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Old railroad chugs forward as money shuffles
King County executive Dow Constantine proposed paying the Port of Seattle $15.8 million for nearly 20 miles of the Eastside Rail Corridor last week. If accepted, the disused railway that occupies the corridor would go to public ownership and connect the Eastside in more ways than one.
“This corridor is poised to become an important transportation link among Eastside suburbs,” said Redmond Councilmember Kathy Lambert in a news release. “The opportunities for dual use of the corridor could include a path for non-motorized use alongside passenger rail transit. Establishing public ownership and access to this transportation resource is a major achievement for King County.”
The corridor spans from Redmond to Renton and cuts through many Kirkland neighborhoods. It has been an ongoing project for the council for about 20 years.
“We see it as a good thing,” said David Godfrey, transportation engineering manager of Kirkland. “If developed, it will help connect the north and south region.”
They city is in the process of developing the use of its own corridor, the Cross Kirkland Corridor, bought from the Port of Seattle last spring.The Council purchased 5.75 miles of the 44-mile long Eastside Rail Corridor on April 13, 2012 for $5 million.
However, transforming the railway that occupies the corridor will cost more.
On Aug. 7 the council unanimously voted to allocate $203,000 of Surface Water Reserves to add to the combined total of $3.2 million from direct state appropriations and a Federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grant. The money will be used for rail removal and an interim trail scheduled to commence early 2013 and finish late 2014.
The estimated cost of the project is $3.6 million.
An additional $450,000, with a $50,000 local match, is being sought through other grants, the funding of those grants will be decided during the 2013 legislature. Godfrey said the $100,000 difference between the cost and the total funding if the grants are successful will act as a buffer in case it ends up costing more.
The Council approved funding from the Surface Water Reserves because, according to Aug. 7 city documents, the trail will improve access to surface water facilities in need of repair. Money in the reserves comes from ratepayers that pay into the surface water utility.
The trail will consist of crushed gravel, similar to the East Lake Sammamish Trail, with fences and chain links to protect “sensitive” areas.
A Master Plan for future transportation throughout the corridor is in the works. Godfrey says the plan is currently unfunded but is analyzing how the corridor will handle a paved trail.
"In order to keep drainage improvements to a minimum the trail needs to be about the width (8-10 feet) of the existing rail bed," Godfrey said, "and that's narrow for a paved trail where bike speeds can be higher."
Potential funding for the paved trails is likely to come from the King County and Kirkland park levies. But funds from these levies would only pave portions of the corridor because city documents say paving the path could cost up to three times the amount of a gravel trail.
While Kirkland resident Bob Style agrees there should be a corridor for pedestrian use, he says voters do not want funding to come from park levies.
“That fund can be paid for without new taxes,” said Style. “That’s what the poll indicated. The council needs to not kick the can down the road. They need to prioritize.”
The Master Plan will expand off of the 2009 Eastside Rail Corridor Interest Statement in which the adopted it in April 2011.
The Eastside Rail corridor was formerly known as the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway but the name soon changed after the Port of Seattle obtained the railway in 2009.
During prior transportation commission meetings, some Kirkland residents were opposed to rail removal. Many said they were concerned that if the rails were uprooted, businesses would not be able to use the current or future railway. They said upgrading rails would be easier if existing rails were already in place there was a fear that if they were taken out, they would never be reconstructed. Some were also worried the rails would not be able to be used as a “redundant line” for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway mainline.
The Commission countered the concerns with a list of reasons why removal was necessary. Future use of the railway is unlikely, the commission said, because the Port of Seattle has made no effort in its three years of ownership to operate it. If it did operate, it would operate at very low speeds. And a redundant line is obsolete because the Wilburton tunnel was removed from I-405 and if made into a trail. The commission also said more people would use the corridor if it were replaced by a trail.
For those who want to be involved, Kirkland residents can “adopt” a section of the corridor to keep it clean with the City’s “Adopt-a-Trail” program. An event to kick off the program will be on Saturday Sept. 8 from 10 a.m. to noon at the intersection of NE 87th Street and 112th Avenue N.E. Garbage bags, safety vests, some tools and refreshments will be provided. Kudos Kirkland and the Highlands Neighborhoods will be helping and advise helpers to bring their own clippers and gloves.
For more information on the Cross Kirkland Corridor contact David Godfrey at 425 587 3865 and for inquiries on a “Adopt a Trail” contact Kirkland Public Works Street Division at 425 587 3900 or firstname.lastname@example.org