Wednesday, January 21, 2009

At first blush the Eastside Link light rail extension is a project that would directly help me, a Bellevue resident. But the expense of adding light rail to the I90 bridge and acquiring right of way on the eastside far outstrip any benefits. The plan for rail across the bridge significantly decreases it's capacity for vehicle traffic and can only accelerate the decay of the bridge. Legal wrangling amongst well funded lobbies on the eastside which want/don't want the corridor near them and pet projects (like the I90 lid) would doom the project to endless delays and escalating costs dwarfing even Boston's Big Dig.

The topper is that even though I live less than 4 miles from the proposed termination at the Bellevue Transit Center this area is so congested that no matter what the time of day it would be faster, cheaper and more convenient to use the existing bus service from South Kirkland Park & Ride when going downtown.

The rational alternative is to take advantage of the rail right of way recently acquired from BNSF by the County and the Port. Known as the Woodinville Subdivision it runs from Renton up the I405 corridor to Kirkland continuing through Woodinville to Snohomish with a spur from Woodinville to Redmond. Even though it doesn't intersect the existing Link Light Rail pushing through a connection from Renton to the existing Link station on HWY 99 would have to be orders of magnitude cheaper than a connection from the International District to Bellevue. True the existing tracks do not go directly to the doorstep of the Microsoft Campus. However, there is a proposal to deviate from the existing BNSF corridor and follow the existing State owned right of way along SR520 past Microsoft and reconnect with the BNSF spur from Redmond to Woodinville. This idea has merit not only because of the direct connection to Microsoft and downtown Redmond but it would also eliminate a number of at grade crossings through the Totem Lake area. Even without this addition a stop at the I405/SR520 interchange (near the South Kirkland P&R) provides a central hub for bus connectivity to downtown Seattle, Belleuve and Microsoft (which already provides it's own shuttle service). The key is that the BNSF route connects a far greater number of existing P&R lots along I405 including Woodinville which serves as the terminus for all buses taking the northern route around Lake Washington.

The Eastside railroad is the spine sowing the seed for light rail as the ribs which together provide the skeleton to flesh out the system. Short haul high density service is what light rail does best. In fact the current order of construction proposed by Sound Transit is completely backward. Instead of building the most expensive, and by itself useless portion of the line from the International District to South Bellevue the staging should be to complete the segment from Redmond to the Bellevue Transit Station first! Sound Transit's current proposal for the Eastside Link no matter what their desire is a street car named rapid transit.

Construction of the Eastside Railroad provides much better connectivity for the vast majority of residents now rather than a decade from now and at a much lower cost than the Eastside Link Sound Transit has proposed. This rail corridor provides an alternate for the most overburdened portions of I405 and relief to the congested and often deadly SR522 route. Moving forward the existing rail right of ways can be connected with a north/south line in Everett. That's transportation with a vision! The Eastside Link, I just don't see it.

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