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Originally published Wednesday, February 25, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Bellevue council approves light-rail route that includes tunnel

The Bellevue City Council approved light-rail lines that include a downtown tunnel and a line that runs up along Bellevue Way and 112th Avenue Northeast.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Information

East Link: For more information from Sound Transit about East Link, see www.soundtransit.org/x3245.xml

The Bellevue City Council Monday night approved a recommended light-rail route through town that includes a pricey tunnel under downtown and a route along busy Bellevue Way, a move that disappointed some South Bellevue property owners.

The council's recommendation, which also includes a major expansion of the South Bellevue Park & Ride, is not the final word. Sound Transit's board is scheduled to vote on a preferred alignment in April and a final decision on the route will come next year.

Sound Transit will continue to hold periodic public hearings about the Eastside light rail route, known as East Link, said spokesman Bruce Gray.

The downtown tunnel, unanimously backed by the council Monday night, was not funded by voters. In November, voters approved light rail for the Eastside at a cost of up to $2.8 billion for a surface or elevated line. But with a tunnel in downtown Bellevue, the total project costs are estimated at $2.9 billion to $3.7 billion, Gray said.

The council's preferred route would snake under Main Street starting near the Red Lion Hotel at Main Street near 114th, turn up 106th Avenue Northeast, head east on Northeast Sixth and emerge from beneath the Bellevue Transit Center.

Bellevue Mayor Grant Degginger said a tunnel is critical for downtown growth. With long blocks and limited streets available in a busy downtown core, there is no space for light rail, he said. The council will work with Sound Transit to cut costs on other parts of line, he said.

"We really have no right of way to give away, to dedicate to the light rail," Degginger said. "The best long-term solution is to have a small tunnel segment in the downtown core."

Potential impact

Some residents in South Bellevue were not happy with the council's route recommendation. They worry construction and congestion will push traffic off arterials onto residential streets, and that the new line would eliminate some homes and increase noise.

"We were hoping for a more neighborhood-supportive decision from a majority of our council members," said Renay Bennett, president of the Bellecrest Neighborhood Association.

Many South Bellevue residents wanted to see the light-rail line turn north from Interstate 90 at the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway line adjacent to Interstate 405. It would then continue on 118th and 114th avenues Southeast to reach downtown Bellevue.

The South Bellevue route preferred by the council would parallel Bellevue Way and 112th and turn east near Southeast Eighth Street, where it would link up with the Burlington Northern line near the Wilburton Park & Ride, then head north into downtown via 114th.

Degginger said the location — and construction — of a station on 118th for an I-405 route would likely cause congestion at Southeast Eighth and 118th. There are more ways to get around traffic problems on Bellevue Way, he explained.

"It was a very tough call," Degginger said. "Both of them had problems. Both of them had challenges."

The council Monday also unanimously endorsed a route along the Bel-Red corridor to Overlake. It recently amended its comprehensive plan for the Bel-Red corridor in anticipation of light rail, and has plans to rezone the area to allow urban development designed around stations at 124th and 130th Avenues Northeast.

Nicole Tsong: 206-464-2150 or ntsong@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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