County Council OKs Eastside trail with rail In a vote that some King County Council members call historic, the council agreed Monday to a proposal to bring an Eastside rail corridor into public ownership for a hiking and biking trail and a freight line — and potentially, for commuter transit.
County Council OKs Eastside trail with rail
By GREGORY ROBERTSP-I REPORTER
In a vote that some King County Council members called historic, the council agreed Monday to bring a 42-mile Eastside rail corridor into public ownership for development as a hiking and biking trail and a freight line — and potentially, for commuter transit.
"We need to preserve this for our transportation needs in the future," Councilman Reagan Dunn, R-Bellevue, said before the unanimous vote to keep the corridor intact. "If we don’t preserve this now, we’ll never, ever get it back."
The deal isn’t done yet: The Port of Seattle Commission, which is financing the purchase of the corridor from Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, is expected to endorse the plan Tuesday. Approval also will be required from federal officials who administer the national "rails to trails" program.
But the council vote represents a significant milestone on the long and sometimes tortuous path toward realization of the plan.The freight-rail corridor extends about 35 miles from Renton to Snohomish and also includes a seven-mile spur from Woodinville to Redmond. Under the proposal , the port would put up $107 million to buy the corridor from BNSF. The port would provide the county an easement, in exchange for $1.9 million, to allow development of a biking and hiking trail on the disused Renton-to-Woodinville stretch and on the Redmond spur.
The tracks would remain in place on those sections, but would not be used for trains — at least, not immediately.Freight trains would continue to run on the Woodinville-to-Snohomish section of the corridor, providing service to several small businesses there. Earlier plans called for a trail on that stretch, too, but that’s not part of the current proposal.BNSF says it no longer makes economic sense for it to operate freight trains throughout the corridor, and the company wants to get rid of it.
The idea of public ownership of the corridor to preserve it has drawn widespread support, but there’s considerable tension between competing views for the corridor.
Transit advocates want to push ahead with commuter rail in the corridor, even if that initially means operating low-capacity trains on the existing single track. Bicycling and recreational groups would like to make the trail a priority.
County Executive Ron Sims originally wanted to tear up the tracks south of Woodinville to cut the cost of developing a trail, but he backed off after pro-rail sentiment surfaced in public and on the County Council. The current proposal emphasizes the desire to keep both the trail and transit options open.Development of the 26 miles of trail will come first.
In a process that could take a year or more, the county will conduct public hearings on a trail plan, design the layout and figure out how to pay for it. Councilwoman Julia Patterson, D-SeaTac, said the price could vary widely depending on what kind of trail is built — anything from an unpaved foot path to "the Cadillac of trails."
P-I reporter Gregory Roberts can be reached at 206-448-8022 or firstname.lastname@example.org.Soundoff