Bellevue neighborhoods split on light-rail line
Two Bellevue neighborhoods, Surrey Downs and Mercer Slough, are advocating for light rail lines in South Bellevue that are away from their homes.
Seattle Times Eastside reporter
Bellevue City Council,Sound Transit board workshopThursday workshop: The Bellevue City Council and Sound Transit board will meet at the Meydenbauer Convention Center, 11100 N.E. 6th St., from 1:30-4 p.m. Thursday for a public workshop to discuss the downtown light-rail alternatives for Bellevue. Public comments will not be taken. For more information on East Link, see www.soundtransit.org/x3245.xml
Open House: Sound Transit will host a public open house on the downtown alternatives on Feb. 18, 4-7 p.m., Bellevue City Hall, 450 110th Ave. N.E.
Source: city of Bellevue
For at least the past year, residents of Bellevue neighborhoods Surrey Downs and Mercer Slough have been a constant presence on the light-rail meeting circuit. They comment at Bellevue City Council meetings, attend Sound Transit board meetings and meet with the politicians.
Surrey Downs leaders are on a first-name basis with Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl; Mercer Slough recently formed a neighborhood association to help increase its clout.
The two neighborhoods are in the middle of the light-rail debate that has consumed Bellevue, with each arguing for a light-rail line that runs in the other neighborhood. Both believe their neighborhood character is at stake.
Residents in both areas say they would use light rail. But they also have waged campaigns that center on ridership, the environmental impact and cost, in addition to neighborhood concerns.
They talk about the big picture of light rail for Bellevue and say they are just looking for more facts from Sound Transit. But "a lot of this is 'Not in my backyard,' " said Bellevue Mayor Don Davidson. "I've got to figure out whose backyard to put it in."
Last year, the Sound Transit board picked a preferred light-rail route that would run up Bellevue Way and 112th Avenue Northeast, on the border of Surrey Downs.
But the City Council opened up the debate again last month when it asked the Sound Transit board to consider a proposed route that would stop at the South Bellevue Park-and-Ride, cut across Mercer Slough Nature Park and zoom up past the condos in the Mercer Slough neighborhood.
The City Council is meeting with the Sound Transit board in a special workshop Thursday to discuss downtown light-rail routes.
Sound Transit is expected to make a final decision on alignment later this year.
Voters approved the $2.8 billion East Link route in 2008, with light-rail service to Bellevue projected to start in 2020.
Surrey Downs is a quiet, established residential neighborhood just south of downtown that is home to Bellevue High.
With its prime location between downtown and I-90, residents have been girding themselves for years for the arrival of light rail.
The community club established a committee devoted to East Link three years ago and the organization is well versed in the pros and cons of light-rail routes.
The neighborhood's approach can be lighthearted — community club president Betsy Blackstock once slapped stickers with "B7," the Sound Transit designation for the neighborhood's favored route, on the backs of Sound Transit staffers as they entered a meeting.
But they are serious about the problems that could affect Surrey Downs. Squealing wheels and the clang of warning bells are some of their concerns about a Bellevue Way and 112th Avenue route, Blackstock said.
The neighborhood's goal now is to persuade Sound Transit to spend more time studying a BNSF Railway route, which would take the trains through the Mercer Slough neighborhood.
"We're looking for a decision based on facts and research," Blackstock said.
Mercer Slough, on the other hand, was happy with Sound Transit's decision last year supporting the Bellevue Way route.
The neighborhood is made up mostly of condos sandwiched uncomfortably between noisy I-405 and 118th Avenue Northeast, the slough's eastern boundary.
The neighborhood's leaders also are concerned about the environmental impact of a route that slices through the park, one of the reasons people move there.
The trees and the slough make the neighborhood unique, said Jannine McDonald, president of the Mercer Slough Neighborhood Association.
Residents started talking during construction to widen I-405, and organized after the first proposed light-rail routes went public in December 2008. The neighborhood was formally recognized in November.
Neighborhood leaders comment publicly at Bellevue City Council meetings, including at the recent discussions about the council's proposal, and have invited politicians to the area to see how close the trains would skim past their homes.
The City Council's latest route proposal to send trains past condos worried some people, but McDonald said she thinks with more study, engineering will fall on their side, including at one spot with about 70 banked feet between a sound wall at the Brookshire condo complex and I-405.
"I don't think it's an obstacle for us so much as it is for them," she said. "This is an engineering equation."
The neighborhood recently endured the demolition of the Wilburton tunnel over I-405 and the widening of the southbound lanes of the freeway, with increased traffic on 118th.
Resident Edna Chun says she feels battered by all the development and doesn't understand the desire to run light rail through the middle of the slough.
It's been getting noisier in her neighborhood, although Chun, who can see the BNSF rail trestle from her dining room, used to like the dinner train when it ran on BNSF tracks.
"But having a train every seven minutes is a different situation," she said. "It's certainly too close for my comfort."
Nicole Tsong: 206-464-2150 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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