REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS ON BNSF EASTSIDE CORRIDOR PRESERVATION FROM AD HOC BNSF EASTSIDE CORRIDOR ADVISORY COMMITTEE (June 10, 2004)
Councilmember Patterson introduced the topic. She noted that the Policy Boards had received a briefing at last month’s meeting and would be taking joint action today on a recommendation to the Executive Board. She then called on Councilmember Pam Carter, who chaired the Ad Hoc BNSF Eastside Corridor Advisory Committee.
Councilmember Carter began by providing information about the ad hoc committee. She described its composition and acknowledged that it was a good group of dedicated people. She also reported on the committee’s two meetings, noting that at the first meeting members were provided background information and were briefed by staff on the BNSF corridor, and at the second meeting the committee received a briefing from a rail/trail project staff member from King County on the complex legal and technical issues involved in the potential acquisition of the corridor. Noting that the committee reached consensus on its recommendations, she summarized the following two key points: 1) the region finds a clear interest in preserving the corridor for future potential multi-modal transportation uses, and will conduct additional technical, policy and legal analyses to explore how this could be done; and 2) the region welcomes cooperation from BNSF to help identify key data.
Councilmember Carter made it clear that the committee was not proposing any single recommendation for transportation use along the corridor. She said the corridor is very diverse – rail may work in some places, a trail may work in others, and it’s wide enough that in some places both high capacity transit and trail could co-exist – or there may be other possibilities. "After at this very carefully we agreed it was important to preserve this corridor, and we need to know more about the cost and the technicalities involved." She called on King Cushman to explain some additional suggestions.
Mr. Cushman described two points that did not call for formal action by PSRC’s policy boards but suggested to be communicated to BNSF. One is to indicate the region’s support for projects by the cities of Redmond and Snohomish to "railbank" two spur segments of the BNSF rail line that would connect with the existing East Lake Sammamish Trail in Redmond and Centennial Regional Trail in Snohomish. The region should encourage BNSF to re-engage its work with those cities to expedite their railbanking efforts. Mr. Cushman pointed out that the Snohomish project is already moving forward and next week BNSF will file a petition of abandonment with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board for that section of the corridor.
The second suggestion deals with how to fund the additional study that is being recommended to look at the legal and technical issues involved with the potential corridor acquisition. PSRC and WSDOT have submitted a joint application for $660,000 to the PSRC’s regional competitive process to help fund the study, and it was suggested that the funding request be divided equally among the four eligible PSRC-managed funding sources: regional Surface Transportation Program (STP), regional Federal Transit Administration (FTA), and the two countywide STP/CMAQ pot of funds in King and Snohomish counties.
At this point, Commissioner Patty Lent announced that the Policy Boards had lost their quorum. It was decided that at the conclusion of the discussion, the "sense of the Boards" would be conveyed to the Executive Board with the ad hoc committee’s recommendation. In the discussion that followed, Policy Board members expressed several viewpoints. Councilmember Jeff Sax said he could not support the recommended action because it would be studied for multimodal use; he said he would be supportive only if its use was limited to a bicycle/pedestrian trail because the total costs would be less. Councilmember Carter said, "It’s such a diverse corridor that in some places it may not be appropriate for pedestrians and bicycles, and in some places it may not be appropriate for high capacity transit." She explained that the study is not to recommend specific modal plans but rather to explore the various costs and technicalities involved with acquiring and preserving the corridor. She said, "It may be 50 years before (anything) happens. Councilmember Sax said, "If staff was to bring me a fiscal analysis of how much it’s going to cost PSRC to do this analysis, then I might be ready to make a decision on whether to recommend this or not. We have a big plate of stuff to work on right now." He said he would prefer to see staff resources applied to other issues, such as the RTID ballot discussed earlier in the meeting. Councilmember Sax was also opposed to funding the study with monies that would otherwise go to Snohomish County jurisdictions. Commissioner Dan O’Neal pointed out that if we don’t do the study, we can’t get to the information and answers that members are asking about.
Councilmember Richard Cole referred to the Redmond project to acquire a spur segment of the corridor. He drew attention to a sentence on Page 8-3 of the agenda packet that stated the city would preserve it "for future transportation uses." He stated for the record, "The city has not made that decision yet, and at least some of us are arguing for trails."
Councilmember Mike Lonergan asked if there is an actual price tag on the corridor. Mr. Cushman said the cost is unknown and that estimates have been "all over the ballpark," ranging from $10 million to $300 million. Councilmember Lonergan said that as a representative from Pierce County, he could not support the recommended action because he did not feel the funding support was equitable. None of the corridor runs into Pierce County. Councilmember John Koster also expressed opposition to spending funds to study "a trail that we may or may not use 50 years from now," when there are so many other needs for transportation dollars.
Councilmember Tim Clark expressed strong support for the study, saying, "This is a once-in-alifetime opportunity.
Margot Blacker agreed with Councilmember Clark. She said, "You look at the map and you see a north-south corridor that could eventually be a solution to our transportation problems. I can’t imagine that we wouldn’t go forward with this."
Councilmember Terry Faherty did not feel that acquisition of the corridor should be considered a regional issue. He cited similar multi-jurisdictional efforts to acquire rights-of-way for the Interurban Trail that were not considered a regional effort. Julie Langabeer pointed out, "If we had preserved the old Interurban right-of-way in its entirety, we might have saved billions of dollars in transportation costs."
Commissioner Lent reiterated that the 100-foot-wide corridor represents a unique opportunity, and that assisting the many jurisdictions along its route with this study would represent a regional effort. Councilmember Patterson called the discussion to a close and asked for a vote by all Policy Board members and alternates present.
ACTION: Although the Policy Boards did not have a quorum, a vote was taken among members and alternates who were present. A 14-5 majority supported the recommendation that the Regional Council respond to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company’s query about the region’s public interest in preserving the BNSF’s eastside rail corridor as follows:
1. After reviewing background materials and having discussions with local jurisdictions along the rail corridor, the region finds a clear interest in preserving the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway Company’s Woodinville Subdivision corridor rights-of-way between the northern portion of downtown Renton in King County and the City of Snohomish in Snohomish County. The region is interested in working with the BNSF to seek to preserve this corridor and explore future potential multimodal transportation uses, and will conduct additional technical, policy and legal analyses to explore several alternative means by which this objective may be accomplished.
2. The region welcomes the continued cooperation of the BNSF to identify key data and information that will help the region understand the full implications and costs of corridor preservation. While working with the BNSF, the region will also conduct in-depth technical, policy and legal analyses, led by PSRC and WSDOT, in cooperation with all local jurisdictions along the corridor and other interested parties having current or future multimodal transportation interests. The additional studies will examine potential short- and long-term uses to be considered in the corridor and will identify potential environmental and community impacts, economic benefits and impacts, and institutional obligations that may be associated with preserving this corridor. The region will move as quickly as possible to secure funding to begin the additional technical work.