Kirkland group Save Our Trail pens Sound Transit letter in opposition to transit

Now that the city of Kirkland and other Eastside cities have sent letters to Sound Transit expressing their support for rapid transit on the Cross Kirkland Corridor (CKC), the organized opposition has its own action.

Now that the city of Kirkland and other Eastside cities have sent letters to Sound Transit expressing their support for rapid transit on the Cross Kirkland Corridor (CKC), the organized opposition has its own action.

In a letter dated Jan. 26, Save Our Trail, which opposes any transit on the CKC, wrote to the Sound Transit Board of Directors urging them to instead focus on getting bus rapid transit (BRT) on Interstate 405.

In a 6-1 vote, the council authorized Mayor Amy Walen to sign the two letters sent to Sound Transit, one by the city and one by the Eastside cities. Overall, the letters expressed conditional support for various candidate projects slated for the ST3 ballot measure expected to be voted on this fall. While the city originally pushed for BRT on the corridor and approved a $250,000 study to bolster its stance, it has shifted into a more open-minded view of light rail as more and more details emerge from Sound Transit.

The candidate projects for ST3 include putting BRT on the CKC and I-405 and light rail on the CKC. If approved, BRT on the CKC is expected to take 8-15 years to complete, while light rail would presumably take several decades to study, design and construct.

Save Our Trail, which has amassed more than 1,000 signatures on its petition and garnered hundreds of comments from supporters, believe that any rapid transit on the CKC, along with the Eastside Rail Corridor, is the wrong approach to solving traffic congestion.

“We understand Sound Transit has an easement on the Trail for transit purposes,” the letter reads, “but we want you to know of our opposition to any plan which puts mass transit on the Trail because of concerns with high cost and inefficiency, lack of demand, construction challenges and safety issues revealed by the city’s plan, and environmental issues.”

The letter states that the operating costs per rider for the rapid transit projects on the CKC are twice as much as all the other candidate projects and lacks specificity as to how they would work and operate, as the CKC cuts through several intersections, as well as concerns over the sound and safety of such a system. In its letter, the city stipulated that “only vehicles that are quiet and have zero or ultra-low emissions, such as electric vehicles, can operate on the CKC.”

Environmental concerns were also brought up in the letter, warning that construction “would invite costly legal challenges based on SEPA and other violations, and require a complex, costly and lengthy Environmental Impact Statement.”

“It is our duty as stewards of the environment to preserve green open spaces where possible and to avoid costly, unwanted, projects whose hallmark is miles of one hundred feet wide paving,” the letter reads further.

Another aspect of ST3 that has raised eyebrows is the total bill – roughly between $747 million and $3 billion.

“We are concerned with the prospect of already high property taxes going higher, making it less affordable to live in Kirkland or the Eastside,” the letter reads. “It will be much more difficult for families to make ends meet. For a city our size, we do not see how Sound Transit can justify asking voters to fund a project that costs $74.7 million per mile to build.”

Placing BRT on I-405 instead, the letter states, would be a “win-win” if it had a station on Northeast 85th Street at the center of I-405 and added bus lines were included.

“Working with Metro to increase transit service on existing routes would alleviate surface street congestion. We do not feel the City Council gave these options due consideration, so we are asking your members to do so going forward,” the letter reads. “What we envision for the Trail is to be a part of a world class green mode of transportation to connect to the current system of non-motorized trails. The cost would be minimal and the benefits to the communities and the Evergreen state would be priceless.”

The Cross Kirkland Corridor Masterplan envisions rapid transit alongside the trail, though it does not specify what kind of mode or call for any specific action on the part of the city. The city has hired consultants who have concluded that BRT could operate within the corridor while providing room for a trail. Citing examples in Europe, the consultants also told the council at the meeting that it would be feasible to have buses pass through intersections every five minutes or so without disrupting traffic.

The lone vote against the council’s decision on the Sound Transit was Councilmember Toby Nixon, who has referred to light rail as “19th Century technology.” He has advocated the idea of personal rapid transit (PRT), which uses smaller, driverless vehicles operating on guideways.