Amazon Kicks in $7.5 Million for the Eastrail

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Sketch of what the Eastrail trestle segment might look like when complete. (Credit: King County)

Tech giant Amazon is partnering with King County to fund completion of the Wilburton and Wilburton Trestle trail segments in Bellevue, contributing $7.5 million to the projects. The trail segments stretch from the NE 8th Street Eastrail overcrossing to the I-405 Eastrail crossing. Collectively, the trail segments are a key part of the Eastrail program because they will tie central and southern portions of the trail together. When all is said and done, the Eastrail is slated to offer 43 miles of continuous trail from Renton to the Snohomish County line.

“Amazon’s contribution puts us over the top, providing the remaining funds we need to restore and transform the iconic Wilburton Trestle into an elevated trail connected to high-capacity transit,” said Executive Constantine. “The successful partnership to add the century-old trestle to our growing regional trail network shows that we are most effective when we mobilize the efforts of public and private sectors to achieve shared goals.”

Map showing the Wilburton and Wilburton Trestle trail segments. (Credit: King County)

Conversion of a former railway to trail doesn’t come cheaply, especially for a 102-foot tall, 975-foot long wooden railway trestle built in 1904. Estimates peg conversion of the trestle at $32 million alone. Amazon’s $7.5 million contribution will fund $5 million for the trestle conversion and $2.5 million for the remaining Wilburton segment. Other funding that has supported Eastrail include Kaiser Permanente, City of Bellevue, United States Department of Transportation, Washington State Washington, and King County. REI, Inc. and Facebook also contributed $2 million to connect the SR-520 Trail and Eastrail.

King County expects that the Wilburton and Wilburton Trestle segments will be completed in 2024. This will follow the 2023 opening of the Sound Transit’s 2 Line, which will deliver four light rail stations connecting with or in close proximity to the trail. Those stations include the South Bellevue, Bellevue Downtown, Wilburton, and Spring District/120th Stations. People walking, biking, and rolling on the trail will be able to make good connections to transit or get between home and destinations.

Eastrail map showing open and future trail segments. (Credit: King County)
Eastrail map showing open and future trail segments. (Credit: King County)

So far, Eastrail segments have been opened between Slater Avenue NE in Kirkland and the Spring District at 120th Avenue NE in Bellevue as well as from I-90 in Bellevue to Gene Coulon Park in Renton. A spur for the Redmond Central Connector Trail has also opened between 9,800 Block of Willows Road and Downtown Redmond. The trail segments are mix of soft surface gravel and pavement.

This fall, King County and Washington State Department of Transportation expect to open another 2.5 miles of paved Eastrail between Renton and Bellevue. This is a bit delayed beyond the May target that was pegged earlier this year. Trail users are temporarily being pushed onto the Lake Washington Trail, which involves in-street segments. Critical next segments will be the NE 8th Street overcrossing (2022) and I-405 crossing (2023) in Bellevue, Totem Lake Connector (2022) in Kirkland, Woodinville connection (2021/2022), and Redmond Central Connector Phase III (2024). A crown jewel to all of this in Bellevue will be when the city opens the Grand Connection over I-405 between Wilburton and Downtown Bellevue though no date has been identified for completion.

As far as the regional trail network goes, Eastrail will tie a multitude of trails together. Some of them include the I-90, Mountains to Sound, SR-520, Sammamish River, Lake to Lake, and Lake Washington Trails.

Eastrail Partners, an advocacy organization focused Eastrail program, lent commendations similar to Executive Constantine for the Amazon investment. “This exceptional trail opportunity requires exceptional community, governmental, and private sector support,” said Katherine Hollis, Executive Director of Eastrail Partners. “This leadership investment by Amazon demonstrates the important role business can play in the multifaceted Eastrail effort.” Amazon holds a leadership role in the organization.

Over the past couple years, Amazon has been rapidly building up a presence in Downtown Bellevue. The company said it has 10,000 corporate jobs in Bellevue and plans to increase that to 25,000 employees in five years. While Amazon has been leasing office space and plans to snap up more, the company also plans to occupy two towers — one 43 stories and another 27 stories — that it owns right across from Bellevue Downtown Station. Amazon employees who work in Seattle also live in Bellevue. So the investment in Eastrail does make economic sense for the company in providing a healthy, safe way for employees to get to and from work or recreate after — perhaps aiding in their employee recruitment efforts as well.

Leaders from Amazon and Bellevue have suggested the two have a more collaborative relationship compared to Seattle. Amazon has feuded with the Seattle City Council over efforts to tax the company and spent more than $1.5 million in the 2019 election trying to unseat incumbent city ouncilmembers to no avail. The result was JumpStart Seattle, a progressive tax on corporate payroll that was much larger than the head tax proposal that had so inflamed company executives in 2018. Bellevue has tried to capitalize on those tensions to woo Amazon jobs away from Seattle, but may run in similar constraints due a lack of housing affordability and a likelihood that corporate philanthropy alone won’t be sufficient to address affordable housing and infrastructure needs.

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Stephen is an urban planner with a passion for sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He is especially interested in how policies, regulations, and programs can promote positive outcomes for communities. Stephen lives in Kenmore and primarily covers land use and transportation issues for The Urbanist.

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Chris Burke

I’m a bit confused. It sure seems like the next logical step in completing this trail after the Wilburton trestle is to build a bridge over I-405 south of the trestle. The tracks used to cross here but were eliminated when the “Wilburton tunnel” was torn up to widen the freeway. References to the “Grand Connection” are for a bridge over I-405 in downtown Bellevue, not this needed connection south of the trestle. Is there any timeline for building a bridge here, or is the wonderful Wilburton trestle route destined to lead to a dead end?

AJ M

I believe WSDOT is building that crossing over 405: https://kingcountyparks.org/2019/05/06/bridging-the-trail-gap-over-i-405/

So while the steel bridge over I90 remains unfunded, it won’t be a dead end.

From the interactive map:

Until funding is secured for the rehabilitation of the old rail bridge over I-90, the route follows 118th Ave SE for a mile between Coal Creek Parkway and SE 32nd Street in Bellevue.

Chris Burke

That article by WSDOT contains this gem: By the end of 2021 trail users will be able to take this new I-405 bridge and continue north across the historic Wilburton Trestle.

I don’t see any recent mentions of this future bridge, though.

AJ M

Yeah looks like that segment (F) is now scheduled for 2023, which matches with WSDOT’s timeline of winter 2020 to fall 2023 for their SE 8th street to I90/I405 segment. I would imagine it was delayed alongside the rest of the Renton to Bellevue megaproject.

Stephen Fesler

Chris, there’s two separate I-405 crossings being built, but only one is explicitly Eastrail, which is just south of the trestle. AJ is correct below. Construction is expected from 2021 to 2023. The Grand Connection is a separate project and not technically Eastrail. But, I’d think the timeline for the I-405 southern crossing is subject to delay (it’s already been delayed) since WSDOT faces significant funding shortfalls for I-405 corridor projects.