Home AEC Bellevue’s Grand Connection Envisions a Bold Take on City’s Future

Bellevue’s Grand Connection Envisions a Bold Take on City’s Future

Urban Land Institute, City of Bellevue, Balmori Associates, NBBJ, Seattle, Puget Sound, Meydenbauer Bay, Civic Center District, Lake Washington,
© Heston Photo – Marv Heston www.HestonPhoto.com

By Michele Chandler

The City of Bellevue is in the early stages of charting future development that could include a “lid” connecting two areas of the community that are now divided by Interstate 405.

Bellevue leaders recently released a draft framework plan for the first sequence of work on the Grand Connection, which addresses the segment of the route between Meydenbauer Bay and Civic Center District.

As part of the larger Grand Connection proposal, Bellevue officials are planning to build a new crossing over US Interstate Highway 405 (I-405). The proposed 1.5-mile pedestrian and bicycle path would wind from Meydenbauer Bay Park at Lake Washington, connect through the downtown core and ultimately terminate at the regional multi-use Eastside Rail Corridor.

The pathway is intended to connect important places within the city, including the Lake Washington waterfront, Old Bellevue, the Downtown Park, the grand shopping street of Bellevue Way, the Transit Center, Meydenbauer Convention Center and the Eastside Rail Corridor.

Proposals for connecting the two sides now separated by the I-405 range from a sculptural bridge, a stand-alone bridge and the creation of a public space with a partial capping of I-405 between NE 6th Street and NE 4th Street, according to the city’s information.

The I-405 crossing will be evaluated as part of the Wilburton Commercial Area Environmental Impact Statement, according to a city website devoted to explaining various aspects of the wide-ranging proposed project.

A 15-member citizen’s advisory committee has been meeting monthly to flesh out concepts between height, density, urban design and transportation issues. The city expects to complete its evaluation during the first quarter of 2018, and release a subsequent report highlighting the “design intent, strengths, weaknesses and opportunities of each alternative.”

It’s a two-phase project. The first segment is the Grand Connection urban design portion, which goes through the downtown and then over I-405. The second part of the project involves the Wilburton commercial area and involves a separate land use and transportation consultant study team.

“The location of the Wilburton area historically has always kind of been perceived as a special opportunity,” said Bradley Calvert, community development program manager with the City of Bellevue’s Department and Planning and Community Development. Bellevue’s proposed development has added to the attraction of a light rail service that’s set to launch between Bellevue and Seattle in 2023.

“It makes for a great time for us to kind of revision that area as a new urban neighborhood a lot of great opportunities to revision that area,” Calvert said. “The Grand Connection itself was again looking at trying to unlock that potential and how we can reconnect that urban fabric that’s been divided by the interstate.”

Rendering of the three preliminary plan options for the I-405 crossing are expected to be added to the proposal’s website in late August or early September, he said.

Bellevue has chosen Balmori Associates, a New York-based design firm, as the lead consultant for the Grand Connection Visioning project. The land use consultant for the project is NBBJ of Seattle, while strategic planning and business consulting firm BERK is leading transportation and environmental aspects of the project, Calvert said.

The city will release a draft Environmental Impact Survey for the Wilburton commercial area and the I-405 crossing segment in late September.

Building so-called “lids” above freeways is a growing strategy for cities across the country that are eager to mine ways to beautify urban areas while expanding their income.

Freeway lids, or “deck parks” as they’re sometimes called, have also been shown to “reestablish neighborhood connectivity but also create new land for development—a scarce commodity in most cities,” according to the Urban Land Institute. “Cities are increasingly building new parks and public spaces on lids not only as connective tissue, but also as magnets for private investment and sources of tax revenue,” the research group says.

Both Mercer Island and Seattle have parks located over their freeways.