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Originally published September 13, 2006 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 13, 2006 at 1:01 AM

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Light-rail options on the table

Sound Transit's plans to expand light rail to the Eastside could bring a tunnel, an elevated line or run along any one of several surface...

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

Sound Transit's plans to expand light rail to the Eastside could bring a tunnel, an elevated line or run along any one of several surface streets.

With public input, Sound Transit hopes to narrow down the options as Eastside residents get their first glimpse of potential routes at an open house tonight in Bellevue.

Dubbed light rail's "East Link," the 19-mile eastern extension could cross Lake Washington on the Interstate 90 floating bridge to Bellevue, in what would be the world's first transit rails on a floating bridge.

The line would then become a tunnel or an above-ground line in downtown Bellevue, then head northeast in the Highway 520 corridor to the Microsoft campus and downtown Redmond.

The East Link, estimated at a cost of up to $3.9 billion, is one of the biggest portions of Sound Transit's $10 billion Phase Two plan. The plan also calls for extending the Seattle-to-SeaTac light rail, or Central Link, north to Lynnwood and south to the Port of Tacoma.

Sound Transit will unveil several route and alignment options at the open house, including a more expensive tunnel or above-ground options in downtown Bellevue. The highlighted routes could mean the light rail would run in a median on a widened street, alongside a street or underneath the street in a tunnel.

"These are the routes we believe are the most promising and that we are proposing for future analysis," said Don Billen, Sound Transit's east-corridor project manager.

Open houses


The first of four Sound Transit open houses on the East Link light rail will be held tonight in Bellevue. Residents are encouraged to share their views on the route and alignment of the rail. The open house runs from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in Room 406 at the Meydenbauer Center, 11100 N.E. Sixth St. The other meetings will take place at the same times on:

Thursday: Redmond at the Old Redmond School House Community Center, 16600 N.E. 80th St.

Sept. 20: Seattle at Union Station, 401 S. Jackson St., Ruth Fisher Board Room.

Sept. 21: Mercer Island at the Community Center at Mercer View, 8236 S.E. 24th St.

For more information visit www.soundtransit.org

After hearing from the public, the Sound Transit board will select which scenario the board prefers in early 2007, then ask voters to approve the plan in November 2007.

The transit plan is part of a regional transportation package that also includes road-construction projects from the Regional Transportation Investment District.

The Legislature has required that for the transit plan to pass, voters must also pass RTID's multibillion-dollar regional highway plan.

The open house will be conducted in conjunction with RTID, and will include questions and answers on the ballot measure and the route and alignment of the East Link. RTID will then conduct its own series of open houses on the ballot measure this fall in Seattle, Tacoma, Federal Way and Everett.

Bellevue Mayor Grant Degginger has said that he prefers a tunnel option, given what little right of way currently exists there.

"The concern is losing right of way for surface traffic, because we have constrained right of way already," Degginger said.

In the downtown Bellevue portion, Sound Transit will unveil three potential tunnel options, two surface-street above-ground options and two elevated-rail options at the open house.

The tunnel options include routes on Bellevue Way Northeast, 106th Avenue Northeast and 108th Avenue Northeast.

"We certainly want to look at opportunities to have service in the retail area of downtown and the financial areas of downtown," Degginger said. "There's a lot more to learn before we're ready to pick a preference."

Sound Transit also expects discussion of the proposed routes once the light rail crosses Lake Washington and before it enters downtown Bellevue.

Neighbors in west Bellevue organized a petition drive this summer asking the City Council to recommend to Sound Transit to stop studying Bellevue Way and 112th Avenue Southeast as possible routes and look at areas in the Interstate 405 corridor instead.

Sound Transit's preferred routes still include Bellevue Way and 112th Avenue Southeast, but also has routes to the east of Mercer Slough including 118th Ave Southeast and a route that uses the current BNSF Railway and the I-405 corridor.

"What we've done is provide two alternatives on the west side of I-405, and move farther away from neighborhoods," Billen said.

The latter routes are better options, said Renay Bennett, the president of the Bellecrest Neighborhood Association, which supported the petition. Use of the more populated 112th Avenue Southeast and Bellevue Way have a "massive negative impact" to her neighborhood, Bennett said, including numerous housing condemnations.

"Our founding neighborhood association members would lose their homes," Bennett said. "That's just not right."

Residents will also be asked what environmental issues they want Sound Transit to study as it prepares for the project's environmental report. Questions and answers will be conducted one-on-one with staff members and residents can comment verbally or in writing.

"What excites a lot of people about the East project is connecting the major employment centers in King County," Billen said.

Sound Transit will also seek feedback on whether voters prefer a "medium," "medium-high" or "high" tax to fund the project. The "medium" scenario would bring the East Link to Bellevue and ask for a tax increase of 3 cents on a $10 purchase.

The "medium-high" scenario would bring the East Link as far as Overlake in Redmond and ask for an increase of 4 cents on a $10 purchase.

A "high" scenario would bring the East Link to downtown Redmond and cost 5 cents on a $10 purchase.

Lisa Chiu: 206-464-3347 or lchiu@seattletimes.com

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