Sims to Port: No deal if rails stay
A tough-talking King County Executive Ron Sims says he will scrap a tentative deal with the Port of Seattle unless the Port agrees to tear...
Seattle Times staff reporter
A tough-talking King County Executive Ron Sims says he will scrap a tentative deal with the Port of Seattle unless the Port agrees to tear out an Eastside rail line to make way for a hiking and biking trail.
Sims' threat isn't expected to stop the Port from buying BNSF Railway's 42-mile Renton-to-Snohomish rail line, but it shows how frosty relations between the two public agencies have become since top Port officials began expressing an interest in keeping the track for possible passenger-rail service.
Citizens groups and the think tank Cascadia Center at Discovery Institute have stepped up their campaign to put diesel passenger trains on the rail line that parallels Interstate 405. A former BNSF official hired by Cascadia said Tuesday the aging freight track could be upgraded to handle 40 mph trains for about $37 million. (The price doesn't include buying self-propelled diesel cars, building stations and replacing a bridge across I-405 in Bellevue.)
That idea collided head-on with Sims' wish to tear out the track in order to build what he calls "the granddaddy of all trails," which would connect with existing trails to create a 125-mile recreational network. Sims reiterated that he wants to see high-capacity light rail built next to the planned trail sometime in the future, but he said the Port agreed in February on "a trail first and dual use later."
Under a tentative deal signed last month by the county, the Port and BNSF, the Port would buy the rail line for $103 million and then negotiate a lease with the county for development of a trail between Woodinville and Renton.
The county had agreed to sweeten the deal for the Port by giving it the 8-acre Fisher Flour Mill property on Harbor Island and giving the Port a say on the future of Boeing Field. But Sims warned Port CEO Tay Yoshitani and the Port Commission in a letter Thursday that he would scrap the Harbor Island and Boeing Field deals if the Port doesn't agree by next Friday to tear up the existing track.
If the railroad track stays in place, Sims wrote, it would complicate trail construction and drive up the cost of a trail from $44 million to somewhere between $160 million and $230 million. Tearing out the track was "a fundamental premise" of the three-way deal, he said.
Sims staffers took Yoshitani on a tour of the rail line Monday in an unsuccessful attempt to convince him the rails should be torn out. On Wednesday, Port Commission President John Creighton said he didn't want to see the track torn up before local governments decide whether passenger-rail service is feasible in the near future.
A Puget Sound Regional Council advisory committee concluded last year that the rails should be torn up between Renton and Woodinville, but the committee said it didn't want to preclude commuter rail "if conditions were to change."
Creighton said conditions changed Nov. 6 when voters rejected Proposition 1, a tax package that would have spent $11 billion on new light-rail lines and $7 billion upgrading freeways.
Although he isn't convinced Cascadia's proposal for diesel passenger trains is practical, Creighton said, "I'm very concerned about the symbolism of tearing up the tracks. I think once you tear up the tracks, it becomes that much more difficult both from a cost standpoint and a political standpoint to put the tracks back in there."
Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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