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When is a tunnel station not a tunnel station?
By the end of April, Sound Transit is slated to settle on the final Cost Savings Ideas for the East Link Extension that would connect Seattle, Mercer Island, Bellevue and Redmond's Overlake area. The cost savings process kicked off with a November 2011 Memorandum of Understanding between the City of Bellevue and Sound Transit, which aimed to reduce Bellevue’s contribution for a downtown light rail tunnel by up to $60 million.
Perhaps it's ironic that one of the surviving cost cutting options takes the downtown Bellevue station out of the tunnel altogether. The currently selected alternative provides a cut-and-cover tunnel at 110th Ave. NE, with access points on both sides of NE 4th Street. A display board from an April 4th cost savings Open House shows the two cost cutting options for the downtown station that are left standing:
- The “Optimized Selected Alternative” reduces the depth of the tunnel and shifts the station entrance west of 110th Ave NE, closer to Bellevue Transit Center.
- The “NE 6th St. Station” also reduces the depth of the tunnel, but replaces the tunnel station with a surface station at NE 6th St.
The “Optimized Selected Alternative” seems a reasonable improvement, with engineering efficiencies that have been generally well-received, and estimated savings of up to $6-10 million. The NE 6th St. Station option (proposed by the Bellevue City Council), on the other hand, is one of the same cost cutting ideas that we were griping about more than eight months ago. While the estimated savings are more substantial at $19-33 million, the long-term benefits are nil. The exposed outdoor station would provide minimal weather protection for riders, and the loss of a second entrance is estimated to reduce by half the number of residents within walking distance (down to 7% of downtown residents within a 5-minute walk radius from 14% for the optimized alternative). The proposed placement also increases the number of pedestrian crossings needed to access the station from the transit center, and if you’ve spent much time in the area, you will know that these monstrous crossings are not pedestrian friendly.
As Seattle Transit Blog put it bluntly in an open letter to the Bellevue City Council and Sound Transit: