Kirkland City Council approves letters to Sound Transit supporting rapid transit on Cross Kirkland Corridor

The Kirkland City Council has officially declared its support for proposed Sound Transit projects that would place rapid transit on the Cross Kirkland Corridor (CKC) and elsewhere in the region.

The Kirkland City Council has officially declared its support for proposed Sound Transit projects that would place rapid transit on the Cross Kirkland Corridor (CKC) and elsewhere in the region.

At its Jan. 19 meeting, the council voted to authorize Mayor Amy Walen to sign two letters to the Sound Transit Board of Directors, one from the city and another from the joint Eastside cities.

The first letter from Kirkland emphasizes the city’s belief in a need for rapid transit of some kind on the Eastside Rail Corridor, which includes the CKC. Although the council in the past has pushed for bus rapid transit, the letter seeks for Sound Transit to provide “adequate funding” for a light rail line between the Totem Lake Urban Center and downtown Bellevue, though the letter also calls for “flexibility to instead construct and operate the highest level of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).”

“The need for this flexibility stems from the fact that Bus Rapid Transit may provide better, more flexible service and may better address the concerns that we have heard in extensive public outreach in the Kirkland community, and that new modes of public transportation might well be available over the next decade and authorized by Sound Transit,” the letter reads.

The letter also calls for Sound Transit to provide BRT on Interstate 405 — something critics of rapid transit on the CKC have supported as an alternative — while ensuring that the BRT offers “reasonable access points” in Kirkland.

The letter includes specific recommendations for several candidate projects Sound Transit is considering as part of its ST3 ballot measure this November, along with required elements. One of the stipulations is that “only vehicles that are quiet and have zero or ultra-low emissions, such as electric vehicles, can operate on the CKC.”

City Manager Kurt Triplett said during that meeting that at the moment there is no specific timing for when any of the projects would be completed if put on the ballot and approved, but city officials have previously stated that a BRT would be on the CKC in 8-15 years and a light rail line in several decades at the earliest.

Residents opposed to rapid transit on the CKC spoke during the public-comment portion of the meeting and reiterated their opposition for reasons ranging from logistical to cost-effectiveness.

“I would like to ask the council to support anything that doesn’t involve the CKC,” one man said. “Just because it’s the easiest route doesn’t mean it’s the best route or the right route.”

A woman also opposed to rapid transit on the CKC referred to it as “a costly project that is not being portrayed accurately.”

“Yes, we know that the Sound Transit easement exists, but Sound Transit is floating proposals on the easement only because you actively lobby for this concept,” she said.

One of the greatest critics of Sound Transit’s proposal actually came from the legal dais. Before the vote, councilmember Toby Nixon said if it were up to him, the letter would be replaced with three words: no thank you. He went on to say that the proposal would be too expensive for Kirkland residents, who would pay hundreds of dollars annually to pay for the projects and not see any return for years. Even then, he said, it would not benefit many residents.

“I think we should just say no to buses and trains on our corridor,” he said. “We should just say no to Sound Transit on our streets.”

Councilmember Shelly Kloba, however, argued that Sound Transit’s proposals are a solution to a regional problem that can’t be rectified locally.

“It’s a tri-county area that would be benefiting from this project,” she said. “Having an area that large is important because so much of our traffic is multi-county, multi-city, and these are problems we can’t solve unless we do it together.”

She added that while Kirkland residents may pay taxes while Sound Transit projects are built elsewhere, people in other cities will be paying when the Kirkland projects are finally being constructed.

“That is regional cooperation, it’s the nature of it, and it’s the only way we will get anything done,” she said. “We currently pay the price because we have chosen in the past to not do visionary transit projects that are regional in scope.”

Councilmember Jay Arnold addressed issues raised by critics of rapid transit on the CKC, saying that while they are listening to their concerns, “doing nothing for 40 years is not an option.”

“The council is looking for a balanced solution,” he said. “I think the way we’re internalizing it is ‘Don’t screw it up.’”