One of the reasons Mercer Island is such an attractive place to live is its easy access to Seattle. Other I-90 corridor commuters go through the trouble of getting on and off the island in order to take advantage of its access to SOV lanes on the center roadway. The MI P&R frequently includes a majority of “non-resident” vehicles for access to bus service there.
Yet, the City of Mercer Council is well on its way to approving permits for an East Link light rail project that will end this access forever. The changes will begin in 2017 when Sound Transit closes the center roadway to install light rail tracks. ST claims the 4th lanes they squeeze onto the outer roadway will make up for the loss of the two center roadway lanes are belied by a 2004 FHWA study they participated in.
MI commuters will go from exclusive SOV use of center roadway to long lines at onramps waiting for control lights to allow access to outer roadway lanes. The fact they're the last to do so onto a crowded I-90 will likely exacerbate their wait. Presumably many, at least during the peak commute, will chose to car pool or ride buses, even though the HOV lanes will be far more congested than today.
East Link construction along I-90 corridor will have minimal impact on MI residents, especially when compared with the devastation to those living along the route into Bellevue. ST has attempted to give the impression that East Link is a fait accompli with several open houses allowing residents to review and comment about designs for a light rail station nine years before its needed.
East Link operation will add a whole new level of congestion for MI commuters. The bus option disappears with ST plans to terminate all I-90 cross-lake bus routes at South Bellevue and Mercer island light rail stations. As a result MI commuters will be joined by 10,000 other I-90 corridor bus riders who are forced to transfer to and from light rail trains every morning and afternoon for the commute into and out of Seattle. They’ll have a difficult time doing so since ST plans for East Link, one 4-car train every 8 minutes during the peak commute, will frequently result in light-rail cars that are full well before they reach the station. Forcing bus riders to transfer will likely result in fewer “riders” and more “drivers”, increasing I-90 outer roadway congestion. The added congestion will further restrict MI access to I-90 as well as increase cross-lake transit times for everyone.
The Mercer city council has been aware of ST plans to transfer 40,000 bus riders to and from light rail trains at the Mercer Island and South Bellevue light rail stations since a Jan 21, 2014 meeting. They presumably recognized doing so would mean nearly 10,000 bus riders would use the MI light rail station during the morning and afternoon commutes. They also accepted ST assurances East Link would have the needed capacity, apparently unaware of the limited capacity with light rail schedules.
Their constituents are presumably the reason the council spent thousands last year objecting to a 1/23/13 WSDOT blog post proposing tolling I-90. They forced the WSDOT to budget $8.32 M for an Environmental Impact Statement in hopes of avoiding tolling island residents. (The 11/13/13 post explains why the EiS will likely result in tolls beginning in 2017)
Meanwhile Mercer Island residents seem unconcerned about East Link. An Oct 16 council member’s newsletter to constituents about issues before the council didn't include East Link concerns. It did include a list of issues residents had contacted the council about. The combination of I-90, East Link, and tolls ranked 7th on the list, the same as “Misc” and a tiny fraction of those concerned about “Library Renovation” and “Car Tab Tax”.
This current lack of MI concern “may” be related to the council’s failure to inform constituents about East Link. They email a weekly newsletter to residents presumably intended to inform them about the important issues facing the area. Yet, my reading of the newsletters since the Jan 2013 meeting found no mention of East Link plans to force 10,000 bus riders to transfer every morning and afternoon at the MI light rail station. Also no mention was found concerning the limited light rail schedules ST was proposing for East Link.
Some council members and others have objected to ST plans to terminate bus routes on the island. Despite these concerns or whatever doubts they may or may not have about light rail capacity, the council is apparently well on its way to approving the permits ST needs to begin East Link construction. The council, so concerned about I-90 tolls, is doing so having never included East Link concerns in their weekly newsletter to constituents.
As a result, the City of Mercer council members are joining the Sound Transit Board members, the Seattle Times editorial board, and the Bellevue City Council on my “Light Rail Hall of Shame”. My hope is doing so will "persuade" them to disallow the ST permits. If not, they’ll join those identified as allowing what most assuredly will be a debacle for the entire east side.