.
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