This post is my attempt to explain the impact of the Bellevue City Council/Sound Transit East Link agreement.
Sound Transit will continue to delay adding the 4th lane to the outer roadways until 2016. They could have added the lane 15 years ago and reduced congestion for all cross- lake commuters but particularly “reverse commuters”. The added lane would be especially useful now with the increased congestion from those avoiding 520 tolls and on those occasions when the 520 Bridge is closed. Instead ST continues with their plan to delay completing the 4th lane until they need to shut down the center roadway to install light rail.
I believe I-90 commuters have had to endure years of increased congestion because ST recognized adding the 4th lane to the outer bridge would inevitably lead to suggestions they initiate two-way bus rapid transit (BRT) on the center roadway. Even a cursory analysis would have concluded BRT had more than 10 times light rail capacity at a tiny fraction of the cost. It could have been in operation more than 10 years ago providing express bus service from every east side P&R. BRT would have ended any public interest in cross-lake light rail.
East Link also means that, instead of reducing congestion with the 4th lane on the outer roadway, the WSDOT is working with the legislature to add tolls to 1-90 to eliminate the incentive to switch bridges. Stopping East Link could free up funds sufficient to eliminate tolls on both bridges.
East Link will change cross-lake commute forever when they close the center roadway to install light rail. (Many of those I talk to are still unaware of that fact) Sound Transit claims that adding the outer roadway lane would make up for the loss of center roadway are belied by their own 2004 studies showing it won’t have needed capacity.
East Link completion in 2023(?) will have a miniscule effect on cross-lake congestion since the vast majority of commuters only access will be a South Bellevue P&R with limited capacity and difficult access. Most East Link riders using the P&R previously rode buses minimizing light rail impact on congestion. Replacing light rail with BRT would avoid the absurdity of spending billions on a transportation project that increases congestion.
Those living along the route into Bellevue will be the hardest hit. The ambience along Bellevue Way and 112th will be devastated when hundreds of trees and other flora are gouged out to create a huge trench, an elevated roadway, and at-grade light rail tracks with power lines. The EIS describes it in rather prosaic terms:
Constructing Preferred Alternative B2M to C11A would temporarily result in traffic detours, lane closures, and increased congestion along Bellevue Way SE and 112th Avenue SE. The South Bellevue Park-and-Ride lot would be closed during construction, requiring temporary lease of parking areas or shifting parking to other park-and-ride lots. Bus stops would be temporarily relocated along the existing route or to nearby areas.
It would have been informative if they had given some indication of when and how long the traffic would be disrupted and where they were considering relocating the parking or bus stops. In any case it’s very hard to believe that 7 years of East Link construction won’t have a major impact on those living in the area.
Closing the P&R will also cause a major disruption for commuters. Most of the nearly 2.4 million I-90 commuters who rode ST550 in 2012 either parked or made connections with other bus routes there. Bus routes in other directions will also be affected. It’s difficult to envision any sort of temporary parking, alternate P&R lots, or changes to bus stops that will not result in a major inconvenience for thousands of commuters during the years of East Link construction.
The end of construction will mark the beginning of a perpetual disruption in the lives of many area residents. Noise and vibration from Central Link 2-car train operation has necessitated ST incorporate major sound proofing in homes more than 400 feet away from the tracks. The impact from East Link 4-car trains every 3 ½ to 5 minutes for 20 hours a day will surely be comparable. The recent agreement appears to require light rail alignment provide only a 60-foot clearance between the tracks and “an existing residential primary structure”. East Link will likely disrupt the lives of far more than the 70 homes, (the EIS calls “noise receptors”) that will be “mitigated”, whatever that means.
In conclusion, East Link has already caused years of increased congestion for cross-lake commuters and “investments” of hundreds of millions in what I’ve previously called “An attempt to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”. Those “inconveniences” and “investments” however, pale in comparison to the damage and costs if ST is allowed to continue. If there was ever a project that completely failed any sort of cost/benefit analysis, its East Link.
Fortunately there‘s still 3 years until serious construction begins. Time to use “persuading” ST to replace East Link with BRT, the only cross-lake transit mode with the capacity needed for future growth, and use the remaining funds for I-90 and SR405 improvements that reduce congestion. I hope others recognize that sooner rather than later. Every year of delay needlessly extends cross-lake congestion and allows ST to “invest” another $150 million in East Link, about 5 times what the WSDOT gets from 520 tolls.