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Originally published Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 5:53 PM

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Bellevue considers raising road instead of elevated light-rail tracks

A new idea for a street crossing of Sound Transit's light-rail line south of downtown Bellevue would run the tracks under an elevated 112th Avenue Southeast rather than above the road on a flyover that's been opposed by Surrey Downs residents.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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After months of conflict over how to keep Sound Transit's planned light-rail line from harming a neighborhood south of downtown Bellevue, a new idea seems to be gaining traction.

The concept, developed by city and Sound Transit staff at the request of elected officials, would put train tracks under an elevated 112th Avenue Southeast rather than above the road on a flyover that residents objected to.

Raising the road rather than the electric rail line wouldn't affect the cost of the $2.8 billion Seattle-to-Redmond East Link project, according to an initial guesstimate by city and Sound Transit staffers, and would mean a smaller, more distant elevated structure in front of homes in Surrey Downs.

"At first blush it's certainly an improvement on the flyover that was originally proposed. ... Very definitely it's a move in the right direction," said Ron Bennett, president of the Surrey Downs Community Club.

Bennett said he was worried, however, that the city and Sound Transit would decide to close Southeast Fourth Street to cut costs, ending residents' direct access to 112th Avenue. "We're not against light rail, but we want some consideration to the neighborhoods," he said.

The city and Sound Transit have been stymied for months over how best to move the light-rail line across 112th Avenue south of the Main Street station — while at the same time attempting to save money and cut Bellevue's share of a $320 million downtown tunnel.

Cost-cutting ideas also are being considered along Bellevue Way Southeast and in a planned downtown rail tunnel. The city and the transit agency will decide later this month which concepts to study in detail.

The leadership team, unhappy about previous ideas for the 112th Avenue crossing, told staffers, "Get the staffs together, grind this out for a couple days and come back to us with a proposal. They did and it worked well," said Kevin Wallace, a Bellevue City Council representative on the team with Sound Transit board members.

The rail line would cross 112th Avenue as much as five feet below ground level, depending on the water table, staffers said.

The rail flyover, proposed as a way of avoiding a road crossing with noisy bells, has been criticized by residents as a potential eyesore and noisemaker. Residents also object to a cost-cutting variation that would close Fourth Street and extend Eighth Street from 112th Avenue into Surrey Downs.

Don Billen, Sound Transit's East Link deputy project director, said he was encouraged by the initial reaction to the idea of elevating the road instead.

"Getting to the west side of the road has been a tricky issue. If we've got a win-win solution, that's tremendous," Billen said.

In other cost-cutting discussions:

In downtown, a narrower or shallower underground station could be built or the station could be located beside Sixth Street, where the rail line emerges from the tunnel, rather than 110th Avenue.

A shallower or narrower station would close one or two traffic lanes on 110th Avenue, likely increasing downtown traffic congestion by 5 percent, according to a report released Tuesday by the city and Sound Transit.

Moving the station to Sixth Street would have little effect on the proportion of downtown workers within a 10-minute walk (88 percent versus 89 percent for the 110th Avenue site), but it would reduce the proportion of downtown residents within a 10-minute walk from 60 to 49 percent.

And on Bellevue Way, where the initial design calls for a trench in front of the historic Winters House, officials are considering bringing the tracks close to the surface and either moving the house or shifting the road and rails to the west.

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

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