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Originally published Sunday, January 24, 2010 at 4:06 PM

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Guest columnist

A new vision for Eastside light rail

The so-called "Vision Line" developed by a group of Eastside stakeholders accomplishes Sound Transit's goals while providing smart access to Bellevue and surrounding areas, writes guest columnist Kevin Wallace.

Special to The Times

Over the past several months a group of Eastside stakeholders, working with an international engineering firm with extensive light-rail experience, has worked to develop a proposal for the South downtown Bellevue segments of East Link light rail. Their proposal would:

• Maximize transit-oriented development opportunities;

• Provide an alignment that is separated from cars and pedestrians;

• Reduce costs to enable a connection to Redmond without raising taxes.

• Protect the character and quality of Bellevue's single-family neighborhoods;

• Support a vibrant and accessible Downtown retail and office core;

• Maintain critical capacity on Bellevue's roads;

This proposal, dubbed the "Vision Line," accomplishes Sound Transit goals by providing quality light rail at a cost substantially less than the tunnel routes under consideration. Sound Transit is currently studying the Vision Line and three other new alignments in downtown Bellevue. In the coming months it will decide whether to adopt this option as its new preferred alternative.

The Vision Line uses the BNSF railroad right of way through South Bellevue, travels elevated along the west side of Interstate 405 at the edge of downtown to Northeast Sixth Street where it crosses I-405 and reconnects with the BNSF right of way to the north.

This alignment is safer, faster and more reliable than other alternatives because it is entirely grade separated from roadways, meaning it can run at full speed without concern for traffic.

The BNSF right of way was severed during expansion of 405 and is no longer used. By reconnecting the BNSF right of way, future north-south commuter-rail connections along this 43-mile rail corridor become feasible. Passenger rail can extend not just to Redmond, Bellevue, Seattle and Mercer Island but also Woodinville, Kirkland, Bothell and Renton.

Vision Line delivers cost-effective, quality, light rail by focusing on stations that will support transit-oriented development and serve as regional hubs for a variety of transportation choices.

The main station at the edge of Downtown Bellevue connects through the heart of the downtown with an attractive, flat, covered walkway with a moving sidewalk. This brings all of Downtown Bellevue within a 10-minute walk from the station.

This location also recognizes that Downtown Bellevue is growing eastward. So while Vision Line's Downtown station is on the eastern edge of the central business district, today it will be surrounded by urban-center development by the time light rail is complete.

The second station in the Hospital District offers more transit-oriented development opportunities than Sound Transit's alternative. Located on the BNSF corridor near Whole Foods, this station is at the critical junction of the east-west light rail line and the north-south BNSF line and is well within walking distance of the auto-row area and hospitals.

The third station at Wilburton Park & Ride has lower transit-oriented benefits but does serve the surrounding neighborhoods and over 1 million square feet of existing commercial space. Located at the intersection of two regional bike trails, next to I-405 and at a parkride lot that is already served by bus transit, the station will provide a multimodal connection for the residents south of Downtown and would be a great hub for bicyclists.

Vision Line is an important step toward implementing the Sound Transit 2 ballot measure voters approved in 2008. It meets the project planning goals and objectives identified by Sound Transit — improving transit mobility, preserving environmental quality, supporting regional and local land use goals and objectives, minimizing risk and providing a financially feasible solution.

It also meets the goals of Bellevue's land use plans — minimizing neighborhood impacts, eliminating reductions in vehicle lanes and supporting a connection to Redmond. Vision Line will provide fast, effective, safe light rail service to the Eastside.

The Vision Line is a solution that deserves the support of Sound Transit.

Kevin Wallace was elected to Bellevue City Council in November. The views expressed here are his and do not represent the formal opinion of the Council.

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