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Originally published August 8, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 8, 2007 at 2:02 AM

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Guest columnists

Eastside rail corridor should serve bicyclists and commuters

For nearly a year, King County and the Port of Seattle have been in discussions to find a collaborative and mutually beneficial way to acquire...

Special to The Times

For nearly a year, King County and the Port of Seattle have been in discussions to find a collaborative and mutually beneficial way to acquire the Burlington Northern Santa Fe's Eastside rail corridor.

We've heard from advocates of trails, rail and transit, and community representatives, all with many varied interests and concerns. This extensive dialogue has brought us closer to achieving a vision that benefits the entire region: a publicly owned Eastside rail corridor that serves both bicyclists and rail passengers.

Some initially envisioned the King County portion of the corridor would be used exclusively as a trail, with rail use an uncertain future possibility. Subsequently, the concept of joint rail and trail operations has solidified as the preferred vision.

Funding for a study of high-capacity transit in the corridor was included by Sound Transit in the "Roads &Transit" package before voters this fall. Sound Transit anticipates undertaking that study in partnership with King County so that joint rail and trail operations can be contemplated in detail. This study lays the foundation for a comprehensive planning process that considers the permanent trail configuration, high-capacity transit and freight-mobility-corridor opportunities.

Trail and transportation advocates recently joined King County Executive Ron Sims in signing a "Principles of Dual Use" agreement, signaling their mutual interest in achieving rail and trail in the corridor. With a binding version of this agreement in place, interim trail use is possible — even with the existing rails remaining — as the region works through the dual use planning process and identifies funding.

With the vision for public use of the corridor coming into clearer focus, all that's left to settle is how to pay for it. Discussions between the Port of Seattle and King County have revealed many common goals and areas for collaboration.

First, we've established that Port commissioners are as uninterested in taking over ownership of Boeing Field as King County Council members are in relinquishing ownership. Boeing Field will remain King County's asset, but both the Port and the county stand to gain by better coordination between our respective aviation operations. This can be accomplished with collaborative long-term planning.

Both King County and the Port of Seattle are interested in securing the Eastside rail corridor in public ownership and are willing to work together and put resources toward accomplishing this transaction. These options can be fully explored when the issue formally comes before the County Council and the Port Commission.

Sound Transit board members have expressed similar interest. Sound Transit's participation in the purchase of the corridor can only help win votes for this fall's "Roads & Transit" package by signaling Sound Transit's intent to make a strategic acquisition for future north-south high-capacity transit connections in the rapidly growing Eastside.

King County and the Port of Seattle have many other mutual interests. Both governments support infrastructure improvements to seaport properties to make the Port of Seattle and King County more globally competitive, and both want to improve opportunities for freight mobility. We both want to create new opportunities for waterfront jobs and promote regional economic development.

King County and the Port both share the goal of cleaning up Puget Sound and improving water and air quality — to improve our health and environment and because it makes good economic sense. Lastly, both governments want to accomplish these goals without raising taxes, by looking at innovative partnerships and creative financing ideas.

We have the prospects to secure a one-of-a-kind corridor for public use and embark on unprecedented regional collaboration to further many of the region's most important goals. From improving global competitiveness, creating jobs, cleaning up Puget Sound and securing new options for transit, freight mobility and recreation, the opportunities are there if we work together. The time to act is now to preserve this priceless corridor for citizens to ride the train and bike past gridlock toward a thriving economic future.

Larry Phillips, D-Seattle, and Jane Hague, R-Bellevue, are members of the Metropolitan King County Council and the Sound Transit board. John Creighton is president of the Seattle Port Commission.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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