Constantine proposes King County purchase of Eastside Rail Corridor

Legislation sent today to County Council to acquire nearly 20 miles of former BNSF property

  King County Executive Dow Constantine today moved the County one step closer to acquiring nearly 20 miles of the long-sought-after Burlington Northern Eastside Rail Corridor – the future backbone of a world-class regional trail system that also preserves Eastside commuter rail options and supports an array of utility services.


“This agreement fulfills our promise to the region of preserving a public corridor through the most urbanized areas of east King County with our regional trail network,” said Executive Constantine, in transmitting the proposed purchase and sale agreement for the corridor to the Metropolitan King County Council.


Under the proposal, which was recently approved by the Port of Seattle, King County would have three years to reimburse the Port for the purchase price of up to $15.8 million. In exchange, King County would receive 15.6 miles of fee ownership and 3.9 miles of easement ownership in the corridor, through unincorporated King County and the cities of Renton, Bellevue, Kirkland and Woodinville. The proposed agreement would credit King County for $1.9 million it paid to the Port in 2009 for a multi-purpose easement in the corridor.


“We are in the final stages of putting the Eastside Rail Corridor under public ownership for use by generations to come for rail, hiking, jogging and biking use,” said Council Chair Larry Gossett. “I look forward to working with my Council colleagues to make sure this historic proposal works for the County, our regional partners, and most of all the people of King County.”


"This rail and trail agreement fulfills the commitment of our strategic plan to link together the current trail network with future trails into a seamless county-wide network,” said Council Vice Chair Jane Hague. “Most importantly it will be a future path for commuter rail options, economic development and enhance our recreational opportunities.”


“The vision of public ownership, as well as dual rail and trail use for the Eastside Rail Corridor, is finally secured,” said Councilmember Larry Phillips. “It has taken a great deal of regional cooperation and perseverance to get here, but our persistence will pay dividends with rail and trail connections that ensure sustainability and high quality of life as our region grows.”


“This corridor is poised to become an important transportation link among Eastside suburbs,” said Councilmember Kathy Lambert of Redmond. “The opportunities for dual use of the corridor could include a path for non-motorized use alongside passenger rail transit. Establishing public ownership and access to this transportation resource is a major achievement for King County.”


“This is a significant milestone for King County,” said Councilmember Julia Patterson. “This agreement creates the opportunity for both a rail line and new trail to run north out of South King County to Snohomish County on the eastside of Lake Washington.  As South and East King County continue to grow it is crucial that we, as a region, continue to plan for this corridor, which eventually will enable people to get out of their cars.”


“This corridor is a unique public asset and I am pleased that we are moving forward in our efforts to protect it for future generations,” said Councilmember Bob Ferguson.


“Acquiring this corridor is an important step for the residents of King County and the region,” said Councilmember Reagan Dunn. “I applaud the Executive and the Port of Seattle for working together with our regional partners to turn this deal into a reality.”


Executive Constantine said he is exploring funding options from federal sources as well as the Conservation Futures Fund and a proposed renewal of the King County Parks Levy.


If the Council adopts the acquisition agreement, King County would control 12.2 miles of the main line and 3.4 miles of the seven-mile-long spur from Woodinville to Redmond. The County would also maintain or acquire easements or covenants over an additional 14.1 miles of the main line and spur.


While possible uses of the corridor are in the earliest stages of development, King County and its partners are considering the north-south corridor for dual use that could meet future public transportation needs and connect residents in the south, east and north parts of the county through a series of biking, walking and hiking trails.


The proposed agreement between King County and the Port, as well as completed or anticipated separate agreements with Puget Sound Energy (PSE) and the cities of Redmond and Kirkland, mean the former Burlington Northern (BNSF) rail line will remain in public ownership for long-term use by trail, rail and utility interests.


King County Parks maintains 175 miles of regional trails for bicycling, hiking, walking, horseback riding and more spanning from Bothell to Auburn and Seattle to the Cascade Mountains. The Eastside Rail Corridor has connections at several locations and would provide new linkages to major existing trails, such as the Sammamish River Trail in Redmond and Woodinville and the I-90 Trail in Bellevue.


In 2009, BNSF sold the corridor to the Port of Seattle for $81 million. The Port in turn negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding with PSE, King County, Sound Transit, the Cascade Water Alliance, and the cities of Redmond and Kirkland, whereby these entities would purchase portions of the corridor from the Port, with the Port eventually holding no property interests in the corridor south of Woodinville.


The Executive said the proposed agreement helps advance the goals of the County’s Strategic Plan by encouraging vibrant, economically thriving and sustainable communities, and safeguarding and enhancing King County natural resources and environment.


The proposed legislation advances the goals of the County’s Equity and Social Justice Initiative by supporting ongoing public access for all people to the Corridor as a safe, clean and quality outdoor space and facility that appeals to the interests of the citizens of the region.