Transit board taps BNSF site in Bellevue as preferred option for rail yard

The Sound Transit Board emphasized the need to explore all options for mitigating the impact of constructing a rail yard at the BNSF site in Bellevue following its selection Thursday as the preferred alternative moving forward with development of a final environmental impact statement.

While the cheapest option with the least displacement of businesses, the city of Bellevue has been critical of using more than 20 acres of the former Burlington-Northern Santa Fe site for an operations and maintenance satellite facility due to its economic and land use impacts to redevelopment activity within the Bel-Red Corridor.

A rail yard is necessary to take on additional fleet vehicles when the Sodo yard reaches capacity in 2020 and light rail begins running on the Eastside in 2023. The city of Bellevue finalized its Bel-Red subarea plan in 2009 to include high-density, mixed-used development in anticipation of East Link light rail.

"The Bel-Red planning that we've done in Bellevue — that is integrated in light rail and dependent on light rail — was done years and years ago," said Bellevue Mayor and Sound Transit Board Member Claudia Balducci, who noted transit-oriented development will be directly affected by transit. "… It is an ironic choice, if you will."

State Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson echoed Balducci's concerns that an Urban Land Institute study to determine options for mitigating the impacts of a rail yard in the Bel-Red Corridor is far from over.

"I don't think we're done yet, and that's the troubling part for me," she said.

Following the decision, Balducci passed a motion through that authorizes the selection of three members each from the transit board and the Bellevue City Council to work with staff to preserve transit-oriented development in Bel-Red.

Balducci told the Reporter after Thursday's meeting Sound Transit staff has committed to finding ways to maximize transit-oriented development while moving forward with preliminary design of the rail yard, and will check back with the transit board throughout the process.

The city estimates a $6 million annual loss of local tax revenue will be caused by siting the rail yard at the BNSF site. Development company Wright Runstad again stated its opposition to siting a rail yard within its $2.4 billion Spring District on Thursday, concerned not only by its land use impact but how it will affect interest in future development there.

"Disappointing really isn't a strong enough word," said Balducci of the transit board's preferred alternative. "It's a problem for us."

The selection of the BNSF site most likely spares the more than 100 businesses that would have been displaced by another option to place a rail yard where Plaza 520 is currently, but Balducci said nothing is certain until a final decision is made.

"I would be really surprised if the decision changed at the end of the day," she said.


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