Kirkland city manager stumps for trail project along old rail line
Standing on a railroad tie on a hillside in Kirkland, City Manager Kurt Triplett sees more than tired old tracks and weeds near a sprawling parking lot.
He sees a 100-foot-wide open space that will someday be a linear park, paved trail and a mass-transit line all rolled into one.
And because the Eastside Rail Corridor connects a key Highway 520 park-and-ride with a Google campus and the city's future economic center, Totem Lake, Triplett also sees it as a tool to grow and attract businesses.
At Triplett's urging, the Kirkland City Council has authorized the purchase of 5 ¾ miles of the corridor in a $5 million deal scheduled to close next month with the Port of Seattle.
The council is now considering whether to ask voters to fund a hard-gravel trail to serve walkers and mountain bikers.
For Triplett, Kirkland's acquisition of the former BNSF Railway line — "our equivalent of the Louisiana Purchase" — is a chance to expand public use of a 42-mile rail line he spent years as a King County official trying to bring into public ownership.
Triplett recently showed off a section of the trail above Carillon Point with a majestic view of Lake Washington and Seattle. He calls it the trail's "front porch" and sees it as one of a number of future public gathering places along the rail line.
"That's our goal here," he said, "to have something that is truly world class, not just a Burke-Gilman Trail."
Triplett began working on a regional deal seven years ago and helped broker the Port's purchase of the corridor, backed by King County's promise to buy most of the southern portion.
The deal envisioned continuing freight operations between Woodinville and Snohomish, and eventually both a trail and light-rail line connecting Redmond, Woodinville, Kirkland, Bellevue and Renton.
But "eventually" seemed too long to Triplett and a Kirkland park-funding advisory committee, which is urging the City Council to ask voters in November to make a gravel trail the centerpiece of a parks-levy package next fall.
Whether Kirkland funds trail construction through a levy, Triplett believes the city can find a way to begin moving hikers, bikers and commuters along the route, and to encourage trail and transit uses outside Kirkland.
When Triplett was interviewed by Kirkland City Council members two years ago for the city manager post, he said, "Whether you guys hire me or not, you should talk to the Port about buying the corridor."
It was a message that resonated with council members, who had talked for years — but come up with no real plan — about someday building a "BNSF Trail" or "Cross-Kirkland Trail."
Triplett's suggestion excited Councilmember Amy Walen, who said she shared the same goal but had been discouraged by more veteran members. "Nobody was energized or had the connections or skills that it takes to make a deal like this happen. Kurt had these skills," she said. ...
"He went to work and made it happen."
Few people knew as much about the politics and economics of the corridor as Triplett, who as chief of staff to then-King County Executive Ron Sims was immersed in a four-year effort to acquire the land from BNSF Railway and build "the granddaddy of trails."
Under one scheme that ultimately died, the Port would have bought the corridor, swapped it for county-owned Boeing Field, and paid for a paved trail from Renton to Snohomish.
After Sims resigned in 2009 to take a job in the Obama administration, Triplett succeeded him and helped engineer the Port's $81 million purchase of the corridor.
King County agreed to buy most of the land south of Woodinville from the Port, but hasn't yet completed the deal. Redmond has bought a 3 ½-mile segment
Sung Yang, County Executive Dow Constantine's chief of staff, said the county and the Port are making good progress toward a land sale.
The south end of Kirkland's purchase is adjacent to a planned parking garage at the South Kirkland Park and Ride, where a transit-oriented development will bring 250 multistory homes and shops.
The tracks go right past Google's growing campus south of downtown and end up at Totem Lake, which has been designated as a future high-density urban center.
Google urged the City Council in December to buy the rail corridor, and Triplett believes its interest shows it would also encourage high-tech employers to locate and stay in Kirkland.
He believes it would be used by future University of Washington students, Google and Evergreen Hospital employees and others seeking to avoid traffic congestion and freeway tolls.
Triplett is hopeful major employers will contribute to development of the corridor, but for now the only funding proposals on the table involve tax dollars.
The city is buying the property with $1 million of surface-water utility reserves and a $4 million loan from city utilities. The loan could be repaid through deferral of other capital projects, a voter-approved levy or councilmanic bonds.
A 50-member Park Funding Exploratory Committee has proposed installing a $3 million hard-gravel trail as part of a broader capital levy, but not to include loan repayment in the ballot measure.
Dissenting committee member Santos Contreras called the corridor "a jewel" but said citizens should be asked to pay for its purchase before a trail is built.
Member Bonnie McLeod doesn't think a case has been made for buying the rail corridor. "Do I want a cool trail going through our community? Absolutely," she said. "I was adamant that it remain available for public transit and not just turn into recreation, but why does no other city along the route feel the need to own it? Why do we?"
Park levy could build trailTHE KIRKLAND CITY COUNCIL is considering whether to ask voters to approve a permanent $1 million-a-year park- maintenance levy and a nine-year, $10 million capital levy.
The capital levy would put a hard-gravel trail on 5 ¾ miles of the Eastside Rail Corridor, acquire neighborhood park land, replace the Juanita Beach bathhouse and do other projects.
The proposal would cost the owner of a $480,000 home $76.92 a year. If artificial turf and lighting were added at Lee Johnson Field, the annual cost would rise to $83.07