5-6-08 article (times)

King County OKs deal that could put trails in Eastside rail corridor

Full story: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2004394561_railline06m.html

By Keith Ervin
Seattle Times staff reporter

The Metropolitan King County Council approved a three-way deal Monday that could bring bicycles and commuter trains to an old Eastside freight-rail line.

If ratified by the Port of Seattle Commission, the Port would buy BNSF Railway’s Renton-to-Snohomish rail corridor for $107 million and sell King County the right to build a hiking and biking trail on the portions south of Woodinville.

The Port Commission will review the package of agreements today, but President John Creighton said he didn’t know whether commissioners would be prepared to vote today on what is expected to be the final deal. BNSF has set a May 15 deadline for signing the purchase agreement.

Port and county officials said the deal upholds the concept of "dual use" of the 42-mile corridor by rail commuters and trail users on foot or on bike. But many details wouldn’t be decided for months or years, and there is no assurance that either a trail or passenger trains would be a reality in the near future.

"While the Port’s interest in the corridor is first and foremost as a rail corridor and preserving that, we are also committed to seeing a trail built," Creighton told County Council members before they voted unanimously for the deal.

Council members, who hailed the agreement as "historic" and "transformative," said the most important fact is that the rail corridor BNSF put up for sale five years ago would be publicly owned rather than sold off in pieces.

"We are very, very grateful that the Port of Seattle made a commitment to step in and acquire that corridor on behalf of the public," said Council Chair Julia Patterson. She also praised County Executive Ron Sims, who worked for years to make a deal.

At one point Sims was negotiating a deal for the county to pay for the land by selling Boeing Field to the Port. That land swap died for lack of support from County Council members and Port commissioners.

Rail and trail boosters at the council meeting supported the latest deal Monday. However, one Kirkland resident said he didn’t want a train running through his backyard.

Under the agreement, King County would pay the Port $1.9 million for a 26-mile easement, allowing it to build a trail between Woodinville and Renton and between Woodinville and Redmond. Port and county officials would jointly agree on the trail’s placement after gathering public comment on use of the corridor.

Negotiations over the easement nearly derailed last month after Sims said the county should be compensated if a county-built trail had to be moved to make way for new train service. Port CEO Tay Yoshitani and Creighton opposed compensation.

The deadlock was broken last week when the county agreed to the Port’s language in exchange for the right to drop the trail project up to five years after the deal closes.

Designing a trail to accommodate future rail uses will drive up trail costs considerably. Sims’ chief of staff, Kurt Triplett, said a rough cost estimate for the trail is now $150 million to $200 million — well above the original $66 million.

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com