A $7.5 million grant from Amazon will allow King County to complete one of the most complicated parts of a major intercity trail system by 2024, county and company executives announced Monday.
Most of the money will go toward repairs, seismic upgrades and improvements on a part of the trail spanning a 1,000-foot-long, 102-foot-tall train trestle in Bellevue. The rest will be used to build trail connecting the trestle segment to the planned Wilburton light-rail station roughly a mile north.
The overall trail system, called Eastrail, is slated to eventually run 42 miles between Snohomish and Renton, largely on a former BNSF rail line, and connect to four planned light-rail stations on the Eastside.
“I want to make a prediction. Out of every one of those 42 miles, this will be the one we bring our out-of-town guests to,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said at a news conference Monday, citing “breathtaking” views of the downtown Bellevue skyline from atop the trestle.
The bulk of the funding for the $32 million trestle segment came from King County parks levies, with additional support from the state, the city of Bellevue and Kaiser Permanente, said Curt Warber, who manages the Eastrail project for the county. Amazon’s contribution “puts us over the top,” Constantine said at the news conference, allowing the county to start work on converting the trestle into trail.
Building a path on top of the abandoned train trestle is so complicated — and expensive — largely due to the trestle’s age, Warber said. It was built in the early 1900s, almost entirely of wood. Some of the beams have rotted, and it’s not clear how seismically sound the structure is.
“Anyone who’s ever tried to renovate their century-old house knows what happens when you start pulling wood pieces apart that have been there for 100 years,” Warber said in an interview Monday. Engineers will also complete a seismic assessment and add steel plates between some joints to brace the trestle in case of an earthquake, he added.
Amazon, which has said it will employ 25,000 corporate and tech workers in Bellevue within four years, has been a vocal advocate for greater public investment in mass transit and infrastructure projects on the Eastside.
Patrick Miller, Amazon’s director of Puget Sound real estate and facilities — and a bike commuter — said at Monday’s news conference that Amazon is committed to supporting projects and incentive programs that will help employees reduce their reliance on single-occupancy vehicles.
“While the growth in Bellevue and the Eastside is exciting, we also recognize that it comes with concerns about traffic and congestion,” Miller said, calling on state lawmakers to allocate additional funding for transportation infrastructure in special session this fall, in part to complete the remaining segments of Eastrail.
The trail network has been in the works for nearly a decade. Much of the King County portion of the trail is scheduled to be paved and open for use by 2026. The timeline for opening the roughly 12 miles of planned trail in Snohomish County is less certain, said David St. John, King County’s government relations manager, in an interview Monday. That segment still functions as an active railway.
Facebook and REI have also donated $1 million each to Eastrail expansion projects. Until last year, the companies were slated to be neighbors in Bellevue’s new Spring District, which abuts the Eastrail network. REI, though, pulled out of the development last August after its sales were battered by early pandemic lockdowns. Facebook ultimately purchased the former REI campus, more than doubling the social network’s Spring District footprint.