Preservation of the Eastside rail corridor came a step closer to reality Monday with approval by the King County Council of a key part of a plan to purchase the corridor from Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co.
The plan is to use the corridor as a trail, although the corridor is “banked” for future transportation use.
For years, the track was used by the Renton-based Spirit of Washington Dinner Train for its regular runs to Woodinville. But the line was severed at the Wilburton Tunnel in Bellevue for the work to widen Interstate 405.
The three-way purchase agreement involves King County, Burlington Northern and the Port of Seattle. County Executive Ron Sims first proposed purchasing the rail corridor in 2006, but the details have changed significantly.
Under the current agreement, the Port of Seattle will buy the 42-mile corridor between Renton and Woodinville from Burlington Northern for $107 million. The county would buy an easement from the port for a trail along a 26-mile stretch for $1.9 million. That 26 miles includes a railroad spur in Redmond.
The Port of Seattle Board of Commissioners postponed action Tuesday on the agreement. A year-long public process will make recommendations on the location and design of the trail.
Over the next two months the County Council and Port of Seattle will decide the timeframe, agency participation and resources for the public process, for adoption by the council by July 15.
The agreement keeps the corridor in public ownership forever and allows for other transportation uses, such as a light-rail corridor.
“When we began this journey, I saw the benefits of bringing this regional asset into public ownership,” said County Council chair Julia Patterson, sponsor of the legislation and chair of a study by the Puget Sound Regional Council that first studied the use of the corridor.
Patterson of Seatac represents part of Renton on the County Council.
In a press release, Patterson said she looks forward to a dual use of the corridor for a trail and high-capacity transit.
“It is important that we proceed with a regional planning process with the port that is as inclusive as possible so that everyone can help determine the specifics of this regional asset,” she said.
Sims said in a press release that the agreement “had a lot of moving parts and players working to get the best outcome for residents, taxpayers, recreational trail users and the Port and BNSF.”
An earlier version of the agreement called for the county to trade King County International Airport and some Seattle property for the port-owned corridor.
The county moved to preserve the corridor so that it wouldn’t be sold piecemeal, after Burlington Northern announced in 2003 its intent to sell the corridor.