Sound Transit’s governing board on Thursday unanimously approved the final alignment for Link light rail in Bellevue, to begin service in 2023.
The vote follows Monday night’s approval of the pathway and its features by the Bellevue City Council, whose members voted for it 6-0 despite misgivings about the downtown station by council members Claudia Balducci and John Chelminiak.
The station will be elevated where trains emerge from a short downtown tunnel — similar to the Mount Baker Station at east Beacon Hill in Seattle. The station will be a block east of the Bellevue Transit Center bus hub — not as centrally located as some leaders would like, but estimated to save between $19 million and $33 million compared to the other option, stopping within the tunnel.
Bellevue and Sound Transit are seeking to offset the $320 million cost for the downtown tunnel, which will get the trains out of busy street traffic on Northeast 4th Street and Main Street. Tunnel dollars weren’t included in the regional “ST2” ballot measure that increased sales tax to build three suburban lines.
The $2.8 billion East Link will go from the International District/Chinatown Station, across Lake Washington and Mercer Island, turn north at Mercer Slough toward downtown Bellevue, then cross Interstate 405 to Overlake and the Microsoft campus, serving an estimated 45,000 passengers a day.
Future tax increases would be needed to reach downtown Redmond or build a spur to Eastgate and Issaquah.
The Bellevue alignment includes a “road over rail” section along 112th Street Southeast, which will pass over the surface-level tracks. This will allow the rail alignment to shift from the east side to the west side of the road as it approaches downtown. At Mercer Slough, the tracks will run in a trench, with a landscaped lid next to the historic Winters House.
Thursday’s vote put to rest four years of arguments and negotiations about where to put the tracks, and occasional personal accusations among Bellevue leaders. “We are so far from that now,” said Balducci, who sits on the Sound Transit board. “We are so focused on getting this done. I believe everybody in Bellevue has that intent as well.”