Path for light rail to wait until after vote
The decision on where tracks will go won't be made until at least 2008. But some residents want to know the route before next year's vote on a $10 billion transit plan.
Seattle Times Eastside bureau
Sound Transit won't decide where to put future light-rail tracks on the Eastside until after its $10 billion Phase Two Plan goes to a regional vote next year.
That frustrates some residents who worry that the vote could allow the transit agency to put tracks near their homes or condemn their houses. Many hope that by complaining now, they can protect their neighborhoods down the road.
"I want to know what the route is before I vote on it," said Jeanne Poler, a retired Bellevue School District employee who lives in the Surrey Downs neighborhood in west Bellevue.
Poler and her husband attended one of four open houses on the proposal last week — part of a Sound Transit tour to hear comments from local residents on the East Link proposal.
The 19-mile East Link is estimated to cost up to $3.9 billion and is a major chunk of Sound Transit's Phase Two Plan that also includes expansion north to Lynnwood and south to Tacoma.
East Link would cross Lake Washington via the Interstate 90 floating bridge to Bellevue, on what would be the world's first transit rails placed on a floating bridge. The line would then head north, using a tunnel or above-ground route through downtown Bellevue before heading northeast along the Highway 520 corridor to the Microsoft campus and downtown Redmond.
Poler's comments will be conveyed to the Sound Transit board in November, along with other responses from the 400 residents that milled through last week's open houses in Bellevue, Redmond, Seattle and Mercer Island.
The board will decide in December which routes to study further for a draft environmental report due in 2008. A final route won't be adopted until 2009.
But voters will be asked to approve the light-rail expansion next year, along with an estimated $7 billion road-construction package from the Regional Transportation Investment District. The Legislature has required that for the transit plan to pass, voters must also pass RTID's multibillion-dollar regional highway plan.
There is not enough time to study potential East Link routes before the November 2007 vote, officials say.
"It takes a lot of time to do the work on what exact route it would follow. We're going to need the rest of this year and all of 2007 to do the work necessary to issue a DEIS [draft environmental impact statement]," said Patrick. "To wait until early 2008 to do a vote would be a major setback on the timeline."
The board must also decide which funding package it will take to voters. A 3-cent sales tax on a $10 purchase would pay for expansion to downtown Bellevue; a 4-cent tax would extend the line to Microsoft, and a 5-cent tax would extend the line to downtown Redmond.
Patrick said that they are closely following last week's adjustments by the state Department of Transportation on financial projections to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct and the Highway 520 floating bridge. The price tag for a new viaduct grew from $2.4 billion to $2.8 billion, a tunnel option went from $3.6 billion to $4.6 billion and the price tag for a new Highway 520 bridge jumped 41 percent, from $3.1 billion to $4.4 billion.
"We're looking closely at their methodology and seeing what, if any, adjustments we want to make to our cost estimates over the next two months," Patrick said.
Patrick said Sound Transit uses a range of inflation rates from 3.1 percent to 6 percent.
With such hefty price tags, some transportation officials are concerned that voters will not pass a combined RTID and Sound Transit package of $17 billion.
"It won't help me in any way, shape or form. I don't go anywhere it's going," said retired Mercer Island resident Maretta Holden, 69. She said she's concerned about the environmental impact of light-rail construction and the rail's impact on Mercer Islanders.
"We have no route choices off the island other than the bridges," Holden said. "Giving up the express lanes and building light rail across Mercer Island will further constrain our choices forever."
Frank Paddack, of Bellevue, said he doesn't believe that bringing light rail to the Eastside would necessarily bring increased ridership.
"I'm willing to spend money that is well-spent," he said. "I don't want to waste money, and I'm not poor."
But Thomas Pearson said he'd be willing to pay the highest tax to bring it east.
"If we wait, it will take longer and get worse," said Pearson, 83. "I won't even be around to see the tracks laid down, but somebody will be here and we owe a debt to our kids and those around after us."
Seattle Times Eastside bureau: 206-515-5647