Not all on board with Bellevue Way light-rail proposal
Neighbors are up in arms in Bellevue over a proposed light-rail line that would be placed on congested Bellevue Way. Neighborhood activists are trying to convince the Bellevue City Council that a route that runs up existing railroad tracks adjacent to I-405 is better for Bellevue, and their neighborhoods.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Concerns over Bellevue light-rail proposal
BELLEVUE — For a casual observer, Bellevue Way Southeast seems like a natural location for East Link, the Eastside's light-rail line.
The busy road is centrally located, connects Interstate 90 to downtown Bellevue and has established buses that collect commuters at the packed South Bellevue Park-and-Ride. The proposed route also is convenient to residential neighborhoods.
But that convenience would unleash construction, congestion and noise upon the area, and some neighborhood residents are determined to keep light rail away from their streets.
"I believe when we bought into this neighborhood we bought into the single-family lifestyle," said Renay Bennett, president of the Bellecrest Neighborhood Association. "We like the 'burbs."
Voters agreed in November to pay for the light-rail extension, which will cross I-90 to connect Seattle and downtown Bellevue to Overlake, carrying residents of both cities between work and home. Now, the Bellevue City Council is considering several routes for the Bellevue section of the line. On Monday, the council is expected to vote on route recommendations for Sound Transit; the agency, which has the final say, will vote on a preferred alignment in April.
South Bellevue residents have been marshaling forces for years in anticipation of a possible battle over proposed routes using Bellevue Way.
Under one version, known as B-3, trains would pick up riders at a greatly expanded South Bellevue Park-and-Ride station; zoom up Bellevue Way and 112th Avenue Southeast, along the eastern boundary of Surrey Downs; and turn northeast near Southeast Eighth Street. Proponents say the route would serve more people, connect with buses and is closer for people who live south of I-90. That route also would avoid crossing environmentally sensitive Mercer Slough.
On an alternative route known as B-7, trains would dash past congested Bellevue Way and instead run up and down the old BNSF rail corridor next to I-405, stopping to pick up passengers at a new 118th Southeast station near the current Wilburton Park-and-Ride. Backers argue the route would be easier for people in east Bellevue to reach, and would preserve property and serve regional traffic on I-405.
South Bellevue residents are concerned about noise, traffic, increased crime and loss of property and property value for homes next to the line. The Surrey Downs group has had an East Link committee in place for more than two years and has met with city staff and council members and attended public hearings, arguing that a route along I-405 is a better choice for Bellevue and, naturally, their neighborhoods.
"I see the huge possibilities for each and the huge impacts for each," said Betsy Blackstock, secretary of the Surrey Downs Community Club. "But for the amount of money it takes to go across the slough, it seems the better realization for creating a hub on the Eastside."
It's "a new freeway"
Bennett envisions cars cutting through on her residential street to bypass construction, added congestion on the arterial and property sacrificed for a Bellevue Way line. The city historically has protected the single-family neighborhoods south of Main Street from downtown development, and Bennett does not want her neighborhood to become more urban.
"This is basically a new freeway carrying regional traffic out of and through our city," she said. "That kind of traffic needs to stay on the regional corridors, which is I-405 and I-90."
But some council members have noted that the projected number of light-rail boardings is lower for the I-405 alternative, and that two-lane 118th wouldn't be able to handle the additional traffic. The train also would run very close to condos and affect some businesses.
Robert Zander lives in a condo near the proposed I-405 line. He said when the dinner train was running on the rail line, it rumbled past just a couple of times a day. Light rail would zoom by every nine minutes or so.
"We'd like to have our area be weighed equally," he said. "The impacts to quality of life, it's going to affect us."
Asset to neighborhood
Mayor Grant Degginger said the council is wrestling with imperfect options that will inevitably affect residents.
"Which location will provide the most service and least amount of disruption, where can you best mitigate the impacts?" he asked. "Those are the major considerations the council is grappling with."
Councilman John Chelminiak said he's sure a transit line can be added to existing neighborhoods. The decision should be based on the entire system and its communitywide impact, he said.
"It's going to be an asset to the city, an asset to the people who live here," he said. "It can be done, and done in a way that is not a major detraction."
Some people will be OK with the results and how the line is handled, and some will not, added Councilman Phil Noble.
"It's not going to satisfy everyone," he said.
And there are residents who welcome light rail.
The potential for a line nearby has kept Kevin Paulich in his Enatai home. He anticipates increased property values and environmental benefits. For 30 years, Paulich has biked the five minutes to the South Bellevue Park-and-Ride and taken a bus to work in downtown Seattle.
Paulich said he is not worried about the impact of construction.
"I am confident it can be mitigated," he wrote in an e-mail. "The inconvenience of construction is temporary while the improvement is a long-term benefit."
Nicole Tsong: 206-464-2150 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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