Sound Tran­sit’s East Link project has just moved one major step clos­er to becom­ing a real­i­ty. After many months of dis­cus­sion and nego­ti­a­tion, Belle­vue’s City Coun­cil has vot­ed unan­i­mous­ly to autho­rize the city to enter into a Mem­o­ran­dum of Under­stand­ing (MOU) with Sound Tran­sit regard­ing the project, one of sev­er­al major expan­sions of the Link light rail sys­tem approved by vot­ers in 2008.

When East Link is com­plet­ed, it will be pos­si­ble to trav­el by train from Seat­tle through Mer­cer Island and Belle­vue to NPI’s home­town of Red­mond — or vice versa.

In a state­ment, King Coun­ty Exec­u­tive Dow Con­stan­tine, who also serves on Sound Tran­sit’s board of direc­tors, praised the coun­cil for its unan­i­mous vote.

“I applaud the Belle­vue City Coun­cil for their action tonight to move for­ward as planned with East Link,” Con­stan­tine said. “Belle­vue vot­ers have con­sis­tent­ly sup­port­ed the expan­sion of light rail as a way to link busi­ness­es, res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hoods, and cities through­out our region”

“Tonight’s vote reflects the nego­ti­at­ed out­come between Belle­vue and Sound Tran­sit that brings us one step clos­er to con­struc­tion. I look for­ward to con­tin­u­ing our work togeth­er for a stronger econ­o­my and region­al mobility.”

Sound Tran­sit’s board has already autho­rized Sound Tran­sit’s chief exec­u­tive offi­cer, Joni Earl, to sign the agree­ment on ST’s behalf. Tonight’s vote was the last hur­dle to mak­ing the Mem­o­ran­dum of Under­stand­ing formal.

The MOU, which runs twen­ty-four pages, is a detailed, legal­ly-bind­ing agree­ment which stip­u­lates how Belle­vue and Sound Tran­sit will go about financ­ing and con­struct­ing East Link’s align­ment with­in the city limits.

Cru­cial­ly, the agree­ment has set­tled the dis­pute over East Link’s align­ment through down­town Belle­vue. Under the terms of the MOU, Sound Tran­sit and the city have agreed that East Link will go under­ground through down­town, with the city help­ing to cov­er the added expense of con­struct­ing a tun­nel. The city has agreed to make a con­tri­bu­tion of up to $160 mil­lion to the cost of the project.

In East Link plan­ning doc­u­ments, the pro­posed tun­nel align­ment is referred to as Alter­na­tive C9T. Here is how it is described in the East Link Sup­ple­men­tal Draft Envi­ron­men­tal Impact State­ment (DEIS for short — what a mouthful):

Pre­ferred Alter­na­tive C9T begins on the east side of 112th Avenue SE and then tran­si­tions to the west side of 112th Avenue SE at SE 6th Street. Pre­ferred Alter­na­tive C9T then trav­els at-grade on the west side of 112th Avenue SE before turn­ing west at Main Street to enter the tun­nel por­tal. The tun­nel con­tin­ues on the south side of Main Street before turn­ing north under 110th Avenue NE.

To main­tain access to the Sur­rey Downs neigh­bor­hood, this alter­na­tive includes realign­ing SE 4th Street through Sur­rey Downs Park to con­nect to 112th Avenue SE fur­ther south, form­ing a four-way, sig­nal­ized inter­sec­tion at SE 6th Street.

Pre­ferred Alter­na­tive C9T includes the Belle­vue Tran­sit Cen­ter Sta­tion at 110th Avenue NE, with a sta­tion entrance at NE 2nd Place and south of NE 6th Street and an option­al entrance on the south­west cor­ner of NE 6th Street and 110th Avenue NE. From this sta­tion, Pre­ferred Alter­na­tive C9T con­tin­ues north to NE 6th Street, where it turns east, exits the tun­nel, and tran­si­tions to an ele­vat­ed pro­file in the cen­ter of NE 6th Street, and then swings to the north side of NE 6th Street to cross 112th Avenue NE, I‑405, and 116th Avenue NE.

