Opinion

Acquisition of Eastside rail corridor ‘historic’ | Island Forum

Last week was a historic moment as the Sound Transit Board seized a spectacular opportunity by securing right-of-way that will one day allow a high capacity rail connection between six Eastside cities. This action is the culmination of five years of advocacy to publicly acquire the Eastside Rail Corridor from Burlington Northern Santa Fe for dual rail and trail use.

At a time when the economic recession is crippling public budgets and halting capital projects, finding the public will to invest in right-of-way for tomorrow’s infrastructure is a bright light in a dark sea of disappointment. This strategic investment lends hope for future expansion through securing a critical transit connection to meet growth while saving millions in future costs.

The King County Council established policy calling for dual rail and trail use in the corridor in 2007.

The Port of Seattle acquired the corridor for public use in 2009, with the understanding that transit and trail interests in the corridor would eventually be sold to Sound Transit and King County, respectively. The action by the Sound Transit Board authorizes the agency to purchase 1.1 miles of the corridor from the Port for construction of East Link light rail in 2015 and a transit easement along the entire 37-mile corridor that forever preserves right-of-way for future high-capacity transit investments, all for the bargain price of $13.8 million. King County’s capacity to build a trail along the corridor remains protected in Sound Transit’s agreement with the Port.

I predict history will view this investment as a steal that secures right-of-way in this valuable corridor for a fraction of what it would cost in the future as the region continues to grow. For comparison, purchasing right-of-way to build the 15.6-mile Link light rail segment between Downtown and SeaTac Airport cost $219 million.

Further, in a region where we always seem to be digging ourselves out of a hole of backlogged transportation infrastructure needs, looking ahead and making investments to accommodate future growth is a refreshing change, one for which future generations will thank us. A quick glance at King County’s growth trends show that the Eastside Rail Corridor connects the growing affordable housing population centers in South King County to growing employment centers in East King County. A high capacity transit corridor and bike trail that runs parallel to the congestion on I-405 will offer the region great dividends in the future in return for a relatively small investment now.

In addition to serving future transportation and recreation uses, the Eastside Rail Corridor is also an investment in the utility infrastructure that our region will need for future economic expansion. Puget Sound Energy and King County’s Wastewater Treatment Division will also make use of right-of-way in the corridor.

The investments in the Eastside Rail Corridor are an example of the proactive forward thinking that our region needs to get out of this recession and build a sustainable economy now and in the future. We must plan for the future we want and act on it. Our rail and trail investments in the Eastside Rail Corridor do just that.

Larry Phillips represents District 4 on the King County Council and is a member of Sound Transit’s Board of Directors.

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