Thursday, May 14, 2009

Blogging Live from the Sound Transit Board meeting

The Sound Transit Board is making their final decisions on Eastlink preferred alignment today, deciding which alignment options to move forward.

I am blogging live here to keep you posted.

2:05-the last round of public comment just finished and the board chair is setting the stage for the final discussion/vote.

2:10-"We are ready to move forward" Stated board chair Nickels, "This is not a final decision but represent current (board) intent," he went on to say.

2:11-Motion voted and seconded and Chair announces there are four amendments.

2:13- the substitute motion preferred alternative is introduced substitute motion coming from small non Bellevue Eastside cities. The amendment be put forward is the same one that was put up yesterday, which I covered here and the PI covered here

2:18-Usually there is live video but it appears as though ST's website just went down, maybe too many people were watching the video

2:19-Board member Larry Phillips stated he will support the motion and wanted to make sure public comment will still be taken into consideration during the final EIS.

2:21-the first amendment directs ST staff looks at the traffic patterns again if light rail was to be at grade. It also directs Bellevue's and ST traffic analysis to undergo peer review. This amendment is in preparation for having to make the final decision of tunnel or at grade through downtown Bellevue down the road. The amendment #1 passed unanimously.

2:24-Mayor of Redmond John Marchione introduces an amendment also deals with downtown Bellevue. It suggests looking at 10 questions for both tunnel options (the deep bore and the cut and cover). Board member Anderson asked how much this would cost? Staff said these questions would be in the final EIS and this amendment would make sure the research came before the board before the final EIS does to allow.

2:28-WSDOT director and board member Paula Hammond put forward amendment #3 that clarifies that the project will maintain direct access HOV for carpools and buses between Bellevue and I-90. Joni Earl clarified that this will direct preliminary engineering to look at preserving both on and off HOV only ramps even if ultimately one has to be removed. The question was raised that if removing the ramps would increase travel times and the traffic analysis cited said now. Hammond then responded that the I-90 is an interstate highway and WSDOT is at the table at "owners and stewards" for the public resource and trying to preserve both ramps direct access ramps. The amendment passed with one person voting no on a voice vote.

2:37-Mayor Marchione puts forward amendment number 4. This amendment is regarding the retained cut alternative in Bel-Red. The current motion language says the developer of City of Bellevue must come up with additional funding if needed for the retain cut in Bel-Red. This amendment makes the language more general and calls for further funding if needed to come from "other sources" and doesn't place the burden of potential additional funding directly on the developer and Bellevue. It makes the language less prescriptive but in the end the City and developer could still be the ones to pay for additional costs associated with the cut and cover tunnel in Bel-Red.

Pierce County Board members Enslow and McCarthy questioned if this takes additional costs off the burden of the developers and Bellevue and onto the backs of Sound Transit. Other potential language is now being discussed. A friendly amendment was accepted to put in language "and pursue public and private partnerships if this becomes the preferred alternative".

The other Pierce County Board member chimed in that the language needs to spell out new revenue must pay for extra costs for the Bel-Red cut and cover tunnel, not ST money, because in principal ST money should only be used to extend the line.

The amendment with the with the friendly amendment language passed. I think McCarthy and Anderson voted no with everyone else voting yes. Although it hard to say for sure because it was a voice vote.

2:50-now that the amendments are done they are moving into a converstation about the overall preferred alternative. As expected most of the discussion is centered around the Bellevue Tunnel.

Councilmember Paterson brought up concerns around the tunnel saying that this preferred alternative decision will keep the tunnel option on the table. Passing this would give the ST Staff a go ahead to lobby the federal government for the precious few dollars that are available when the "spine" of the system isn't yet completed. Her argument is that ST should not lobby the federal government for money above and beyond projects funded in ST2 (which the Bellevue Tunnel is not) before the board is able to discuss this issue on a system-wide basis.

Board member Roberts and Enslow they chimed in with similar sentiments saying that unfunded line extensions to places such as Tacoma and Bellevue, or as Roberts said "connecting the dots", should be prioritized over tunnels.

2:57-Patterson says she wants to offer an amendment to put the concerns being raised around federal funding and the Bellevue tunnel into writing in the original preferred alternative motion.

3:03-The discussion is getting heated as some of the Eastside members and Joni Earl and defending the current language saying the proposed language will not take federal funding from other Sound Transit projects.

3:05-Tacoma City councilmember Julie Anderson says she feels confident the current plan is information gathering and sufficiently protects the other sub-areas and the overall ST build out. Pierce County Executive McCarthy said she is concerned about the overall cost and is equally concerned with the issue as others but echoed Anderson's sentiment that she is ok with going forward in with fact finding around the Bellevue Tunnel.

3:08-Phillips expresses his environmental angle stating that both high quality transit systems and urban communities around transit are important. ST needs to take transit oriented development and the need to create compact urban communities into consideration as they work with cities on citing.

3:11-Paterson wanted to have clarified that ST staff will not lobby for federal dollars for the Bellevue Tunnel without board approval. Earl said that would never happen without direct board approval.

3:14-they are moving towards final passage of the bill. The substitute was passes unanimously. Now they are holding the final vote on the preferred alignment motion! Chair Nickels thanks the board for their hard work and for the substitute motion that was drafted by Eastside Board members.

The roll was called on the motion and the motion passed unanimously.

Signing off for now!

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