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Light Rail FAQs

Since Move Bellevue Forward's inception in early 2011, significant progress has been made on the East Link light rail project.  As information has changed, so have questions.  We've updated our FAQs to better reflect more current questions.  We've also retained our original FAQs, which contain many of the important questions that have been asked throughout East Link's long history.

Current FAQs (updated Mar. 2014)

What's the current status of East Link?

As of 2014, Sound Transit and the City of Bellevue have finalized the East Link alignment and are progressing with final design.  The line will run along the west side of Mercer Slough, serve the South Bellevue Park & Ride, and continue up 112th Ave SE before entering downtown Bellevue to serve an open station at NE 6th St.  During the planning stages, Move Bellevue Forward strongly advocated for the South Bellevue segment of this alignment as well as a more centrally-located downtown station.  Recognizing the reality of budget constraints, however, we continue to look forward to the project's progress from final design into construction. 

Is MBF still actively involved in the East Link process?

While Sound Transit and the City of Bellevue have successfully cleared a number of contentious hurdles, we will continue to keep an eye on the progress of East Link as the project proceeds through final design.  Move Bellevue Forward remains committed to advocating against any unnecessary delays that may obstruct the project.  Should any such delays arise, we will engage and get involved appropriately.

What types of threats may obstruct East Link?

The Memorandum of Understanding signed between Sound Transit and the City of Bellevue contained a number of "off-ramps" that could be used to terminate the agreement.  While unlikely, Move Bellevue Forward will continue to monitor the collaboration between both parties to ensure that the cost-sharing agreements are fully honored.

Where can I find the most up-to-date information on East Link light rail?

The most up-to-date information can be found at Sound Transit's website under the East Link project page.  There you can find project updates, animations, public meeting materials, planning documents, information about events, and more.  We will also post project news on our Facebook page.

Historical FAQs

What's the current status of East Link?

Recent studies commissioned by both the City of Bellevue and Puget Sound Regional Council show that transportation capacity in Downtown Bellevue is becoming severely constrained and will likely result in extremely lengthy travel delays by 2030. Without the additional capacity provided by light rail, new developments in the downtown core would not meet concurrency requirements mandated under the State Growth Management Act, eventually limiting future growth in the city center.  Under these conditions, Downtown Bellevue would fail to fulfill its designation as a regional growth center and future economic growth on the Eastside would be stymied.

There has been a lot of talk about where light rail should be built in Bellevue.  What route does MBF favor?

There is no perfect route.  Light rail needs to be affordable with existing Sound Transit and City of Bellevue funding and capable of being built within the anticipated timeline.  It must have the fewest environmental impacts and the lowest construction risk.  The route must serve our neighborhoods, the downtown, the Hospital district, and the Bel Red area in ways that maximize ridership.  It is clear to us that it must serve downtown through a tunnel so the route chosen must yield sufficient savings to provide the supplemental funding needed for a tunnel.

Is this just a group to support putting light rail in Bellevue?

No, but the lack of public civility and the distortion of facts in the discussion about light rail is one of the reasons many people have become involved.  The MBF principles are much broader than the light rail debate, but putting light rail through Bellevue along routes that can be used by our residents and businesses is crucial to the future of the city.

Why should we get involved in this infighting over the light rail line?

We don’t want light rail to bypass the downtown core or our neighborhoods.  We want it to serve our residents and businesses whether that is through a tunnel in downtown Bellevue, stations near the hospitals, in the new Bel Red corridor, or at an expanded park and ride that already attracts riders from north, east, south, and west Bellevue.  But Sound Transit has made it clear - the only way to afford a tunnel in downtown Bellevue is the route on Bellevue Way and 112th Ave SE.  That route was recommended by an independent review committee formed by Sound Transit and included experts in the field of siting light rail.

Isn’t all this talk about light rail just a big waste of money?

