A light rail route from Redmond along Willows Road to Totem Lake from the east would require less track, fewer bridges and reap more benefits than a Cross Kirkland Corridor proposal.
A MAJOR goal of Sound Transit is to connect “regional centers” with high-capacity transit. On the Eastside, those centers include downtown Bellevue, Redmond Overlake, downtown Redmond, Issaquah and Totem Lake.
Sound Transit 2, which is under construction now, will reach Bellevue and Overlake, and the current Sound Transit 3 proposal would add downtown Redmond and Issaquah. The question for the region is: What is the best way to get high-capacity transit to Kirkland’s Totem Lake urban center?
One proposal that has gotten a lot of attention is to run light rail up the Eastside Rail Corridor and Cross Kirkland Corridor from the Wilburton Station in Bellevue.
I believe a better alternative would be to extend light rail from the currently planned terminus on the Redmond Central Connector near Leary Way Northeast, northward along the Redmond spur of the Eastside Rail Corridor, along Willows Road and Northeast 124th Street and into Totem Lake from the east.
The key advantage of this “Willows route” is that it would cost far less than light rail on the Cross Kirkland Corridor. Extending the Redmond light rail line to Totem Lake would require only 4.3 miles of new track. Extending from Wilburton up the Cross Kirkland Corridor would require 7.2 miles of new track.
The Willows route also would require half as many new bridges as the Cross Kirkland Corridor. The latter would require elevated sections over many wetlands and streams. That is not a problem on the Willows route.
The Willows line could include a station near Overlake Christian Church to serve the many nearby employers, and an agreement with the church could allow its large parking lot to be a regional park-and-ride during the workday, at no capital cost.
There’s also potential to connect a Willows Road station to the thousands of homes in the North Rose Hill neighborhood to the west. Kirkland has long dreamed of creating a safe pedestrian and bicycle greenway connection from Northeast 100th Street on Rose Hill to the Sammamish River Trail. This connection would make the Willows station accessible to thousands of students at the Lake Washington Institute of Technology.
Riding the train through downtown Redmond might seem a bit out of the way for people commuting between Totem Lake and downtown Bellevue or Seattle. But many of those who will live in Totem Lake and surrounding areas would be commuting to Redmond or Microsoft, and the Willows route would mean they would have a shorter ride without changing trains in Bellevue. Also, people traveling from Totem Lake to Seattle wouldn’t have to change trains in Bellevue and stand on a crowded train for the second half of their trip.
The Willows route wouldn’t serve downtown Kirkland with high-capacity transit — downtown Kirkland is not a designated urban center, and many people don’t want it to be. And it wouldn’t serve the Google campus directly. But a Willows station would serve more employees in more businesses than a stop at Google. Plus, there is far more potential for growth along Willows. We should think about what is best for the region.
Putting light rail on the Cross Kirkland Corridor would always have strong neighborhood opposition because it would be literally in the backyards of hundreds of homes. Putting light rail along Willows Road is in nobody’s backyard.
Sound Transit 3 proposes light rail from Overlake to Southeast Redmond, then a big left turn into downtown Redmond. That line is perfectly positioned to extend further northwest to the next urban center in Totem Lake and then, in a future phase, to the next urban center in Bothell.
This Willows route should be included in Sound Transit 3 in order to garner increased voter support in Kirkland. But if it isn’t, at the very least, it needs to be part of the proposed Bothell-to-Bellevue transit corridor study to ensure that all viable alternatives are considered.