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Light-rail open house yields high turnout, enthusiastic debate

Nearly 100 citizens packed City Hall Tuesday, peppering representatives from the city and independent consultants with questions and opinions on an ongoing study of Bellevue's preferred light-rail option through the southern portion of the city.

The open house for the Eastlink B7-revised designs was the first chance for the public to get involved since the City Council decided to pursue an extra study last October, and it was clear the public had a lot to say both to the city and each other, as several arguments about rail placement broke out across the room.

With arguments about better ridership on one side and less neighborhood and traffic disturbances on the other, both sides displayed the passion and enthusiasm that has framed the issue for the last few years.

The participants placed stickers on a map showing where they lived, with the majority coming from the Surrey Downs neighborhood down the Sound Transit B2M line, and the Enatai neighborhood southwest of the Sound Transit option. Visitors were able to place small comment cards on maps of the routes in which they could ask questions about certain areas.

Much of the talk throughout the evening focused on the familiar debate of running the rail down the BNSF rail corridor (B7) or going through Bellevue Way and 112th (B2M), with the new wrinkle of a proposed park and ride station right off Interstate 90 at 113th Avenue Southeast to replace the Bellevue Way station.

"It's not just real; it's personal," said Surrey Downs Kent Kuiper of the south Bellevue rail placement. Kuiper said he may contemplate selling his home should Sound Transit stick with its preferred options.

Kuiper's views were echoed by a number of Surrey Downs residents who worried about the noise, traffic and devalued properties that would result from the construction of light-rail.

Others saw no reason to divert the train away from the population centers and away from the business community.

"Crossing the slough and going all the way around Bellevue to get to Bellevue seems counterintuitive," said Enatai architect Simon Williams.

Williams was also concerned with the newly proposed park and ride, which would require the condemnation of 13 parcels, many of which are developed, said Maher Welaye, Bellevue's project manager on the B7 study. Others shared Williams' concern about what will be done with the old park and ride if a new one is built.

The study, which the council OK'd spending of $670,000 for the first of the three phases, would give those in favor of the B7 route something closer to the "apples-to-apples" comparison they feel Sound Transit has not provided. The council called upon renowned transportation firm Arup to conduct the study.

The results of the study will determine whether a revised route with tracks located on a slightly different area of the rail corridor to avoid as much regrading of land and the new park and ride, would make B7 a more competitive route in terms of cost and ridership. In its comments to Sound Transit's SDEIS, Bellevue asked the organization to hold off on its final decision until the results of the study become clearer.

The open house was the first of three check in points with the public before the study is concluded sometime in the late spring early summer. Next month the City Council will have its first check in point, and a report on the proposed station will be released as well.

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