Sims wants to pick up speed on land-swap deal
A complicated deal in which King County would trade Boeing Field for an Eastside rail corridor may not be in final form by the end of this...
Seattle Times staff reporter
A complicated deal in which King County would trade Boeing Field for an Eastside rail corridor may not be in final form by the end of this month as negotiators hoped, but officials have pledged to make commuter trains part of the corridor's future.
County Executive and dealmaker Ron Sims kicked his public campaign for the land swap into high gear Wednesday when he stood beside the BNSF Railway tracks in Renton and signed an agreement about its future use with biking, transit and open-space advocates.
The Cascade Bicycle Club, Cascade Land Conservancy and Transportation Choices Coalition joined Sims in a "statement of principles" intended to assure skeptics that putting a trail in the 40-mile corridor from Renton to Snohomish wouldn't preclude its eventual use for high-capacity rail transit.
The statement envisions "a dual-use transportation corridor that should ultimately be rails with trails," and says any trail should be publicly marked as interim and should be rerouted to accommodate rail lines when money is available for transit.
"Let's get it into a trail right away and save it for a dual use in the future," said Cascade Land Conservancy President Gene Duvernoy.
Sims said a trail could open in 2009 or 2010.
His chief of staff, Kurt Triplett, has begun drumming up support for Sims' plan from labor organizations, chambers of commerce and other organizations. Those groups are expected to lobby the Metropolitan King County Council and Seattle Port Commission to approve the land swap.
King County, BNSF and the Port of Seattle are working on a deal in which the Port would buy the rail corridor for $103 million, trade it to King County for Boeing Field, and give the county $66 million to build a trail from Renton to Woodinville.
Negotiators have been trying to complete the agreement for review by the County Council and the Port Commission by the end of this month, but Triplett said Wednesday that the schedule "may slip a little bit." If approved by the council and the commission, the real-estate deal would close Dec. 31.
Port Commissioner Bob Edwards joined Sims Wednesday, saying the land swap is important to the ports of Seattle and Tacoma because it is linked to agreements that would enlarge BNSF's Stampede Pass tunnel and build a regional truck-to-train freight yard somewhere in South King County or northern Pierce County.
Without those kinds of improvements, Edwards said, Puget Sound ports could lose key customers to the Canadian ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert.
County Councilmember Larry Phillips, who opposes trading away county-owned Boeing Field, said Sims' dual-use statement "is a long ways from where we started out, with the executive's sudden, almost middle-of-the-night announcement that this is the granddaddy of all trails."
Now that Sims recognizes the BNSF Corridor as a major transportation route, Phillips said, the county should drop the land swap and purchase the land with money from county, city and state governments and Sound Transit.
Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or firstname.lastname@example.org