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Originally published Tuesday, November 26, 2013 at 9:05 PM

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Microsoft pitches in on bridge over Overlake Transit Center

Microsoft agrees to pay $33 million for a bike and pedestrian bridge across Highway 520 and for other improvements at Sound Transit’s future Overlake Transit Center light-rail station


Seattle Times staff reporter

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Thousands of Microsoft workers on the west side of the Redmond campus may have a quick walk or bike ride to a future light-rail station, thanks to a bridge that would be built with the software giant’s money.

Microsoft has agreed to pay $33.3 million for enhancements to the Overlake Transit Center station, most it for a bike and pedestrian bridge across Highway 520.

The bridge is scheduled to open in 2020, three years before trains begin running.

If the Sound Transit Board and Redmond City Council approve a funding agreement with Microsoft, the company’s contribution would be the largest sum it has ever spent for a single transportation project.

“Over time we think it’s probably going to double the amount of ridership on the light-rail line,” said Jim Stanton, Microsoft senior community-affairs manager.

The bridge, to be located south of Northeast 40th Street, also would help knit together a 388-acre campus where nearly 40,000 employees work in buildings divided by a freeway, Stanton said.

For Redmond, the bridge would help support the higher-density development the city envisions next door to Microsoft in the Overlake Village neighborhood, city officials said.

As Overlake redevelops, said city spokeswoman Jeri Rowe-Curtis, “There will be more jobs, more people living there. The pedestrian bridge connects people between work, play and home. Having the light rail there means easy access out of Overlake as a core hub.”

Redmond hopes to build a second walking and biking bridge across Highway 520, at the future Overlake Village rail station. That station, on the south side of the freeway, is next to a 28-acre property where Capstone Partners has demolished the former Group Health hospital to make way for a high-density mixed-use development.

The Puget Sound Regional Council has approved a $5 million grant to Redmond for the second bridge, whose estimated cost is $12 million. Redmond officials are considering paying the remainder of the cost under a future agreement with Sound Transit, said Joel Pfundt, a Redmond planner.

Sound Transit is relying on Microsoft and Redmond to pay for the pedestrian bridges because its own voter-approved tax revenues don’t include funding for either project, East Link Deputy Director Don Billen said.

The Overlake Transit Center station will be the eastern terminus of the East Link rail line until Sound Transit finds money — presumably through a Sound Transit 3 ballot measure — to extend the line to downtown Redmond.

Plans for the extended line include a 1,400-stall park-and-ride near the interchange of Highways 520 and 202.

The Overlake Transit Center station will have a 320-stall garage — far fewer spaces than needed to meet expected demand from Redmond-area commuters. The garage’s modest size reflects Sound Transit’s limited budget and its desire not to flood the Microsoft area with cars, Billen said.

“So this bridge is actually great,” Billen said, “in that it increases nonmotorized access to the station, which doesn’t bring all those traffic impacts.”

The bridge would also reduce travel times for westbound buses on Highway 520 because they would no longer have to leave the highway to load and unload passengers at the transit center, Billen said.

Until now, Microsoft’s largest single expenditure on a transportation project was the $17.5 million it contributed to a new Northeast 36th Street bridge as part of its $35 million commitment to road projects in connection with a major campus expansion several years ago west of 520.

To pay for the bridge and other station improvements, the agreement with Microsoft calls for creation of a community facilities district — possibly the first in the state — that would sell bonds financed by assessments charged to Microsoft-owned land.

Eighty-two percent of the Microsoft money would go to pay for the bridge. The rest would build a more extensive canopy to cover riders waiting for trains, replace transportation-related Microsoft offices in the new park-and-ride garage and provide electrical conduits for possible future technology uses.

The agreement also would phase construction so the transit center could remain open while the rail station was built, Microsoft’s Stanton said.

When Microsoft and Sound Transit began talking seriously about a bridge two years ago, Stanton said, “It was clear light rail was going to change the way people got to and from campus quite dramatically, but the funding that was available to Sound Transit to do the station did not have all the amenities in it that we would like to have in the station.”

A key amenity, Stanton said, was direct bike and pedestrian access for employees who work on the west side of 520.

The Redmond City Council is scheduled to vote on the Microsoft funding agreement Tuesday, and the Sound Transit Board on Dec. 19.

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



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