A recent article in the Times announced that home valuations on Mercer Island ranked 21st in the country. Undoubtedly one of the reasons for this is the fact the island provides a suburban atmosphere with easy commuting into Seattle. Residents currently have exclusive single occupancy vehicle (SOV) use of the HOV lanes for fast, reliable commutes into and out of Seattle. Anything that detracts from this favorable commute would seem to adversely impact the island’s “attractiveness” and home values
Presumably it’s this concern that prompted Mercer Island officials to lead the objection to WSDOT plans for tolls on I-90. Unfortunately their attempt to use an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to prevent the tolls is “unlikely” to succeed (See 11/08/13 post).
Even if they do manage to eliminate the tolls their resident’s commute into Seattle will change forever when Sound Transit shuts down the center roadway to install light rail (See 9/25/13 post). What’s inexplicable is Mercer Island officials’ apparent willingness to go along with an East Link program with such adverse affects on the commute and the islands “attractiveness”.
Both Mercer Island and Bellevue have to approve permits allowing ST to proceed. Bellevue officials are well on the path toward approval. They’ve apparently concluded cross-lake light rail will improve access to Bellevue for Seattleites. It seems they’ve also decided increased cross-lake congestion from light rail will make Bellevue more attractive than Seattle for future growth from suburban I-90 commuters. They’re willing to accept the increased congestion for east side cross-lake commuters with limited access to light rail and the devastation along the route into Bellevue to achieve the future growth. (The fact the WSDOT is a willing partner with ST plans to spend $2.8 billion on a transportation project that will increase congestion is beyond "inexplicable")
Mercer Island only looses if they approve their 4 permits for ST. It’s unlikely many Seattleites will use light rail to commute there and Bellevue is far more convenient for commuters facing congestion along I-90. While there are limits to what they can do in not approving the permits, they surely have the ability to make it contingent on ST meeting certain requirements. For example, make ST demonstrate their residents’ commutes will not be adversely affected by light rail.
Require they demonstrate their EIS claim “Travel times across I-90 for vehicles and trucks would also improve or remain similar with East Link”. Doing so would require ST expedite the 4th lane on the outer roadway and temporarily close off the center roadway. The fact an FHWA study documented in Sept 2004 concludes the modified outer roadway wouldn’t have the needed capacity makes it even more imperative to insist on the demonstration (See 5/15/12 post). (The added lane would also eliminate the outer roadway congestion purportedly prompting I-90 tolls.)
Mercer Island officials surely owe it to residents to do whatever is possible to assure light rail will not degrade their residents commute and the value of their homes. They can also use their resident legislators WSDOT oversight to support their demands. Whether they will use the approval process and resident legislators to force ST to demonstrate adequate outer roadway capacity remains to be seen. The FHWA results, if confirmed in the test, will force ST to concede light rail will increase not decrease cross-lake congestion. The sooner that happens the quicker the WSDOT will be forced to disallow cross-lake light rail and East Link money can be used to fund 520 and 405 improvements that will reduce congestion not increase it.