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Originally published April 24, 2012 at 9:01 PM | Page modified April 25, 2012 at 7:42 AM

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Officials work to cut costs on Bellevue light-rail project

Bellevue and Sound Transit officials' ideas for reducing the cost of light rail through Bellevue focus on eliminating planned trenches in parts of South Bellevue, excavating a shallower downtown tunnel and building a less expensive downtown station.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Open house on light-rail ideas

Bellevue and Sound Transit are jointly hosting an open house Thursday on cost-saving ideas for the East Link light-rail line through Bellevue. The informal meeting is from 4 to 7 p.m. in Bellevue City Hall, 450 110th Ave. N.E.

See a PowerPoint presentation prepared for the City Council and Sound Transit board at http://seattletimes.com/localnews.

Graphic: Cost-saving ideas for light rail in Bellevue

cost saving ideas for light rail in Bellevue

Here are some of the ideas Bellevue and Sound Transit officials are exploring as ways to cut the cost of the East Link light-rail project.

Presentation: Light rail cost-saving measures from City of Bellevue and Sound Transit

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Bellevue and Sound Transit officials are rolling out ideas this week they say could reduce city taxpayers' bill for a light-rail tunnel by as much as $60 million.

The ideas focus on eliminating costly trenches through parts of South Bellevue — including beside the historic Winters House — along with excavating a shallower downtown tunnel and building a less expensive downtown station.

Both concepts for the Winters House would replace the current plan for a covered trench there.

"These are not done deals," said City Councilmember Jennifer Robertson, a member of a joint city-Sound Transit leadership group overseeing the planning effort.

After an initial analysis of the pros and cons of the concepts — and possible cost savings — the City Council and the Sound Transit board are expected to decide by late June which ideas to study in more detail.

A public open house on the full range of options will be held Thursday at Bellevue City Hall.

City and transit-agency officials began looking at changes they could make to the East Link rail plan in order to reduce the overall cost and Bellevue's share of a $320 million tunnel that wasn't part of the voter-approved Sound Transit 2 plan.

Bellevue has agreed to make an initial $100 million contribution of land, rights of way and cash, followed by a contingent contribution of up to $60 million in cash. City officials hope to reduce the contingent amount to zero.

Saving $60 million or more is "certainly the objective — we're optimistic," said Bellevue Assistant Transportation Director Bernard van de Kamp.

City and Sound Transit officials declined to put dollar figures next to the new ideas, saying they aren't confident of initial estimates. City Council members on Monday urged Sound Transit to give citizens some idea of cost savings so they can make informed comments.

Robertson said "back-of-the-napkin" calculations suggested each of the new concepts could save between $8 million and $35 million or more.

The transit agency has yet to do a detailed analysis of the cost savings or of the likely effects on traffic, noise, views and wetlands.

The $2.8 billion East Link line is scheduled to open in 2023, connecting Seattle, Mercer Island, Bellevue and Microsoft's Redmond campus.

Here are some of the new ideas:

Bellevue Way Southeast

Sound Transit's adopted plan calls for an elevated line to drop into an open trench north of a station at the South Bellevue Park and Ride, with a cover over the trench in front of the Winters House on Bellevue Way Southeast.

Two new options would bring the rail line up to the surface. One of those would protect the Winters House by moving Bellevue Way and the rail line 30 feet farther from the building's front door. A retaining wall would be built on the west side of the road.

The other approach would move the 1920s-era house, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, to another location.

The current trenching plan calls for construction of a lid just four and a half feet from the building's front porch.

112th Avenue Southeast

The rail line would cross 112th Avenue on an elevated flyover and drop into a trench north of Southeast Eighth Street under the current plan.

The latest idea would extend the flyover farther north, turn Eighth Street into an access point for Surrey Downs Park, and eliminate the need for a trench under Fourth Street, which would be closed.

Downtown

Under the adopted plan, passengers could reach an underground station from either side of 110th Avenue Northeast

But the station could be made shallower by eliminating a mezzanine, or narrower by putting one set of tracks above the other. These ideas, though, would narrow 110th Avenue to two or three lanes.

Alternatively, a station could be built on Northeast Sixth Street or under the City Hall parking garage next to Sixth. These sites would allow a shallower, less expensive tunnel but would provide fewer passenger entrances than the current plan.

Construction also could be done more cheaply — and completed faster — if parts of 110th Avenue were closed to through traffic during construction, city and Sound Transit staffers said.

The 112th Avenue and Bellevue Way concepts would mean the buyout of at least five more houses.

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

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