I believe East Link originated more than 30 years ago to attract eastside support needed for light rail approval in the area. Not only did Sound Transit need eastside votes they also needed eastside taxes to help fund construction in Seattle. (No one had ever attempted to put light rail on a floating bridge.) It was only later they decided they needed to make it a reality.
Whatever the original rationale, they facilitated that decision by refusing for 15 years to add 4th lanes for non-transit HOV to the I-90 Bridge outer roadways. The delay prevented “someone” from suggesting they then initiate two-way bus lanes on the center roadway. That would have ended any east side light rail support.
Instead their 2008 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) didn’t consider two way bus lanes (BRT) as the “no-build” alternative. Their 2011 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) included the following in “Response of Comments” regarding their decision not to consider the improved bus service:
“BRT, as an alternative for East Link, was eliminated during the Sound Transit Long-Range Planning and ST2 process”
Yet they provided no details or documentation of this “process”. They also apparently ignored a 2004 Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) conclusion that the tunnel limited light rail in Seattle to one 4-car train every 4 minutes. With half that capacity routed to Bellevue, East Link would be limited to one 4-car train every 8 minutes or one 74-seat light rail car every 2 minutes. ST plans to force all cross-lake commuters to use this limited capacity will reduce existing transit capacity by ~50% during the peak commute. (By comparison the BRT lanes they rejected could accommodate1000 buses per hour.)
The fact that consultants and ST staff could spend years and millions studying East Link options without recognizing BRT benefits reflects monumental incompetence or worse. The fact they could have initiated BRT 15 years ago for a fraction of what has already been spent on East Link adds to the consequences of this incompetence.
When faced with the Freeman suit challenging ST confiscation of the center roadway for light rail they convinced a Federal Judge to allow ST to proceed with the following conclusion:
“The court respectfully declines to review the administrative decisions of the State (WSDOT) regarding its determination the center lanes of I-90 in question will not be needed for highway purposes upon the completion of the R8A project and fulfillment of the Umbrella Agreement.”
Yet the “2004 I-90 Two-Way Transit and HOV Operations Project Record of Decision” the judge cited in making that finding included the following description of R-8A.
Alternative R-8A will provide HOV lanes on the outer roadways. It will retain the existing reversible operations on the center roadway
Clearly they "misled" a federal judge about the capacity of the 4th lanes added to the outer roadways.
The combination of more drivers because of inadequate transit capacity and their mendacity regarding the capacity of 4th lanes on the outer roadways will inevitably lead to vehicle gridlock on I-90 Bridge. Those sitting in their cars will be “less than happy” when they realize their congestion is due to those with access to the East Link 4-car trains trundling past every 8 minutes. Their taxes helped pay for its construction and will be used to fund the huge subsidy required to cover the short fall between operating costs and fare box revenue. Yet, most won’t even have access to it.
Another example of ST mendacity is their approach to light rail noise issues. They used the below statements in the “Executive Summary, East Link Project Supplemental Draft” to convince the FTA and FHWA that East Link would not violate Federal Environmental Law. (requires any impact on Mercer Slough Park to be de minimus)
Preferred Alternative B2M would not impact noise levels in the park.
Preferred Alternative B2M would not substantially affect park use, the park’s features, activities, and attributes, or diminish the park’s value.
Yet the Bellevue City Council and ST have agreed on plans to spend millions shielding homes hundreds of feet away and across a major roadway from this “non-existent” noise. ST mendacity has made a mockery of the whole environmental review process that if allowed will end the quiet solitude of the Mercer Slough Park.
ST indifference to East Link impact on east side is also typified by their approach to providing alternate access to transit for thousands of commuters who use South Bellevue P&R. They plan to close it next March but have yet to propose any viable alternatives to those who use it. The latest information is they’re still working on it and promised “another update” in September. The fact ST has detailed plans for light rail stations needed in 2023 but no viable alternative for a P&R they’ll close next March indicates either a warped sense of priorities or a realization it can’t be done. My guess it’s the latter leaving thousands of commuters without access to transit.
Unfortunately Bellevue City officials, who could stop it by disallowing needed permits, seem to have no problem with ST incompetence, mendacity and indifference. The entire area will learn to rue their complicity.