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The Bellevue City Council took a historic step Monday night, endorsing a route for Link light- rail trains more than four years after voters approved higher sales taxes to build three suburban lines.

The $2.8 billion East Link will go from the International District/Chinatown Station across Lake Washington and Mercer Island into a short downtown Bellevue tunnel and over Interstate 405 to Overlake. Service is expected in 2023, two years past the original goal.

Sound Transit and the city negotiated for many months over the tunnel costs, which weren’t included in the ballot measure in 2008 when elected officials punted on that problem to get a measure before voters.

Afterward, transit leaders and Bellevue council members agreed to split the extra $320 million tunnel cost. Bellevue chose to provide $100 million, and hoping to achieve $60 million in cost savings.

Highlights of Monday’s decision, which passed on a voice vote:

•There will be an elevated downtown station on Northeast Sixth Street near City Hall and Meydenbauer Center, saving up to $33 million compared to an underground station.

• On 112th Street Southeast, there will be a “road over rail” section where the street is elevated, so the tracks can shift diagonally from the east side to the west side of 112th, en route to the Main Street Station and downtown.

• To the south, tracks along Bellevue Way Southeast will run in a trench alongside Winters House, where the council chose not to save money by putting rail at street level. The council is undecided over whether to expand Bellevue Way to add a high-occupancy- vehicle lane, requiring cuts into a wooded hillside west of the street.

Various design tweaks would add additional savings. A city noise consultant said decibel levels would be virtually unchanged or even reduced after trains are added — Sound Transit plans to build a noise wall flanking much of the Surrey Downs neighborhood south of downtown, said Don Billen, a Sound Transit deputy project director.

Part way through the discussion, Councilmembers Claudia Balducci (who is also on the Sound Transit board) and John Chelminiak said they would vote no, largely because they thought the station on Northeast Sixth would be too far from the Bellevue Transit Center and downtown housing. But both cast yes votes. The council did pass an amendment saying it would apply $5 million in savings toward pedestrian improvements, and it called on Sound Transit to shield the boarding platforms from rain.

“Living downtown in an apartment or a condo, this opens a whole world of mobility, to get on light rail,” Balducci said. The downtown stop is expected to attract 15,000 daily users who are either boarding or leaving a train.

“We have accomplished a great, great milestone,” Mayor Conrad Lee said.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or

On Twitter @mikelindblom