A tunnel for downtown Bellevue could be reality

The Sound Transit Board on Thursday endorsed an agreement with the City of Bellevue to enable the East Link light rail project to serve downtown Bellevue via a tunnel.

The Board authorized Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl to execute a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Bellevue following upcoming action by the Bellevue City Council. Mayor Don Davidson on Wednesday presented the board with a letter stating the city’s commitment to take action on the MOU on or before Nov. 14.

The MOU establishes a collaborative partnership for Sound Transit and the Bellevue to work together during the final design and construction processes for East Link to manage the project’s costs and impacts and to share the additional cost of building the tunnel. Benefits of the partnership include saving time for transit riders as well as motorists by avoiding at-grade street crossings in downtown Bellevue and establishing a grade-separated light rail alignment all the way from Seattle to the Bel-Red Corridor.

“Building the voter-approved East Link line is critical for the mobility and prosperity of our region. This agreement is good for the people of Bellevue and good for the people of King County,” said Sound Transit Board member and King County Executive Dow Constantine.

The MOU reviewed by the Sound Transit board today was shaped through negotiations over the past two months, with Constantine and Sound Transit Board members Fred Butler and Richard Conlin representing the agency in discussions with Bellevue City Council members Jennifer Robertson, Grant Degginger and Kevin Wallace.

Following the issuance of a Record of Decision by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), Sound Transit will move the East Link project into final design. Sound Transit is expected to start construction of East Link in 2015 or 2016 and launch passenger service in 2023.

The tunnel is estimated to cost an additional $276 million beyond the cost of an at-grade alignment through downtown after factoring in cost savings from locating East Link’s South Bellevue alignment along 112th Avenue Southeast. The MOU establishes a firm funding commitment by the City of Bellevue for up to $160 million (in 2010 dollars), identifies the city’s preferred design for the alignment along 112th Avenue Southeast and commits Sound Transit to review and consider the design changes.

Other key elements of the agreement include mechanisms to share risks and benefits between the parties and commitments to work together in the final design process to manage the project’s scope, schedule and budget. The agreement provides that Bellevue will process land use code amendments to establish a consolidated permit process and other actions including resolving technical code issues.

A Transitway Agreement slated for approval alongside the MOU grants Sound Transit non-exclusive use of city right-of-way to construct, operate, and maintain the East Link project, at no cost to Sound Transit; and outlines typical standards for construction, operation and maintenance of the project in city right-of-way generally consistent with existing transitway agreements in the cities of Seattle, Tukwila and SeaTac.

Riding East Link between Seattle and downtown Bellevue is projected to take less than 20 minutes. By comparison, in the afternoon peak period it can currently take approximately 45 minutes to travel between Seattle and Bellevue via I-90.


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