People walking or biking along the Highway 520 Trail could cross directly onto the Eastrail trail via a new connection expected to be approved Tuesday, linking two major trails that serve Seattle and the Eastside.
The Metropolitan King County Council last week approved an amendment to the proposed county budget that reallocates $1 million toward Eastrail projects, including the last $500,000 needed to develop the Northup Way Connector. A final vote on the budget was planned Tuesday.
The 520 Trail and Eastrail cross each other but have a 20-foot, vertical grade separation. The $2.5 million project would construct a ramp to knit the trails together.
The bulk of funding comes from Facebook and REI, which each contributed $1 million toward the project.
“We have learned through this COVID time, even more than we already knew, how important access to safe, healthy transportation options and just recreational options are to our sanity, to our community, to our health,” County Councilmember Claudia Balducci said. “That just made me even more committed to the idea of advancing the trail network as quickly as we can to get it available for people. People are going to love it.”
Once approved, design of the Northup Way Connector would begin immediately, Doug Williams, a spokesperson for King County Parks, said. The goal is to finish construction in 2023, when other sections of Eastrail are slated to open.
Eastrail, formerly known as the Eastside Rail Corridor, will transform the abandoned BNSF railroad tracks into a pedestrian and bicycle trail, stretching 42 miles between Woodinville and Renton when completed.
Balducci carved out money to complete the connector through reallocating a Youth and Amateur Sports Grant. She had set aside $2 million to seed interest in a regional swimming pool that never materialized.
“We worked real hard at it for a while, but it never really launched,” she said.
Money from the 2019 King County Parks levy could help fund a swimming pool if cities in the region are still interested, according to language in the ordinance, Williams said.
“We’re committed to being a good neighbor,” said Tracy Clayton, who manages corporate communications for Facebook. “This contribution to the Eastrail and our presence on the Eastside represents our commitment to Bellevue and the Greater Seattle area.”
In August, REI announced it would sell its 400,000-square-foot building and eight-acre campus in Bellevue’s Spring District and spread headquarters operations to multiple sites across the Seattle area. Facebook bought the planned headquarters in September for $368 million. The companies contributed to the trail project as part of that acquisition.
Taldi Harrison, manager of community and government affairs for REI, said the co-op has been committed to Eastside transportation projects and will continue advocating for pedestrian and bicycle improvements in the region, even after moving to remote work.
“We see this trail as a unique opportunity to create an overall quality of life for both our employees on the Eastside and also our members and all Eastside residents,” Harrison said. “This project will knit together and really help to contribute to not just increasing equitable access to the Eastrail, but really also helped to add more connectivity to the entire Puget Sound trail network.”
Balducci said the contributions show the companies retain a “meaningful connection to the Eastside and the redevelopment vision.”
“The companies are saying that there’s still a future for centralized business locations, that they’re not all walking away from them,” she said.