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Kirkland Council OKs Historic Rail Purchase

Kirkland's 5.8-mile segment of the former Burlington Northern railroad is linked to tracks in Redmond that will become the Redmond Central Connector.

The Kirkland City Council unanimously approved the purchase of 5.8 miles of abandoned railway for $5 million Tuesday night, a step described by council members as a bold and historic action to link the city’s parks, neighborhoods and businesses with a cross-town trail.

The vote authorizes City Manager Kurt Triplett to enter a sale and purchase agreement with the Port of Seattle for the Kirkland segment of the 44-mile Eastside Rail Corridor from Snohomish to Renton. That would inititiate a 60-day “due diligence” period for inspection and review of outstanding issues, which if cleared would be followed by the purchase in March.

The council also approved an “inter-fund loan” plan to pay for the purchase, the city essentially loaning itself the money through existing capital funds that would have to be paid back over three years.

“I am very pleased to have this before us,” said Mayor Joan McBride. “I think in the future, we will be so proud we went out on a limb to do this.”

Council Member Jessica Greenway, who , said it’s important that the railway be made useable as a pedestrian/bicycle trail as soon as possible.

“I am so proud to be able to vote yes on this proposal as one of my last acts as a Kirkland City Council member,” she said. “We realize what a risk this is. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

The Kirkland portion of the former Burlington Northern railroad stretches from the Totem Lake area south almost to state Route 520, and would be developed over time, first as a trail and later also as a light transportation corridor. The port purchased the railway a few years ago and has been negotiating its transfer to King County, but as those talks dragged on, Kirkland negotiated its own purchase plan.

The Kirkland section is also linked to a portion of the former Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad that Redmond purchased in 2010. Construction of the , a 3.9-mile linear park that includes paths for bicycles and pedestrians, is expected to begin on that portion in early 2012.

Kirkland council members made clear that their purchase is not without risk, and that other needed projects would be deprioritized and delayed.

“I am really concerned about how close to the edge we are,” said Dave Asher. We’ve really taken on significant expenses in the last couple years with our annexation. We have a fundamental responsibility to maintain infrastructure. Our CIP (Capital Improvement Program) is really being raided, I think for a very good purpose, but it’s going to have an impact on our CIP.”

The money for the purchase could be found in a number of ways, city staff explained, including using existing funds for other parks, transportation and water-sewer utility projects, a parks funding levy currently being examined by a citizen committee, or a 20-year municipal bond.

The City Council in April adopted a vision statement for the rail corridor, a plan seen as a way to connect Kirkland’s neighborhoods, parks, schools and businesses, and by linking it with some sort of community park or commons, as a way to revitalize the Totem Lake area.

Three members of the public spoke in favor of the purchase, none against.

Gary Greenberg called the purchase “an investment in our community and its neighborhoods through clean, green transportation. I ask the council to invent in making the cross-Kirkland trail a reality.”

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