11-20-09 article


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King County Executive Kurt Triplett on Friday announced a $26.5 million proposal to buy about 25 miles of an Eastside rail corridor for future transportation and recreation purposes.

Triplett’s announcement is part of a broader push to buy and preserve the 42-mile BNSF rail corridor between Renton and Snohomish.

Triplett said plans are proceeding for the Port of Seattle to buy the entire corridor by mid December. King County, the city of Redmond and others would then work to buy portions of that corridor to keep it in public ownership. Friday’s announcement would be the county’s contribution to the overall goal.

The funding proposal would be paid for by bonds sold next year and backed by the voter-approved Conservation Futures Levy Subfund. Triplett said it wouldn’t impact the county’s operating budget, which faced a $56 million deficit next year. The County Council would have to approve Triplett’s plan.

In March Port Chief Executive Tay Yoshitani had said the port would postpone acquisition of the corridor because of continued problems in the bond markets. The port had wanted to to issue municipal bonds to finance the $107 million purchase price.

County Councilman Larry Phillips said the Port wanted to continue the deal, but with a greater assurance that other entitities would step in and buy portions of the corridor after they made the overall purchase.

"They needed to have a partnership ready to go right away," Phillips said. "They’re the bridge, they’re the bank as well. They get in, they get out."

The preservation of the Eastside corridor has been a long time goal. Former County Executive Ron Sims announced in May of 2005 his idea to buy the property and turn it into "the granddaddy of all trails."

Recreation enthusiasts envisioned a trail for hiking and biking but others objected, saying either light rail or heavy rail capacity must be maintained. In May of last year the port and County Council signed off on the idea of developing the corridor for a hiking, biking trail and a freight line – and potentially for transit.

County Council members and leaders of the region’s cycling community hailed Friday’s announcement at a news conference.

"This is going to be a critical part of how we manage growth in the future," Phillips said.

Councilwoman Julia Patterson said the ability to develop transit service between the southern part of the county and the eastern suburbs was critical because so many people commute to work in that region.

"We need high-capacity transit along that corridor," Patterson said.

Chuck Ayers, president of the Cascade Bicycle Club, said at the news conference that his group was pleased.

"It’s recreational, it’s transportation. I think we’ve gotten it right," he said.

Chris Grygiel can be reached at 206-448-8363 or chrisgrygiel@seattlepi.com.