Sound Transit has been studying various cross-lake configurations for more that 30 years. Their 2008 DEIS described their preferred “no build” solution R-8A, which added a 4th lane to the outer roadway and maintained the existing center roadway configuration with combination bus/HOV lanes both going in the peak commute direction. The DEIS explained how ST had concluded the lack of capacity for this “no-build” solution had led then to select light rail for cross-lake commuting.
The problem with these years of study is ST never seriously considered dividing the center roadway into inbound and outbound bus only lanes. Their 1996 study had initially included configuration R-4 that did include two-way bus only lanes on the center roadway and a 4th lane on the outer roadway for HOV traffic. However, it was discarded apparently because Mercer Island objected to the loss of their exclusive SOV access.
ST never reconsidered R-4 in their 2004 study which selected R-8A as the “no-build” solution even though it also eliminated the Mercer Island SOV access to center roadway. Each bus only lane could accommodate up to 20 buses per minute, more than enough to meet any future cross-lake transit needs. Every east side P&R could have a direct bus route connection into Seattle. The costs would be minimal and the commuting benefits immediate
Yet ST simply ignored this approach. Why? The center roadway is 40 ft wide, more than enough for the two bus lanes with an access lane in between. Instead they have persisted with their plan to spend 6-7 billion on East Link which, per 2008 DEIS, provides one 4-car train every 9 minutes. Even worse, its only access point for most cross lake commuters is the South Bellevue P&R which will never have the capacity or accessibility commuters need.
When I responded to ST’s request for comments on their 2008 DEIS with questions as to why they had not considered two-way bus lanes . James Irish, the Environmental Manager for Link Light Rail responded:
The Sound Transit Board considered this issue (added bus service) over the last few years as part of its Long Range Planning update and development of the Sound Transit 2 Program. After consideration of the issues the Board found that additional bus service would not meet the needs of the Eastside for high capacity transit and that light rail is the best solution.
As mentioned above ST’s “added bus service” studies never, at least publicly, evaluated two-way bus lanes on the center roadway. The idea they could spend millions and years evaluating cross-lake options and not consider the bus-only lanes on the center roadway is ludicrous. Even a cursory analysis would have shown the bus lane capacity, rider accessibility, costs, and completion date were infinitely better than light rail. Its really a question of whether Sound Transit was totally incompetent or worse.
I’ve spent the last three years asking the Bellevue City Council, the King County Council, and the media to ask Sound Transit why they’ve never publicly evaluated the bus lanes. If they had, this debacle could have ended a long time and many millions ago.