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, December 20, 2016

Mercer Island Should Rescind East Link Permit Approval

Mercer Island Deputy Mayor, Debbie Berlin, begins her Dec 13th MI Reporter Opinion, “Year in review, assessing the path ahead for Mercer Island mobility Island Forum” with the following:

We find ourselves at the end of the year, the time when many pause to review the year gone by and assess hopes and plans for the coming year. This year my attention is entirely with the council’s and the community’s need to secure a positive outcome in our negotiations regarding access to Interstate 90 and Islander mobility.

It identified the following priorities from a Sept 2015 community listening tour:

1) secure access to the new “R8A” lanes;
2) mitigate traffic impacts in and around the Town Center;
3) increase commuter parking for Mercer Island residents;
4) improve “last mile” connection to light rail and transit;
5) minimize impact of regional bus operations;
6) require safe, convenient pedestrian and bicycle access to light rail.

An “unexpected” letter from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in August “disrupted” the negotiations calling into question Mercer Island single occupancy vehicle (SOV) access to the R8A HOV lanes.  The reason for the FHWA August 2016 letter is “likely” because Mercer Island, Sound Transit and the WSDOT apparently neglected to inform the FHWA about their plans prior to Mayor Basset’s June presentation to FHWA and Congress advocating they be allowed SOV access to HOV lanes.

The Opinion continues:

In order for Sound Transit to “mitigate” Mercer Island’s presumed loss of mobility, Sound Transit must conduct studies that measure, assess and document the impacts not only to Mercer Island, but also to adjacent communities. These studies are complex and are critical to the final resolution. The FHWA, Washington State Department of Transportation, Sound Transit and the council, with the help of traffic experts and legal counsel, are working through the complexities. The objective is to define mutual success that is legally defensible and consistent with historic agreements. In the end, all parties must concur.

Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff’s response was to characterize success “as an outcome that does not hinder Sound Transit’s ability to deliver its regional objectives and aligns with the requirements of the 1976 and 2004 agreements” and “that the complexity associated with the negotiations should not result in assumptions of bad faith”.

Deputy Mayor Berlin closes with:

Light rail will provide many positive benefits to our community, and equally I believe it is our duty to ensure that Sound Transit upholds the historic agreements. The council and I also remain open to all other options if negotiations do not progress favorably.

It’s not clear what the light rail benefits are since East Link trains, at least during peak commute, will be full well before they reach the island station.  Second, “what historic Sound Transit agreements?”  A 2006 letter from the Governor’s Office & WSDOT to MI confirmed a commitment to 1976 Memorandum Agreement that MI residents should only be permitted HOV access until it is converted to HOT.  

I-90 Bridge outer roadway congestion from Sound Transit’s closing center roadway will undoubtedly “force” the WSDOT to initiate HOT on HOV lanes to “maintain 45 mph speeds”.   Thus any “positive outcome in our negotiations regarding access to Interstate 90 and Islander mobility” will at best be “short lived”.

As far as other “options” Mercer Island should consider rescinding approval of the East Link permits they signed allowing Sound Transit to proceed.    A “Contract Law for Dummies Cheat Sheet” describes a contract as a legally enforceable exchange of promises. Contract formation requires “the offeror promise the offeree something in exchange for the offeree’s promise to do or not to do something”.  

Mercer Island, the “offeree” presumably approved the East Link permits because Sound Transit, the “offeror” promised in their 2008 DEIS that East Link would have “a peak capacity of up to 18,000 to 24,000 people per hour equivalent to between 6 to 10 freeway lanes of traffic”.   The DEIS further promised “Travel times across I-90 for vehicles and trucks would also improve or remain similar with East Link”.  

A “legally enforceable exchange of promises” would seem to require Sound Transit explain how their East Link Extension video depiction of East Link operation as a maximum of one 4-car train every 8 minutes can accommodate 18,000 to 24,000 riders and demonstrate the 4th lanes added to the bridge outer roadways will make up for the loss of the two center roadway lanes.  (An FHWA Sept 2004 Record Of Decision had stipulated the two center roadway lanes were still needed for vehicles even with the added outer roadway lanes.) A December 6th Rogoff Sound Transit email was still promising 2000 MI boarders despite the fact the East Link trains would be full well before they ever reached the island.

The bottom line is Mercer Island officials, rather than relying on “Sound Transit to conduct studies that measure, assess and document the impacts not only to Mercer Island, but also to adjacent communities,” would seem to have a “legally defensible” reason for rescinding East Link permits. 

East Link funds could be used for additional P&R capacity both on MI and along I-90 corridor with two-way BRT on center roadway with 10 times East Link capacity.  While MI would still lose SOV access to center roadway, their commuters like those along the entire I-90 corridor would benefit from the ability to leave their cars near where they live rather than where they work.  Even if they're unable to use the HOV lanes for access, the reduced I-90 congestion will minimize controlled onramp delays. Those riding buses would also avoid the HOT charges the WSDOT seems eager to initiate.

Again, the best way “to secure a positive outcome in our negotiations regarding access to Interstate 90 and Islander mobility” is to attempt to rescind permit approvals.  The question remains whether MI officials are willing to do so.  The entire east side would benefit if they did.

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