BBB Releases Its Eastlink B7 Light Rail Route Analysis and Findings
Building A Better Bellevue has completed its B7 Route Analysis study. Our study findings and recommendations were released to regional news media, and also presented to local community leaders on December 1.
The central conclusion of our study: Sound Transit’s B7 Route Plan To Bring Light Rail Into the City of Bellevue Included Unnecessary Features Apparently Intended to Defeat Its Acceptance.
Sound Transit’s preliminary design of the unselected B7 Rail Line alternative through the City of Bellevue includes elements that unnecessarily increase construction costs, property acquisition costs and environmental risks. The combination of design decisions made and construction techniques specified assured that substantial added costs would be required to build its B7 light rail line route option, thereby making the route unacceptable.
Analysis by Building a Better Bellevue’s B7 Experts Study Team has found that the cost of an “optimized” B7 route would likely be significantly less than the cost of Sound Transit’s B7 design alternative. The added costs of Sound Transit’s B7 route plan, compared to better design and construction options, range between $30 and $120 Million. Additionally, our experts found that an optimized B7 route would also succeed, when compared to Sound Transit’s preferred B2M route (Bellevue Way and 112th Avenue SE), when other B-Segment route decision criteria used by Sound Transit are evaluated.
Based on our team’s findings BBB has recommended a formal investigation into the reasons why Sound Transit purposely specified costly design elements, thereby making the B7 route unacceptable due to its cost and alleged environmental risks.
In more detail, the following B7 Route elements presented in Sound Transit’s DEIS and SDEIS reports raise significant questions as to their necessity and/or sufficiency of analysis:
1. A Redundant and Costly New Bike and Walking Trail
Placement of an exceptionally wide bike path and walking trail along the entire length of the BNSF portion of the B7 route provides evidence of requiring unnecessary and costly requirements. Adding this trail element became a “critical” design requirement for Sound Transit. The fact that a long-used, and superior bike path and walking trail already exists immediately adjacent to the B7 rail line route was given no consideration.
2. A Wide Project Footprint With Questionable Rail Line Placement
Choosing not to utilize the center area of the BNSF rail bed, instead moving the train rails to the west side of the right-of-way, requires extensive movement of soil, and construction of substantial retaining walls along the entire length of the north/south portion of the B7 route. This choice also adds to the noise burden by elimination of berms and moving the rail guideways closer to existing multi-family residences, thereby requiring greater use of noise walls and other noise mitigation techniques.
3. An Excessively Large Park and Ride Facility Placed Near Sensitive Areas, Requiring the Taking of Expensive Private Property
Also adding to the challenges of implementing Sound Transit’s B7 plan are its specifications for a large park and ride facility along 118th Avenue SE, at SE 8th Street, adjacent to a sensitive wetland, and requiring the taking of a substantial amount of private commercial property while incurring employment losses. The size specification for this facility is twice as large as needed for its projected usage. This specification makes it less feasible to locate the facility at a more logical place, such as the existing Wilburton Park and Ride lot on the north side of SE 8th Street along I-405. A more appropriate Park and Ride facility can be built at the intersection of I-90 and South Bellevue Way, yielding better ridership than ST’s preferred Bellevue Way option, plus better transit operations during the construction period and thereafter, as a result of retention of the existing South Bellevue Park and Ride function.
4. Bridge Structure Across the Slough Constructed Using Costly Methods
The construction methodology set forth calls for a separate temporary bridge structure to support cranes, etc. needed for installing the permanent bridge components. This is the most expensive method available for bridge construction, and also causes the greatest environmental damage. The temporary bridge cost approaches that of the new bridge itself. Other design alternatives and construction options are available that are cheaper and have fewer environmental impacts, and should have been considered.
5. Failure to Utilize Unused Roadside Right of Way Along the West Side of I-405, Requiring the Taking of Expensive Commercial Property
Sound Transit determined that a large new storage facility structure, on the west side of I-405, must be taken to accommodate its design for an elevated rail guide way placement near the north end of the B7 route. More than adequate space is available to build a retained fill guideway if an easement is sought from WSDOT to use a very small portion of their right-of-way along the western edge of the embankment running along the west side of I-405, thereby avoiding the taking of any private property.
6. Environmental Risks Overstated
Sound Transit’s DEIS and SDEIS reports found dramatic environmental risks associated with their B7 version. These risks included sizeable wetland and park area impacts, extensive wildlife challenges, as well as residential noise exposure issues. Many of these environmental risks are directly associated with the westerly movement of the rail line route to accommodate their proposed bike and walking trail. This resulted in unnecessary removal of existing berms and flora along the BNSF rail line right of way and construction of extensive retaining walls. Sound Transit also called for placement of a rail crossover very near residences at the south end of the BNSF right of way, when other alternative locations with little or no noise impacts are available. Wetland area and park impacts are primarily due to their conservative bridge construction techniques assumed for crossing Mercer Slough which led to assumption of construction seasons of more than one year and translating thus to permanent direct impacts. Sound Transit has also raised stability risks to the existing I-90 roadway, resulting from building a new rail line bridge across the Mercer Slough peat bog. However, this peat bog stability risk has been discounted by an expert within WSDOT and a geotechnical consultant experienced in working in this material.
