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Wednesday, May 16, 2007 - Page updated at 02:02 AM

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Bellevue free bus plan is revived

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

With thousands of condo dwellers and office workers moving into downtown Bellevue, the city is resurrecting plans for a free circulator bus that would carry riders quickly between skyscrapers and shopping malls.

The idea was scrapped five years ago because of high costs and low ridership, but downtown is booming, with companies like Microsoft and Eddie Bauer and several residential towers on the way.

A downtown circulator bus could start as early as fall 2008, city officials said.

Last year, the City Council earmarked $1 million to help pay for the new bus over the next five years. The city is hoping to partner with King County Metro Transit, which has money set aside for new projects from the "Transit Now" ballot measure approved last year.

On Monday night, the council looked at three possible routes for the bus. All the routes would operate from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends. They would move about 20 people an hour and would arrive at each stop about every 10 minutes.

• The first option would run in a rectangle along Northeast 10th and Main streets, Bellevue Way and 110th Avenue Northeast. Two 19-person vans would serve the route, which would cost about $870,000 a year to operate. It would also include a change to an existing bus route to regularly serve Overlake Hospital Medical Center.

• The second option would add Overlake Hospital into the rectangle route mentioned above, instead of just modifying an existing route to serve the hospital. To maintain quick service on a longer route, the route would be served by six vans traveling both directions. With more vans, the route would be much more expensive, about $2.6 million a year.

• The third option would not add any new buses but would tweak existing bus routes and add stops to better serve downtown and create quicker service. It would cost only about $56,000 a year to operate but has a few problems, according to city officials.

The tweaked bus routes, with more stops, could alienate existing riders, and downtown riders could be confused by several different routes serving in tandem as the circulator bus.

Some council members said they preferred the first and second options, but that the city needs to hold further talks with Metro Transit about what the circulator could look like.

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Under the "Transit Now" ballot measure, King County would probably pay for about two-thirds of a downtown circulator, with the city paying for the rest.

King County will be taking bids this summer and may decide this fall what transit projects to pay for under the new ballot measure. The City Council will decide this summer if it wants to submit a bid and what the bid would ask for.

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

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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