REI and Facebook deserve praise for generous gifts to advance Eastrail, a long-awaited trail through Eastside suburbs that will be a jewel in King County’s park system.
The trail is being built on a former rail corridor from Woodinville to Renton. It passes through fast-growing commercial and residential areas and will link with other major trails, including the Mountains to Sound Greenway.
After more than a decade of planning and collaboration, the trail is becoming a reality with major funding secured and 13 of 42 miles constructed. It should mostly open by 2025.
When complete, it’s expected to be the most used trail corridor on the Eastside, further connecting its largest cities and employment centers.
REI and Facebook are each giving $1 million to connect Eastrail with the 520 Trail that crosses 20 feet above Eastrail, creating a ramp at Northup Way.
REI built a new headquarters in the nearby Spring District. Before moving in, it changed course and sold it to Facebook. It’s to REI’s credit that the retailer followed through on its commitment to the trail project with its largest grant of 2020.
Another $500,000 to complete the trail interchange was secured by Metropolitan King County Council Chair Claudia Balducci, a former Bellevue mayor.
They are among many partner organizations and officials working to make Eastrail a reality.
Still, the people most deserving of credit for Eastrail’s completion will be King County taxpayers.
Eastrail may be the largest single project funded over the next five years by a huge parks and open-space levy approved last year.
With a property tax of 18 cents per $1,000 of valuation, the levy was supposed to raise $810 million over five years. It’s now projected to collect $783 million.
Of that, $161 million is earmarked for trails, including $49 million for Eastrail. But many more tax dollars are going to the project.
Regional taxpayers are contributing through Sound Transit, which owns portions of the corridor. State taxpayers are contributing through the Washington Department of Transportation, which has recently been working on sections in Bellevue and Renton.
A large tranche is included in the biennial budget now being finalized by the County Council.
As proposed by County Executive Dow Constantine, the biennial budget would provide $33.7 million, mostly for the particularly complicated Wilburton Trestle segment. Altogether the county has committed $74 million to Eastrail so far, plus $5 million in outside contributions. Its 16-mile stretch is ultimately expected to cost more than $200 million.
Council members should continue to advance this worthy project.
At the same time, they must be diligent about controlling the dizzying costs of county trail projects. Parts of the more controversial East Sammamish Trail are now costing more than $12 million per mile, including legal costs.
Council members must also sustain funding for other parks and recreation investments the growing region needs.
That includes grants for youth and amateur sports facilities that are disappointingly facing cuts of 12% to 25% in the proposed budget. It also called for reducing active-sports funding by $1.5 million to cover trail cost overruns, including an $8.2 million increase in East Sammamish Trail costs.
Sustaining a broad range of parks investments, and careful budgeting, are another way to build support for costly and complex projects like Eastrail.
Maintaining the region’s livability will be hard as it continues growing and becoming more dense.
Eastrail is an outstanding addition to this effort. It should stand as a monument to regional cooperation, creativity, and commitment to trails and open space.