Better Bellevue’s engineering experts team has identified a number of alternatives to the design options set out by Sound Transit for the B7 route. The team believes that a redesigned B7 route, utilizing these alternatives, would eliminate many of the costs and environmental risks identified by Sound Transit. If adopted, the reduced costs and environmental risks achievable through use of these alternatives are expected to make the B7 route considerably less expensive, along with having substantially fewer environmental impacts than Sound Transit’s preferred B2M route, while yielding comparable ridership and better speed performances. The new B7 engineering study now underway by the City of Bellevue is expected to substantiate these findings.
Building A Better Bellevue will release the complete details of our findings and recommendations in a series of reports on our website. These reports contain many tables, charts and graphs needed to fully explicate and detail our research and findings. Some of these materials are quite technical in nature, but are necessary to fully detail the complex engineering considerations used by Sound Transit in fashioning their proposed B7 design, as well as to substantiate the benefits of the route alternative proposed by Better Bellevue.
Readers who wish to view the entire scope of BBB’s findings immediately can download a copy of our formal presentation document, as well as of our complete documentary report by linking to the following two website URLs using your browser:
(Please note that the files are very large and will take some time to download.)
Better Bellevue’s B7 Experts Team began its analysis work in early August. This work included an exhaustive review of Sound Transit’s DEIS and SDEIS reports and other supplemental materials made available to our team by Sound Transit. The team also conducted extensive in-the-field observational research as well as geotechnical and structural engineering observations. Experts at WSDOT, and at other agencies and firms with expertise in constructing rail facilities in wetlands and along transportation rights-of-way, as well as environmental protection specialists were also consulted. Hundreds of hours of study and examination were dedicated to these activities.
Team members also met frequently to consider findings and weigh their interpretation together in order to assure that all nuances and potential errors were uncovered. Drafts of the final report, and of the presentation document proceeded through numerous iterations to assure accuracy and completeness. Final drafts were then submitted to external peer review experts for their consideration, editorial advice and suggested revisions.
Based on this extensive work and independent review, the Building A Better Bellevue Steering Committee recommends this work with confidence in its conclusions and recommendations.
Building A Better Bellevue’s leadership, and our supporters, owe the members of our experts team much gratitude for their commitment and demonstrated performance. This work could not have been completed without their very generous contributions of time and expertise. This expertise is very extensive. The combined professional work history of the team members comprises more than 250 years of professional practice, working as principals/partners/executives in widely recognized firms, and with major clients, national and international, as well as local and regional. Their expertise includes training and experience in the fields of management consulting, civil engineering, structural engineering, traffic engineering, geotechnical engineering, transportation planning, financial analysis, financial accounting and auditing, land use law, regulatory analysis and review, and organizational behavior.
Building A Better Bellevue Steering Committee sincerely thanks all the members of our experts team for their very valuable contributions in helping to assemble our documents.
Bellevue’s residential neighborhoods, and our city‘s businesses will be greatly impacted by the B2M (Bellevue Way and 112th Avenue) light rail line option being pursued by Sound Transit. We anticipate that the findings reported here will make a valuable contribution to help shape an acceptable light rail alignment into our city.
We also thank those members of our Bellevue City Council who have courageously stood for placing the proposed light rail line on the B7 (I-90/BNSF) route.
As our Steering Committee noted in the announcement of the creation of our organization, “Compromising our core values is not the measure by which our city has thrived. Our city has thrived precisely because we have only undertaken that which would be best for our future.”
Building A Better Bellevue, and its supporters, will work tirelessly to protect the always quiet, peaceful and safe environment of our neighborhoods, as well as our wilderness areas, as we have long known them. We will accept no compromise in this regard.
The Building A Better Bellevue Steering Committee also thanks the many hundreds of Bellevue neighborhood residents who have contributed so generously of their financial resources and volunteered time to help aid our mutual cause. This work here would not have been possible without everyone’s help, and especially your financial and moral support.
We welcome your feedback and suggestions, as well as your questions. Look for a continuing flow of messages over the coming days as we serialize the presentation of the content of our report and presentation documents. All of this information is also being posted at our website: http://www.betterbellevue.org
Thank you for your attention, interest and support.
The Building A Better Bellevue Steering Committee
P.O. Box 40453
Bellevue, WA 98015-4453