MBF is very concerned about wasteful government spending.  Recently, four members of the Bellevue city council voted to spend $670,000 for further study of yet another new route east of the Mercer Slough.  That money was supposed to be used for mitigation and reaching agreement with Sound Transit on the downtown tunnel.  Instead of protecting the Enatai neighborhood, this route puts a new park and ride directly in the Enatai neighborhood.  It wipes out a complete city block of homes.  This route would also cut a path directly across the slough and wipe out needed wildlife habitat, parklands and wetlands.  And the State Department of Transportation engineers say such a path could endanger the I-90 bridges that cross the Mercer Slough.  What’s particularly concerning is this information was discovered by a series of studies commissioned by the city but ignored by the Council majority.  Some council members advocate suing Sound Transit or trying to withhold permits.  We believe in mitigation, not litigation. The city’s own Best Practices Committee unanimously endorsed the concept of working cooperatively with the regional transit agency.

Isn’t the city council working closely with Sound Transit to solve these issues?

Unfortunately the answer is no.  Some council members are threatening lawsuits and some are threatening to withhold permits.  We call for a change of focus.  The city needs to spend its scarce resources identifying effective mitigation.  The council needs to work with Sound Transit now to develop a full funding agreement this summer.  Bellevue citizens are best served when Sound Transit and the city work together. Threats of lawsuits won’t improve the city’s bargaining position and history shows that suits are not effective.

Can't the City block the project by denying permits or some other way?

Under the Revised Code of Washington (RCW), regional authorities seeking to build major infrastructure projects must acquire permits from the local municipality they are building through.  This is no different than any other case where a builder or developer needs to obtain permits from the city prior to construction.  However, the RCW also designates East Link as an "essential public facility" (EFP) and states that no municipality may effectively "preclude" the siting of an EFP.  The findings of a 1999 growth management case between Sound Transit and Tukwila stated that city had a "duty to accommodate" the alignment chosen by Sound Transit.  In Bellevue's case, while denying permits in itself is not illegal, doing so simply to obstruct or delay East Link could constitute a violation of State law.

Why is the location of the light rail transit stop in downtown Bellevue so important?

Downtown Bellevue is our economic hub, entertainment center, and a residential neighborhood.  Yet the development of the downtown is only half complete.  The light rail stop must be centrally located in the core of downtown where the greatest development is taking place.  The skyscrapers, whether they are offices or condos, are concentrated in the center roughly bordered by NE 4th and NE 8th Streets and 106th Ave NE and 110th Ave NE.  The station must be located as close as possible to the middle of that high density development.  There is a proposal to put the light rail station next to the freeway on 114th, but that is essentially a bypass of the downtown and has the lowest ridership of all proposed downtown stations.  If the station is located there, it means more cars on our downtown streets.

What’s the best way to get light rail through downtown Bellevue?

MBF strongly supports a downtown tunnel. A tunnel guarantees the reliability of the light rail system since the trains won’t get stuck by traffic at intersections.  It also avoids congestion issues caused by an at grade route or the by using up streets for the pillars in an aerial alignment.  Just think of how the Tukwila station near Sea Tac Airport would look in our downtown.  But the package approved by the voters did not have funding for a tunnel.  Sound Transit has offered to work cooperatively with the City of Bellevue to come up with funding option. City council time and taxpayer dollars would be better spent working on a solution to the tunnel rather than fighting or litigating with Sound Transit over the route in south Bellevue.

There are a lot of claims and counter claims about the proposed routes in South Bellevue.  What are the facts and where can I go to find them?

The studies about light rail in Bellevue already exceed ten-thousand pages and have cost in the tens of millions of dollars.  In south Bellevue the facts are pretty clear.  The route that crosses Mercer Slough fails on almost every measure.  First, it puts a massive concrete structure directly through one of the gems of Bellevue, the Mercer Slough Nature Park.  It condemns more businesses and kills more jobs than any other route under consideration.  The city of Bellevue’s own study shows the alternative site of a park and ride located in Enatai would have far more negative effects than rebuilding a park and ride at the current South Bellevue location.  The cross slough route permanently damages more wetlands and non-wetland wildlife habitat than the west of the slough routes.  Using the BNSF corridor actually has much higher costs and seismic risks than the route on the west of the slough.  And the noise impacts on the BNSF route far exceed the noise impacts along Bellevue Way and 112th.  This information is contained the Final Environmental Impact Statement issued by Sound Transit AND the independent studies commissioned by the City of Bellevue.
 
We have also created an FAQ page that addresses common questions and misconceptions about the proposed routes in the B (South Bellevue) segment.