Look at buying Eastside rail corridor, region told
Two regional policy boards said yesterday that the region should spend $660,000 to study in detail the possibility of buying a 40-mile-long railroad corridor that runs along the east side of Lake Washington and that Burlington Northern Santa Fe says it intends to sell.
The 100-foot-wide rail corridor runs from the north end of Renton into the city of Snohomish.
"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity," said Kent City Councilman Tim Clark, advocating that the Puget Sound Regional Council spend the money.
A 14-5 majority of a joint meeting of the regional council's Growth Management Policy Board and of the Transportation Policy Board agreed with Clark, encouraging the regional council's executive committee to proceed with the study.
The regional council sets growth management and transportation policy for the region. The $660,000 amounts to less than half a percent of federal discretionary funds the council manages, said King Cushman, regional strategy adviser at the council.
The single-track rail line is lightly used, carrying the Spirit of Washington Dinner Train and a local freight train that runs five days a week from the Interbay train yard in Seattle out to Woodinville and back.
It also occasionally carries special freight trains that are too wide or high to fit through Everett or Seattle tunnels.
The rail traffic is declining, and the rail bed and track are in poor condition, the state Department of Transportation told the regional council in a background report.
It's not known how much acquiring the corridor would cost, Cushman said. Estimates have been "all over the place," ranging from $10 million to $300 million.
But Snohomish County Councilman Jeff Sax said he was unhappy that it would be studied for "multimodal use." He said he would be supportive only if its use was limited to a bike and pedestrian trail. To study it also for high-capacity transit would increase the cost, delay and controversy, he said.
Snohomish County Council Chairman John Koster questioned spending money for the study, saying the region has billions of dollars of transportation needs it is struggling to meet.
Other opposition had to do with which funds within the regional council the money would come from.
Tukwila City Councilwoman Pam Carter, who chaired the ad hoc committee, said that even though the committee was in agreement that there's a clear interest in preserving the corridor, it was not in agreement about what the corridor should be used for.
"It's such a diverse corridor," said Carter. Some parts of it would not be appropriate for high-capacity transit, while other parts would not be appropriate for pedestrian or bike use, she said. The 100-foot corridor is wide enough that it might be used for more than one type of use at the same place, she said.
Cushman said use for high-capacity transit would likely make sense only for the segment between Bellevue and Kirkland and that would be 20 or 30 years in the future.
Other members of the two policy boards, agreeing with Clark that the purchase is a once in a lifetime opportunity, said they would be shocked if the regional council did not at least study acquiring the land.
"The possibilities of this are fabulous," said Seattle City Councilwoman Jean Godden. "I'm stunned people would not want to know at least what we're talking about."
Godden said Seattle's Burke-Gilman Trail is "one of the most wonderful things we have."
Julie Langabeer, a representative of the League of Women Voters of Snohomish County, said the region may not end up buying the corridor but "to not even look at it does not make a lot of sense." Langabeer said the region might be throwing away the opportunity to acquire public right of way inexpensively.
Margot Blacker, representing the environmental group 1000 Friends of Washington, said, "I can't imagine we wouldn't go forward with this."
The ad hoc committee and two boards also recommended that the cities of Redmond and Snohomish continue their negotiations with Burlington Northern to buy short spurs of the line, each of which would extend existing multiuse trails.
P-I reporter Jane Hadley can be reached at 206-448-8362 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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