Critics of the Eastside railroad claim that it is poorly located for transit use. For example, the BNSF Corridor Preservation Study stated: "...the existing rail line is not very well located to effectively serve downtown centers such as Bellevue."1
However, even a casual examination of the railroad's route shows that this argument is completely without merit. In fact, the railroad is extremely well located with regard to both immediate use and long-term considerations. This is mainly because it roughly parallels I-405, which is the most congested freeway in the entire state,2 and passes through or near most major destinations on the rapidly growing Eastside, including:
1. Through downtown Renton and a short walk to the Renton transit center, which is a major bus transfer and parking facility. Renton is convenient to the rapidly growing Kent Valley, many of whose residents work on the Eastside.
2. Near The Landing (a large mixed use project being constructed in North Renton) and convenient to Gene Coulon Memorial Beach Park.
3. Across I-90 and near Factoria. This location has the potential to become a major transfer point for bus routes that run on the I-90 freeway as well as other nearby routes. Moreover, a short shuttle bus service could make it convenient to Factoria, which is expected to be transformed into a high density mixed use neighborhood.
4. Near downtown Bellevue,3 just a short walk to the rapidly expanding Overlake medical complex and directly through downtown's future growth path to the east of I-405. A station at NE 8th Street would allow passengers convenient access to the entire downtown and peripheral areas via a brief shuttle or circulator bus ride.4 Construction of a pedestrian bridge or lid over the I-405 freeway could make it a pleasant walk to the existing downtown area. The walking distance from such station to downtown Bellevue is comparable to that from King Street Station, which is used by Sound Transit's Sounder commuter trains, to most of downtown Seattle.5
5. Adjacent to the South Kirkland park-and-ride lot. This would also likely become a major bus transfer point because of its proximity to SR-520 and various local bus routes. Moreover, it is also just a modest shuttle bus or bicycle ride away from Microsoft's headquarters complex in Redmond.6
6. Near downtown Kirkland and adjacent to Google's expanding Seattle area main facility.
7. Through the Totem Lake area (which may eventually be redeveloped into a high density, mixed use neighborhood) and a moderate walk to the large medical complex centering on Evergreen Hospital.
8. Adjacent to downtown Woodinville and through Woodinville's scenic winery district.
9. Through downtown Redmond and through the Willows Road high-tech corridor.
10. Through Maltby.
11. A short walk to downtown Snohomish and relatively accessible to much of rapidly growing Snohomish County.
In addition to their immediate traffic potential, the above-mentioned destinations are generally well suited for absorbing much of the increase in population and economic activity that is forecast to occur in the region in the coming decades. And a commuter service on the railroad will most likely provide a powerful incentive for concentrating growth around those destinations, as experience in other regions has repeatedly demonstrated. This, in turn, would help relieve pressure for more sprawl, would slow the growth of congestion on I-405 and would contribute to the long-term growth in passenger traffic on the railroad.
The Eastside railroad is also well located in the sense that it would be relatively easy to both extend passenger service over other, existing rail lines and construct several several short extensions, thereby further increasing its usefulness. The former includes direct service to Everett and beyond in the north and to Tacoma and beyond in the south. The latter includes a line through the Overlake corridor to downtown Redmond and an extension of the branch line northwest from downtown Woodinville to the University of Washington at Bothell and downtown Bothell.7
The location of the railroad is clearly so good, in fact, that it would be difficult to imagine a better one, even one created at a cost of many billions of dollars and with decades of disruptive construction. In fact, this location could give the railroad a substantially higher ridership potential than several other, far more costly, rail transit lines in the region.8 Although a few highly vocal critics have advocated immediately scrapping the railroad and conversion of its roadbed into a bicycle trail and and then starting from scratch, it would obviously be vastly cheaper and far quicker to correct any defects in the existing route.
2The Washington State Department of Transportation has designated I-405 as the most congested freeway in the entire state, and it is likely that it is, in fact, the most congested freeway in the entire northwestern U.S. Congestion has continued to worsen despite the expenditure of billions of dollars over the past several decades on repeated widening projects and other improvements, and this trend is expected to continue despite plans to spend as much as $20 billion on further widening over the next two decades. Moreover, the congestion trend could be accelerated by events such as the demolition or collapse of the Alaska Way Viaduct in Seattle. For more about I-405, see The Great I-405 Boondoggle, Eastside Rail Now!, January 2007.
3Bellevue already has the second largest urban core in the state and the second largest employment center in the region, after downtown Seattle. A large percentage of more than 44,000 commuters arriving in downtown Bellevue each morning travel north or south through the Eastside on I-405.
4There has been much interest in starting a local circulator bus service in downtown Bellevue, and a commuter rail station at the Northeast 8th Street crossing would be a logical stop for it. The station could also be served by other, nearby bus routes, particularly those already running on Northeast 8th, and become a secondary transit center for downtown Bellevue.
5In contrast to subway, light rail and streetcar lines, few commuter rail lines have stations in the very heart of downtowns. Rather, they tend to be on the periphery, and most commuters transfer to local transit lines to reach their final destinations. Examples on the West Coast include Union Station in Los Angeles, Caltrain's San Francisco Terminal and King Street Station in Seattle. Likewise, most riders live further than just a short walk from outlying commuter rail stations.
6Microsoft is the biggest single employer in the region, and a large percentage of its employees commute north and south through the Eastside.
7This location is also good in other respects. For example, its connections to other rail lines on both ends makes it suitable for use as an emergency freight bypass for Burlington Northern's vulnerable main line through downtown Seattle. And its diverse -- and occasionally spectacular -- scenery in combination with its proximity to major population centers provides good potential for tourist and recreation-oriented train operations.
8The most obvious of these is Sound Transit's commuter rail line between Seattle and Everett, for which weekday ridership was only about 800 during 2007.
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This page created January 25, 2008.
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