Yesterday I received Update #20 from Mercer Island concerning their efforts to stop I-90 tolling. It referenced a WSDOT “Scoping Summary Report and results of the Mercer Island resident and business survey” for their EIS of tolling residents. My admittedly cursory reading reaffirmed my conviction (see 11/30/13 post) it was “unlikely” the EIS would result in WSDOT deciding not to impose the tolls. The fact the council is apparently still pursuing this effort was “disappointing”.
The Mercer Island survey did have some interesting information on where and when residents were commuting. 46% of the residential trips and 55% of the work commutes were into Seattle. 84% of the Seattle trips and 78% of the Bellevue trips were during the peak periods. Presumably the commute destinations and times for those not responding to the survey request would have been similar. I also didn’t notice any information about the number of residents who used transit buses.
Whatever the total number, its clear East Link will have a devastating impact on the vast majority of MI residents commuting into Seattle during the peak periods. ST 2016 closure of the center roadway will not only end their easy commute into and out of Seattle, it will force them to endure long lines on I-90 onramps from signal lights regulating I-90 traffic as well as increased congestion on the bridge.
The ST center roadway closure will also force MI transit riders as well as all the other bus and non-transit HOV commuters onto the outer roadway increasing their congestion. Those riding buses will have their commute changed again when East Link is completed and ST terminates all the I-90 bus routes at either the South Bellevue or Mercer Island light rail stations. While most I-90 buses have always been routed onto Mercer Island, my experience from more than ten years of daily commutes, primarily on metro route 225, was 3-4 commuters getting off or on there. Some buses skipped MI completely.
East Link will change that by forcing everyone to exit the bus and wait along with MI residents to get on a crowded light rail car. (Since MI station is the last of 8 on the east side, light rail cars there will undoubtedly be "crowded", especially since East Link will likely consist of a 2-car train every 8 minutes with capacity for only 2220 rph in each directions (see1/28/14 post.)) These same commuters on their return ride will have to exit light rail at MI (or South Bellevue) and wait around for a bus that will take them to their P&R or other destination. One can only assume the two stations will be “crowded”.
It’s “likely” this East Link “transfer scenario” will result in fewer, not more transit commuters. The idea ST/WSDOT will spend $2.8 billion to close down the center roadway in 2016 causing frequent gridlock on the I-90 outer roadway and devastate those living along the route into Bellevue for a light rail system that, when completed in 2023, no one will want to ride (no matter what the capacity) is beyond “absurd”.
What’s "disappointing" is the council apparently still doesn’t recognize East Link will change forever one of Mercer Island’s greatest assets: its easy access to Seattle. The fact the council is apparently wiling to even consider a monetary “loss of mobility” payment as compensation is repugnant. The fact they continue to devote their efforts to a likely futile attempt to avoid "relatively insignificant" tolls rather than using the permitting process to stop East Link is a sure indication they don’t “get it”.
Stopping East Link would minimize the impact of needed I-90 improvements on MI commuters and avoid the “transfer scenario” debacle for other transit riders. ST could be “persuaded” to use part of the $2.8 billion to replace the expected toll revenue. The East Link funds could also be used to expedite the 4th lane additions to the outer roadways for non-transit HOV and initiate two way bus service on the center roadway that could easily meet future cross-lake capacity needs at a fraction of light rail cost in 2015 not 2023.