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Sound Transit Light Rail Draft EIS out for review

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the East Link project is an analysis of the potential effects of the construction and operation of one of the most ambitious projects undertaken by the region since the clean up of Lake Washington.

The document is both a historical narrative and an exhaustive checklist of events and players that have led the region to contemplating a final move away from highways as the primary means to move people to mass transit.

The DEIS, released in December 2008 by Sound Transit, the Washington State Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration lists dozens of agencies, jurisdictions, permits, plans and studies on the project. The document also refers to the time and energy expended over 40 years by myriad agencies and their employees to bring together the Eastside with greater Seattle with an 18-mile rail system reaching from Central Seattle, through Mercer Island, into Bellevue and finally to Redmond.

The light rail is to be constructed in the center lanes of I-90 beginning in 2013 and ending in 2019 at a cost of between $730 and $750 million.

The I-90 corridor as it now stands is expected to reach maximum vehicle capacity during peak-hour travel as early as 2015. Even with planned improvements on the State Route (SR) 520 and I-90 Lake Washington bridge crossings, the westbound travel time on I-90 is expected to double during peak commute hours by the year 2030. High Capacity Transit (HCT) would be the means for mitigating those future impacts.

The DEIS concludes that the project would benefit the region and any environmental impacts and disruptions would fall within acceptable limits.

Upon its completion, the East Line would provide frequent and reliable High Capacity Transit service 20 hours each day in the Seattle-Bellevue-Redmond corridor. The light rail system would provide fast transit travel times and would increase transportation capacity in the corridor. Daily ridership in the corridor is projected to be up to 48,000 boardings by 2030.

A description of the events and steps that resulted in the DEIS and the decision to move ahead with light rail accompanies the detailing of several alternatives and caveats that may change the final route or configuration of the East Link plan. One part of that, however, which will not change is the location of Segment A, the I-90 piece of the plan, the part of the route that will begin in the International District of Seattle, cross I-90 heading east with a stop at Rainier and 23rd Avenue, then continue on to a stop on Mercer Island between 77th and 80th Avenues S.E., and on to Bellevue via the Express Lanes.

Some could argue that a recession forecast in the very near term could slow or even decrease economic growth and, therefore, congestion. However, the document points out that when gas prices rose last summer and fall, there was a record 15 percent increase in transit riders.

There are a few pages within the document that gives one pause. Despite the disruptions and huge expense of the project, engineers will have to deal with the complexities of constructing a light rail line on a floating bridge and its approaches. The I-90 project would be the first of its kind in the world.

Sound Transit will hold a public hearing and open house on the document between 4 and 7 p.m., with the public hearing beginning at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 27, at the CCMV. Copies of the document may be found at the Mercer Island Library, online or by contacting Sound Transit for a free CD. Go to www.soundtransit.org.

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