Preserving the Eastside Rail Corridor in public ownership has always been about options and opportunities for commuter rail and bicycle trails. Choices for the future.
The Metropolitan King County Council is reviewing a proposal from County Executive Dow Constantine to buy 15.6 miles of the former BNSF Railway line from the Port of Seattle and secure an easement on an additional 3.9 miles.
The price is $15.8 million, which would be reduced to $13.8 million with credit for an earlier purchase of a multipurpose easement in the corridor.
Council members expressed enthusiasm for securing public ownership of the corridor and for the ability to offer dual rail and trail use in the future.
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“This rail and trail agreement fulfills the commitment of our strategic plan to link together the current trail network with future trails into a seamless countywide network,” said Council Vice Chair Jane Hague, as the executive’s proposal was announced. “Most important it will be a future path for commuter rail options, economic development and enhance our recreational opportunities.”
Reconciling these public goods takes time and money, but there is broad agreement that options must be kept open.
The city of Kirkland took ownership of a 5.75-mile segment of the corridor this past spring. The next step is finding money for improvements and deciding how to reconcile immediate interest in trail uses without compromising rail opportunities.
Bruce Agnew of the Cascadia Center of the Discovery Institute wants to keep development options for the Cross-Kirkland Corridor wide open, and that means leaving the BNSF rail tracks in place. Bury them in gravel used on other trails, but avoid demolition.
Snohomish Mayor Karen Guzak and Woodinville City Councilwoman Paulette Bauman have added their voices to the urgency of preserving options at the north end of the route and elsewhere to maximize future rail uses.
King County is looking at five financial options to cover its purchase within its 36-month deadline. They include property transfers, tapping the Conservation Futures Tax fund, federal resources, payments from the county Wastewater Treatment Division for service easements and private funding.
The conversations have resumed. They are complex, vigorous and cross jurisdictions. But they fundamentally represent agreement on preserving trail and rail options in the Eastside Rail Corridor. A primary goal.