King County and the Port of Seattle made history on May 12 when the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Eastside rail corridor was secured for public ownership. The Port of Seattle will pay the below market value of $107 million to acquire the 42-mile corridor that stretches from Renton in the South up to the city of Snohomish in the north. King County will pay the port $1.9 million for a 26-mile easement for trail development that runs from Renton to Woodinville. As more and more people commute from South King County to Eastside cities, and vice versa, it is clear that our region needs more transportation options, as well as more recreational opportunities.
The King County Council unanimously and enthusiastically voted on May 5 to approve this once-in-a lifetime opportunity. Exactly one week later, the Port of Seattle followed suit. Both the county and the port recognized that opportunities such as this don’t happen often, and that the occasion must be seized to bring this into the public’s hands.
When BNSF first decided that the corridor was no longer useful as a future freight corridor, they considered selling it to developers. Instead of allowing it to be sold off piecemeal to the highest bidder, King County and the Port of Seattle felt it was important that this corridor, in its entirety, be preserved for public use.
I have heard from you over the years that you want more transportation options: more buses, more trains and more trails. By preserving this corridor, we have kept the option of a mass transit rail line alive on this corridor. With the congestion levels on I-405 between Renton and Bellevue being possibly the worst in the state, we need this corridor as an option for future high capacity transit.
By bringing the corridor into public ownership, both King County and the port has committed to a development plan of rails with trails. The month of May is “Bike to Work Month” and what better way to celebrate than by saving this corridor. Biking is a convenient, clean and inexpensive method of transportation that can instantly help relieve up to 2 percent of traffic congestion during peak rush hour times. As an added benefit, the trail will offer people a place to bike, hike and jog, leading to a healthier lifestyle.
Now that the documents have been signed, we are embarking on a public planning process. While this process is still being determined, I am committed to it being open and inclusive. The results of this public process will give us guidance on the size and placement of the trail, will identify the options for high capacity transit, and will provide suggestions on other recreation opportunities.
We have secured a HUGE regional asset into public ownership. This step allows us to take on some of the challenges facing our county. By giving citizens more commuting options, access to the outdoors and recreational opportunities, we will be helping create a more mobile and healthy community.
Julia Patterson of Seatac is chair of the Metropolitan King County Council. Her Fifth District includes parts of Renton.