The December 2nd Bellevue Reporter included an article about a Nov. 22nd “summit” meeting between state, county and city elected officials from east King County with “transportation experts” in Issaquah. Issaquah Mayor Fred Butler organized the event to “look for a way the entire region could come together to work on a problem that effects everyone”. That “Years from now, I hope we can look back at this first meeting as an important turning point in addressing traffic flow”.
Another participant, Bellevue Mayor John Stokes, described Bellevue-to-Issaquah and Bellevue-to-Renton drives as “horrible” claiming, “We have been feeling the pinch of a regional transportation system that doesn’t meet our needs”. Others commented “This is a crisis in terms of funding and prioritization in the region” and Sound Transit Board member Claudia Balducci added, “We could have this same conversation across King County”. Everyone agreed on the “need to work together” and Butler later told the Reporter “the summit went very well and everyone is committed to solving regional pass through traffic”.
All of this is rather bizarre. Those conducting the “summit” were at the forefront of the recent effort to convince voters to allow Sound Transit spend $54 billion over the next 25 years to relieve congestion. What’s bizarre is the fact that after being given the authority to spend those billions, the summit participants, several of who were Sound Transit Board members, would still conclude, “we have a crisis in terms of funding and prioritizing in the region”.
Even more bizarre is the participants are right, “we have a crisis!” But it’s not from lack of funding. The reason “We’ve been feeling the pinch of a regional transportation system that doesn’t meet our needs” is not because of a lack of adequate funding, it’s because of the way Sound Transit has been spending billions on Prop 1 light rail extensions that do little to reduce congestion. The recently approved ST3 funding, which many of the participants presumably supported, simply spends billions more on a fatally flawed light rail system.
Mayor Butler hopes “We can look back at this first meeting as an important turning point in addressing traffic flow”. He’s been on the Sound Transit Board for many years. It seems a “little late in the game” for a “turning point”. Commuters from both sides of the lake would have benefitted if Sound Transit had added the 4th lanes to the I-90 Bridge outer roadways 10 years ago and initiated two-way BRT on the center roadway. The hundreds of millions “invested” in East Link could have added thousands of parking stalls throughout the eastside with express bus routes into Seattle and Bellevue. Allowing commuters to leave their car near where they live rather than where they work is the only way to relieve the congestion along the I-90 corridor. Instead his constituents will have to wait until 2040 to get even the minimal benefits from ST3 light rail.
Mayor Stokes concerns about Bellevue-to-Issaquah and Bellevue-to-Renton congestion are well founded. However the ST3 he also actively supported will do little to relieve “the pinch of a regional transportation system that doesn’t meet our needs”. It provides funds for East Link construction that will close the South Bellevue and Overlake P&R facilities ending many commuters access to transit; disrupt those who live or commute along Bellevue Way; and close I-90 Bridge center roadway inevitably leading to frequent gridlock on outer roadways. ST3 also does nothing to change the fact that East Link operation will provide about half the current cross-lake transit capacity and do little to relieve outer roadway congestion, hardly a way to “meet our needs”.
Needless to say, given the reported comments from the initial summit, I’m not optimistic about future Issaquah summits solving regional traffic problems.