I recently once again witnessed the congestion that is the I-90 commute on the eastside. The occasion was the need to reach the Xfinity store in Factoria to resolve problems with my Internet access and phone service.
On the 4:50 PM commute there I used SE 35th to cross under I-90 and cut through the Eastgate Plaza shopping area to SE 38th to avoid the long lines on SE 37th waiting to get on I-90 onramp. While SE 36th towards Factoria was relatively clear, it was stop and go the entire way the other direction. Presumably most of those were attempting to get on I-90 from Richards Road and Factoria Blvd. My 5:30 PM return trip (I ended up scheduling a home visit to resolve problems) from Factoria Blvd to SE Eastgate Way to 156th Ave and home was relatively clear.
I couldn’t help but sympathize with all those attempting to use I-90 for their home commute. The congestion begins well before Eastgate where cross-lake commuters are joined by those exiting northbound and southbound I-405. The result is a sea of traffic lights slowly heading up I-90 towards Eastgate. There they are joined by those from east of I-405 attempting to use the I-90 onramp near Eastgate Plaza for the commute further east.
The lane for single occupancy vehicles (SOV) is severely “throttled” by control lights due to the congestion on I-90. Even those in car pools are forced to endure blocks of stop and go traffic on all of the roads leading to the onramp. The other option is to endure the two or more miles of stop and go traffic on West Lake Sammamish Blvd to an I-90 onramp off Newport Way near Lakemont Blvd. Those doing so benefit from not having any control lights on the onramp.
The bottom line is I-90 traffic in the Eastgate area is a debacle. Yet the $3.6B Sound Transit is planning to spend on East Link over the next 7 years will do absolutely nothing to ease the congestion. They finally recognized East Link won’t have the capacity needed to accommodate current transit riders (let alone the 60% increase promised in their 2008 DEIS). As a result, their decision not to transfer riders to East Link for the commute into Seattle eliminates access for all eastside transit commuters. Those wanting access to East Link will have to drive to the South Bellevue (or Mercer Island) station, forcing them to endure Eastgate congestion in both directions.
East Link’s limited capacity is presumably why ST ST2040 extensions to Issaquah, Bothell, and Renton were dropped in favor of light rail between Totem Lake and Issaquah at least in their preliminary ST3 proposal. Thus ST3, like East Link, will do nothing to ease I-90 congestion
The only way to do so is to reduce the number of vehicles both on I-90 going up to Eastgate and on the onramp to I-90. Commuters who use the Eastgate P&R to access buses ease the congestion into Seattle. However those needing to use the Eastgate onramp add to the congestion there. Reducing Eastgate onramp congestion requires convincing more I-90 corridor riders to use transit from further east.
Transit there consists of ST554 to the Issaquah T/C every 20 minutes and M214, M216, and M219 to Issaquah Highlands every 6-10 minutes during peak commute. Access to even this transit capacity is limited by the less than 3000 parking spaces in the area. Attracting additional commuters requires adding thousands of parking spaces to existing and new P&R lots along I-90 corridor with dedicated bus routes into Seattle, Bellevue T/C, and Overlake T/C.
ST needs to be “persuaded” to use East Link money to initiate inbound and outbound BRT service on the I-90 Bridge center roadway to accommodate the added buses into Seattle. More East Link money could provide the additional parking and buses needed to take advantage of BRT capacity. The combination of the two is the only way to prevent the inevitable vehicle gridlock on I-90 Bridge from closure of center roadway and ease the congestion at Eastgate.