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Originally published October 16, 2012 at 12:30 PM | Page modified October 17, 2012 at 12:12 PM

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Bellevue City Council votes to keep studying surface light rail

Despite neighborhood opposition and the reservations of some council members, the Bellevue City Council has agreed the city and Sound Transit should continue studying a surface option for a future light-rail line south of downtown Bellevue.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Despite neighborhood opposition, the Bellevue City Council has agreed the city and Sound Transit should continue studying a surface option for a future light-rail line south of downtown Bellevue.

The council voted 6-1 Monday night to authorize further engineering and environmental review of cost-saving proposals that would shift Bellevue Way Southeast to the west and close a neighborhood connection to 112th Avenue Southeast in order to accommodate a surface rail route.

The Sound Transit Board will vote Oct. 25 on which cost-saving options to carry forward.

City Council members said they and Sound Transit won't decide before next spring whether the transit agency will build a surface line or go back to an earlier plan to make trains quieter and less visible by lowering them into a trench beside the Enatai and Surrey Downs neighborhoods.

These options were approved by the City Council for more study:

• Shifting Bellevue Way and a new HOV lane to the west to keep a surface rail line away from the historic Winters House;

• Raising 112th Avenue above a rail crossing near 15th Street, rather than building a higher rail flyover;

• Closing the Southeast Fourth Street intersection with 112th Avenue to all but emergency vehicles to accommodate the surface rail line; and

• Replacing a downtown subway station on 110th Avenue Northeast with a surface station on Northeast Sixth Street. The tunnel stop also will be studied further.

Since reaching agreement last year on the rail route and how to split the cost of a $320 million downtown tunnel, Sound Transit and Bellevue have been exploring ways of reducing system costs without jeopardizing ridership or disrupting neighborhoods.

Bellevue is looking for $60 million in cost savings to offset its share of the cost of the tunnel. Engineering revisions and the cost-saving options moved forward by the City Council could save $54 million to $86 million, according to preliminary estimates.

The biggest single saving — $23 million to $39 million — would come from moving the downtown station to Sixth Street. Move Bellevue Forward, a pro-transit group, said the current open-air station concept is not "an adequate or acceptable station for downtown Bellevue."

But the Bellevue Downtown Association, which has been skeptical of a Sixth Street station, said the potential cost savings are "truly compelling."

Several council members said they remain skeptical that Sound Transit can adequately control noise from a surface line, and Councilmember Claudia Balducci said impacts to the Enatai neighborhood and the Winters House "have been pretty glossed over."

Enatai and Surrey Downs residents are continuing to press for trenches near their neighborhoods. "We cannot say strongly enough that it is the No. 1 mitigation and the only mitigation for light rail along the boundary of our neighborhood," said Betsy Blackstock, a member of the Surrey Downs East Link Committee.

City Councilmember Don Davidson cast the only vote against the next phase of study, saying his questions about environmental impacts hadn't been answered.

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

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