Wednesday, April 24, 2013

City of Bellvue approves East Link cost saving measures

In Washington state, the Bellvue City Council approved cost-reducing changes to the East Link light-rail project by a 6-0 vote that could result in up to $53 million in savings for taxpayers.

The vote came after an analysis and evaluation by a joint city of Bellevue and Sound Transit team and thousands of public comments.

"Tonight we reached a major milestone for the city. It was a hard-fought effort, but the end result is more certainty for our city residents, businesses and neighborhoods," said Bellvue Mayor Conrad Lee. "Throughout this process our number one priority has been to protect our neighborhoods and we accomplished that tonight."

Bellevue has been working in collaboration with Sound Transit since early last year on ways to lower project costs and reduce the city's contingent $60 million funding contribution for a downtown light-rail tunnel. Sound Transit's Board of Directors is scheduled to make a selection on the cost-savings options at its meeting April 25.

The cost-saving effort was part of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Bellevue and Sound Transit, signed in November 2011, that spelled out how the organizations would work together to implement East Link, including a process for identifying cost-saving options.

If the Sound Transit Board's selections on April 25 are consistent with the council's action, staff of the two agencies will develop amendments to the existing umbrella MOU and transit way agreements for final council action.

Making a decision on the cost-saving options is important because it will firmly establish the design for East Link, provide certainty to the community and allow Sound Transit to commence private property acquisitions.

The cost-saving options, approved with Councilmember Don Davidson absent, are:

Bellevue Way: The council maintained the MOU option of placing light rail in a trench along Bellevue Way Southeast, in front of the historic Winters House.

112th Avenue Southeast: The council approved replacing an elevated light-rail "flyover" of 112th Avenue, near Southeast 15th Street, which was in the MOU, with a "road over rails" option. It features an overpass above 112th Avenue, with the light-rail line crossing under the overpass at ground level. In addition to the flyover, the council approved replacing a city-requested trench along the west side of 112th Avenue with a street-level alignment that crosses Southeast Fourth Street. This option would allow for emergency vehicle access only into the Surrey Downs neighborhood on Southeast Fourth Street and calls for developing an alternative access into the Surrey Downs neighborhood from 112th Avenue though Bellefield Residential Park. Cost-savings estimate is $2-4 million.

Downtown station: The council approved replacing a downtown tunnel station proposed in the MOU with an at-grade station on Northeast Sixth Street. Cost-savings estimate is $19-33 million.

East Link, a $2.8 billion project, will run from Seattle, through Bellevue, to the Overlake Transit Center in Redmond. Construction is expected to start in 2015 and service is scheduled to begin in 2023.

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