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Originally published Sunday, June 3, 2012 at 9:01 PM

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Different site for light-rail station in Bellevue could save millions

Moving Sound Transit's planned light-rail station in downtown Bellevue from a tunnel to a nearby hillside could save millions of dollars but disrupt parking at City Hall.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Open house on optionsfor light rail

BELLEVUE RESIDENTS AND OTHERS can learn the latest about — and comment on — possible cost-saving changes to Sound Transit's East Link light-rail project at an open house from 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Bellevue City Hall, 450 110th Ave. N.E.

A briefing on the concepts, with drawings and cost estimates, is at http://projects.soundtransit.org/Documents/pdf/projects/eastlink/20120524_BellevueCostSavings.pdf

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Sound Transit's planned light-rail station in downtown Bellevue could be moved from a tunnel to a nearby hillside where the track would emerge onto an elevated crossing.

That alternative, which could cut costs by $10 million to $23 million, is expected to be advanced for further study as part of a collaborative design process. A final decision on the station location isn't expected until next year.

Bellevue and Sound Transit officials will discuss a number of cost-saving concepts with citizens at an open house from 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.

They hope to reach agreement this month on which options to study in detail.

Bellevue hopes to help Sound Transit find $60 million in cost savings, which would be credited toward the $160 million the city has pledged in land, rights of way and cash to pay for the downtown tunnel.

City and transit staff already have found an estimated $24 million to $28 million in possible savings through design changes that they say wouldn't affect the light-rail experience or disturb neighbors.

They also are looking at more significant design changes on Bellevue Way Southeast and 112th Avenue Southeast, and in downtown.

The Sound Transit board last year adopted a route for the $2.8 billion East Link project but agreed to work with Bellevue to find cost savings on the Bellevue portion of the Seattle-to-Redmond line.

Several possible changes to the downtown station are being explored: eliminating a mezzanine between ground level and the subway tracks, stacking one set of tracks above the other rather than side-by-side, and moving the station from 110th Avenue Northeast either to Northeast Sixth Street or the City Hall property south of Sixth.

Eliminating the mezzanine or stacking the tracks would narrow 110th Avenue to make way for station entrances. Deleting the mezzanine would save an estimated $4 million to $7 million. The stacking idea would save $8 million to $13 million.

Building a station where the line exits the tunnel to an elevated structure spanning 112th Avenue and Interstate 405 would save even more: $10 million to $17 million for a station next to Sixth Street, $14 million to $23 million if it sliced beneath City Hall Plaza and across a King County property south of Sixth.

A City Hall Plaza station would eliminate some parking spaces for police and the public and would block car access to Sixth Street. More study is needed to determine if a daylight station would reduce ridership, City Councilmember John Stokes said.

But an aboveground station would make the rail line more visible and provide easy access to City Hall, Meydenbauer Center, the Downtown Transit Center and The Bravern, Deputy Mayor Jennifer Robertson said.

"I think the place-making ability of that, tied to the transit station and great access to our convention center, shows a lot of promise," Robertson said.

Stokes said he expects the council to support advancing one of the daylighted station concepts for more study, along with a modified underground-station option.

City Council members and Sound Transit board members have said they are pleased with the cooperative discussions that followed a lengthy battle over the East Link route south of downtown Bellevue.

"I think there's a sense that the alignment fights are behind us and this is optimization," Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl told the agency's board May 24.

Claudia Balducci, a member of the City Council and the Sound Transit board, said there has been terrific progress in the cost-cutting discussions. But she said that effort mustn't degrade the quality of light-rail service.

Seattle City Councilmember Richard Conlin agreed, saying ridership is paramount, so, "Simply saving money cannot override if there are significant impacts on ridership."

Sound Transit staffers have projected these potential cost-savings in South Bellevue:

Putting the rail line on the surface instead of in a trench in front of the Winters House on Bellevue Way could save $5 million to $8 million if the tracks and roadway are shifted to the west, or $3 million to $6 million if the historic building is moved to a different location.

Replacing a planned trench beside 112th Avenue Southeast by closing Fourth Street and extending Eighth Street below an elevated rail segment would save $5 million to $9 million.

Residents of the Surrey Downs neighborhood are fighting an extension of Eighth Street.

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com

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