About this blog

My name is Bill Hirt and I'm a candidate to be a Representative from the 48th district in the Washington State legislature. My candidacy stems from concern the legislature is not properly overseeing the WSDOT and Sound Transit East Link light rail program. I believe East Link will be a disaster for the entire eastside. ST will spend 5-6 billion on a transportation project that will increase, not decrease cross-lake congestion, violates federal environmental laws, devastates a beautiful part of residential Bellevue, creates havoc in Bellevue's central business district, and does absolutely nothing to alleviate congestion on 1-90 and 405. The only winners with East Link are the Associated Builders and Contractors of Western Washington and their labor unions.

This blog is an attempt to get more public awareness of these concerns. Many of the articles are from 3 years of failed efforts to persuade the Bellevue City Council, King County Council, east side legislators, media, and other organizations to stop this debacle. I have no illusions about being elected. My hope is voters from throughout the east side will read of my candidacy and visit this Web site. If they don't find them persuasive I know at least I tried.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

MI City Council Oblivious to East Link Reality

One of the reasons Mercer Island is such an attractive (and valuable) place to live is their exclusive right to  “single occupancy vehicles” (SOV) on the I-90 Bridge center roadway into Seattle.   Presumably the Mercer City Council concern about anything that affects these commuters is what prompted their attempts to stop I-90 bridge tolls. 

They used their “legislative influence” to “persuade” the WSDOT to conduct a 2-3 year, $9 million Environmental Impact Study  (EIS) of tolls on their commuters.  The council advocated for replacing projected I-90 toll revenue with other funding sources. Unfortunately, alternate revenues do nothing to relieve the I-90 bridge congestion, the other purported reason for the tolls.  It’s highly unlikely their extensive (and presumably expensive) efforts to stop I-90 tolls will be successful. Thus, MI commuters (as well as all other I-90 commuters) can look forward to I-90 tolls in 2016 or 2017. 

What the MI council apparently doesn’t recognize is Sound Transit’s East Link light rail will have a far greater impact on their commuters than any toll.  In 2016 MI access into Seattle will change forever when ST closes the I-90 bridge center roadway to begin light rail installation.  Buses, non-transit HOV, and SOV traffic will all be forced to use the I-90 outer roadways in both directions.  A 2004 FHWA study concluded the 4th lanes added to the outer roadways wouldn’t have the capacity to avoid increased congestion.  

All MI commuters will go from easy center-roadway access to metered onramps that have resulted in long lines at other I-90 locations for years.  The fact they'll be using the last onramps to I-90 will undoubtedly  exacerbate the MI commuter access problem.  Unfortunately the council seems oblivious to these concerns and the fact that outer roadway congestion will be worse if they succeed in blocking I-90 tolls.

What is even more inexplicable is the MI council doesn’t recognize the impact on their commuters when light rail operation begins in 2023 (?).   They may or may not have known about ST plans to terminate all the I-90 bus routes at the South Bellevue and Mercer Island light rail station prior to the Jan 21st ST presentation.  (A major “surprise to me” (see 1/23/14 and 1/28/14 posts))  

ST justified their “promised” 50,000 daily riders by assuming 40,000 came from terminating existing bus routes.  Since nearly all of the bus riders originate on the east side, presumably 10,000 commuters will be required to transfer to trains at each of the two stations every morning and back to buses in the afternoon. 

 (Typical of ST, their June 8th 2013 MI Station Open House Report predicted “about 2000 boardings” there and a recent South Bellevue Station Open House predicted 4500 boardings there.  Apparently those responsible for the station designs were "unaware" of ST plans to terminate buses there.  This may explain why it's difficult to believe either station, but particularly the MI P&R, could each accommodate the buses and10,000 commuters tranfering to and from light rail trains during the morning and afternoon commutes.)

When a MI council member asked whether light rail had the needed capacity, the ST response was “capacity was not an issue”.  Apparently ST does not feel bound by the Puget Sound Research Council light rail guidelines limiting light rail capacity in Seattle.  They limit total capacity to 8880 riders per hour (RPH) in each direction through the Seattle tunnel.  If half of this capacity (4440 RPH) is used for East Link it will take more than 4 ½ hours for 20,000 riders to cross I-90 on trains.  (The 1/28/14 post explains the 8880 RPH total capacity and why the more likely East Link capacity will be 2220 RPH). 

One would have thought the council would be “curious” as to how ST planned to accommodate the 20,000 morning commuters in terms of train frequency and the number of cars in each train.   As the 1/28/14 post explains increasing train frequency and the number of cars in each train dramatically increase operating costs.  (This may explain why ST used only 2-car trains in their recent tests to confirm the I-90 Bridge could withstand light rail loads.)  The MI council failure to pursue the capacity issue in subsequent meetings or in the agendas available for future meetings is a clear indication they simply don’t recognize the problem.

In conclusion, the MI city council seems oblivious to the devastating impact East Link will have on its commuters.  The increased I-90 congestion from ST closure of the bridge center roadway in 2016 will change cross-lake commuting for all eastside commuters.    However, MI commuters will have  more difficulty getting on the bridge and all cross-lake commuters will encounter even heavier bridge congestion if MI succeeds in stopping I-90 tolls. 

The council also doesn’t recognize East Link will never have the capacity needed to accommodate 20,000 morning and afternoon commuters when light rail service begins (2023?).   Buses will likely still be needed for the vast majority of cross-lake mass transit riders; adding to the outer roadway congestion.  MI commuter (as well as those transferring from buses) access to what little capacity East Link has will likely be severely limited since most trains will be filled to capacity before they even get to the MI station.

As the 2/20/14 post suggests, it’s only a question of time before MI commuters (and others gridlocked on the bridge) recognize the reality of East Link and demand they “tear the damn thing out” and initiate BRT for cross lake mass transit.  The tragedy is the council could use the permitting process to stop East Link now and avoid the entire debacle for probably a fraction of the funds they’ve spent opposing tolls.

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