12-21-09 article

Bikes, trains and hiking boots: Port inks deal for Eastside corridor
42-mile rail link could be used for high-capacity transit, trails 


A 42-mile Eastside rail corridor stretching from Woodinville to Renton has been secured for possible future use as a high-capacity transit route and biking and hiking trails.

The Port of Seattle announced Monday that it had finalized acquisition of the corridor from BNSF Railway after about two years of negotiations. The final price tag for the northern section of corridor was approximately $81 million, the port said. BNSF donated the southern portion of the corridor.

"The port’s goal has always been to preserve the corridor and place it in public ownership and we’ve accomplished that goal," said Port of Seattle CEO Tay Yoshitani said in a statement. "I’m grateful to BNSF for their willingness to work with the port, and to our partner agencies for joining us in the effort."

King County Executive Dow Constantine said "this acquisition preserves an irreplaceable asset, addresses growing transportation needs, and provides the chance to expand our regional trail system.:

Earlier this month the County Council approved a plan to spend $26.5 million to buy about 25 miles of the rail corridor.

The overall plan was always to have the Port of Seattle buy the entire corridor. King County, the City of Redmond and others would then work to buy portions of that corridor to keep it in public ownership. The county funding plan could be paid for by a variety of sources to be explored, including possibly bonds sold next year and backed by the voter-approved Conservation Futures Levy Subfund.

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.

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