This morning on my weekly commute to Fall City for my version of golf I was again reminded of the problems I-90 commuters will face with East Link. The stop-and-go traffic on the three non-HOV lanes began shortly after the two on-ramps from SR900 interchange. Some days the heavy congestion begins further east with slow downs along I-90 into Issaquah. In the late afternoon, some of the worst congestion along 1-90 corridor is in the Eastgate area.
I mention this because the billions spent on East Link will do absolutely nothing to alleviate this congestion. The best way to reduce I-90 and 405 congestion is to attract more commuters to mass transit. Sound Transit could have done so by initiating BRT service on the I-90 bridge center roadway some 15 years ago. Each eastside P&R could have had an express bus route into Seattle allowing commuters to leave their cars near where they live rather than where they work.
Instead Sound Transit has spent hundreds of millions promoting a light rail system with a fraction of BRT capacity that most I-90 commuters won’t even have access to. Money that could and should have been used to eliminate 520 bridge tolls. In 2016 Sound Transit will close down the center roadway forcing all cross-lake vehicles onto the outer roadways. Their own studies show the planned addition of a 4th lane won’t have the capacity for both bus and HOV traffic.
Thus, in addition to the congestion commuters face in getting to the bridge, their cross-lake congestion will also inevitably increase because of East Link. Even when completed in 2023, the billions spent on light rail will have a miniscule effect on this increased congestion.
What’s truly remarkable is the apparent lack of concern along the corridor. Many of those I talk to aren’t even aware Sound Transit is planning to permanently close the center roadway to install light rail. Any cross-lake commuter who lives along the I-90 corridor east of 405 or south of 1-90 along 405 will face increased congestion. Yet, all of the city councils in the area have either acquiesced to if not actively supported East Link.
Mercer Island, Bellevue, and Redmond could have stopped East Link years ago by opting for “no-build” Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to meet transit demands rather than agreeing to issue permits Sound Transit needs to construct light rail. The Mercer Island City Council apparently ignores the fact their commuters will be one of the biggest losers. They’ll go from having exclusive SOV access on the center roadway to facing eventual gridlock along with all the other commuters on the outer roadways. They would still lose SOV access with BRT on center roadway. However, they would have their own express bus connection into Seattle. With East Link they would likely have to stand being the last stop on eastside.
The Bellevue City Council seems oblivious to the fact most of their cross-lake commuters won’t have access to light rail. Instead they’re content to let Sound Transit devastate parts of their city leaving Build A Better Bellevue to sue because of federal environmental law violations. BCC even acceded to ST demands for an addition 200 million to pay for a tunnel under city center; yet Seattle gets a tunnel from the University to Northgate for no charge.
No one representing commuters further east on I-90 or south on 405 has raised any objections to Sound Transit’s spending billions of their constituents tax dollars on a light rail system that will increase their congestion. A small fraction of that money could have provided a BRT system that alleviated congestion throughout eastside. The rest could be used to, if not to eliminate the need for 520 tolls, keep them from being applied to 1-90 commuters.
It’s this lack of concern that’s one of the reasons I run.