Pre­ferred Alter­na­tive C9T then turns north along the BNSF Rail­way right-of-way to cross NE 8th Street and reach the ele­vat­ed Hos­pi­tal Station.

While build­ing a tun­nel does increase the cost of build­ing East Link, we agree with Belle­vue and Sound Tran­sit that it’s a good invest­ment. Hav­ing a tun­nel align­ment through down­town reduces trav­el time and elim­i­nates the prob­lem of pedes­tri­ans, bicy­clists, or motorists turn­ing into the path of a train. A tun­nel align­ment also makes it eas­i­er for Link to oper­ate through down­town in bad weather.

Build­ing a tun­nel will require years of street work in down­town Belle­vue, which some busi­ness­es and res­i­dents are already dreading.

How­ev­er, Sound Tran­sit has pledged to work with the com­mu­ni­ty to mit­i­gate con­struc­tion impacts. The agency has learned a great deal from build­ing Cen­tral Link, and Belle­vue will ben­e­fit immense­ly from that insti­tu­tion­al knowledge.

Sound Tran­sit still does not have the mon­ey to get East Link all the way out to down­town Red­mond. At present, fund­ing only exists to get the line to Over­lake, which is home to Microsoft­’s main cam­pus. We con­sid­er the exten­sion to down­town Red­mond to be extreme­ly impor­tant, as do Microsoft and the city of Red­mond, and we hope the mon­ey can be found to build it.

This unfund­ed sec­tion of East Link is known as Seg­ment E in plan­ning doc­u­ments, but as Sound Tran­sit works on get­ting it fund­ed, it might eas­i­ly become known as Red­mond Link, just as the last seg­ment of Cen­tral Link (which opened in Decem­ber 2009) became known as Air­port Link.

Tonight’s vote also rep­re­sents anoth­er vic­to­ry for pro­gres­sives on the East­side over Belle­vue Col­lec­tion own­er and Tim Eyman bene­fac­tor Kem­per Free­man, Jr. Free­man, who fierce­ly oppos­es East Link, has gone to extreme lengths to block the project.

In 2008, he spent thou­sands of dol­lars try­ing to defeat Sound Tran­sit 2 (and lost). Then, he tried to con­vince the Supreme Court to bar the state from trans­fer­ring I‑90’s tran­sit lanes over to Sound Tran­sit so tracks can be installed on them.

When that did­n’t work, he bankrolled Tim Eyman’s I‑1125 (which includ­ed a pro­vi­sion intend­ed to pre­vent light rail from ever cross­ing Lake Wash­ing­ton) and tried to install more can­di­dates sym­pa­thet­ic to his views on the Belle­vue City Coun­cil. Hap­pi­ly, I‑1125 is fail­ing and all three of the can­di­dates Free­man backed in con­test­ed city coun­cil races are losing.

NPI has been fight­ing for near­ly a decade to stop Free­man, Eyman, and their road war­rior friends from inter­fer­ing with the con­struc­tion of Link light rail. It’s been a long, long jour­ney, and it’s not over yet. But, as with today’s vote, we con­tin­ue to sur­mount the obsta­cles they’ve put in front of us. Our region des­per­ate­ly needs light rail, and we remain com­mit­ted to help­ing Sound Tran­sit ensure that it deliv­ers on its promise to build the sys­tem the vot­ers approved.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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3 replies on “Bellevue City Council votes to approve East Link agreement with Sound Transit”

  1. Hop­ping aboard a light rail line in Red­mond and trav­el­ing to Seat­tle, and or the air­port is like a dream come true. We need this, its good for the envi­ron­ment and also avoids the wear and tear on cit­i­zens sit­ting for hours in slow mov­ing steel box­es on huge white con­crete slabs. It’s won­der­ful see­ing the process work for the 99%.

  2. I’m look­ing for­ward to the day when, if I feel like doing a lit­tle upscale out of town shop­ping, I can catch a train and ride it well east of Belle­vue Square with­out get­ting off, all the way to Red­mond Town Square. Hope­ful­ly right to the thresh­old of that non-Free­man shop­ping center.

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