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Saturday, December 30, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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West Bellevue residents fault light-rail decision process

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

Sound Transit's decisions this month on light-rail routes through Bellevue were motivated more by frugality and politics than maintaining the quality of the system, say some west Bellevue neighborhood leaders.

The neighborhoods south of downtown have been most vocal about where they want the trains to go, and their preference is to run them near Interstate 405, either on 118th Avenue Southeast or an old rail corridor, and then perhaps through a tunnel under downtown.

Sound Transit decided Dec. 14 to toss out two routes along 118th and one on the rail corridor, leaving one route that would travel along I-405 from Interstate 90.

The best route south of downtown is probably more centrally located, along Bellevue Way or 112th Avenue Southeast, said Mary-Alyce Burleigh, a Sound Transit board member and Kirkland city councilwoman. The transit board will study four potential routes there.

According to neighborhood leaders, that's too close to homes, and will cause noise and traffic problems and require condemnation of property.

"These areas are built up and there are ways to do this without condemning people's homes," said Renay Bennett, president of the Bellecrest Neighborhood Association.

The transit board also decided to look at elevated, surface and tunnel routes downtown, and not just the tunnel options proposed by the Bellevue City Council. Transit officials said the added expense of a tunnel could mean dropping an extension of the line to downtown Redmond.

Bellevue neighborhood leaders say they want the line to get to downtown Redmond, but not at the expense of their community.

Sound Transit is looking at elevated and surface options in downtown Bellevue only to "appease" voters with the idea that the route will be affordable enough to reach Redmond, said Joseph Rosmann, president of the Surrey Downs Community Club.

"The board of South Transit is going on the cheap instead of emphasizing routes that might cost a little more to develop and protect neighborhoods," Rosmann said.

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Voters next fall will be asked to approve an $11 billion Phase 2 plan for regional light rail that will include an expansion into Snohomish and Pierce counties, as well as the Eastside line.

Sound Transit this month selected 19 potential rail segments to study for an Eastside light-rail line but won't choose a preferred route until 2008. It will wait until April to decide whether the line ends near Microsoft or continues to downtown Redmond.

Ashley Bach: 206-464-2567 or abach@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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