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Originally published Thursday, May 19, 2011 at 11:44 AM

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Execs urge Bellevue council to settle on light-rail route

Executives of Microsoft, Boeing, Puget Sound Energy and T-Mobile have asked the Bellevue City Council to "work expeditiously" to settle its differences with Sound Transit over the route light-rail trains should take south of downtown Bellevue.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Executives of Microsoft, Boeing and 12 other corporations and nonprofit organizations are prodding the Bellevue City Council in a letter to quickly settle differences with Sound Transit over competing light-rail routes south of downtown.

But an immediate resolution still seemed out of reach as the mayor and a council member at odds with Sound Transit said Thursday they weren't ready to give up their fight.

"This has been studied enough. Let's make a decision," Bill Biggs, Group Health Cooperative's executive director of administrative services, said Thursday.

Although the decision isn't easy, "We think the time is right to go forward," said Andy Wappler, Puget Sound Energy's vice president for corporate affairs.

Wappler and Biggs are among signers of a letter sent Wednesday to Mayor Don Davidson and the City Council saying studies by the city and the transit agency "provide sufficient information to form the basis for an agreement" on a light-rail route.

"We are concerned that the current disagreement between the City of Bellevue and Sound Transit will further delay the region gaining the benefits of this vital project and inevitably increase costs at a time when public dollars are extremely tight and should be used as efficiently as possible," the letter read.

The executives urged the city to "work expeditiously" on an agreement, but didn't take sides on whether the rail line should follow Sound Transit's preferred route west of Mercer Slough or the City Council's favored route east of the slough.

The executives agreed with the City Council that trains should run through a tunnel beneath downtown streets instead of along a surface route also under consideration by Sound Transit.

Davidson said there are unanswered questions about the impact of the westerly route on Mercer Slough and he didn't think the conflict could be resolved before Sound Transit issues a final environmental study this summer.

Councilmember Kevin Wallace, who also favors the easterly route, said he gives "great weight" to Microsoft's position, but, "I also give great weight to the over 100 individuals that are our constituents in Bellevue who have sent messages to Bellevue saying, 'Protect our homes, protect our neighborhoods, protect our roads.' "

Councilmember Claudia Balducci, who sits on the Sound Transit board and supports the agency's route, called the executives' letter "a real strong move-forward message."

A consultant's report to the City Council said the easterly route favored by four of the seven council members is feasible but would cost an estimated $138 million more than Sound Transit's. A detailed environmental study would cost the city $450,000 and take four to six months, and a detailed design study would require $2.5 million and 12 to 24 months, according to city staff.

The Bellevue Chamber of Commerce has urged the council to do a more detailed study.

Rail service to Bellevue, originally scheduled for 2020, has already been pushed back to 2022, and service to Redmond's Overlake area from 2021 to 2022, Sound Transit spokesman Geoff Patrick said earlier this week.

The corporate executives said in their letter they supported replacement of the Highway 520 bridge and believe the East Link rail project is "equally critical" to the region's economic future. "Further delays are detrimental to this vision," they wrote.

Signers include Boeing Vice President Laura Peterson, T-Mobile Vice President for State Regulatory and Technology Policy David Conn, Wright Runstad President Greg Johnson and Bellevue Community College President Jean Floten.

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com

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