The 12/06/16 Sound Transit email, “Project Update East Link Extension” is their latest attempt to sell light rail to east side commuters. Typical of Sound Transit they have the temerity to entitle it, “I-90 Segment Fact Sheet: Mercer Island”. The “Facts” include the following purported benefits:
1) Provides access to high quality, frequent transit service that operates 20 hours per day
2) Approximately 2,000 daily station boardings at Mercer Island (2030)
3) Addresses the City of Mercer Island’s goals to promote mixed-use development at regional transit facilities and improves transit opportunities
While East Link will likely operate 20 hours per day, their East Link Extension website video narrative describes it as “providing three or four car trains every eight to ten minutes”; at best, the equivalent on one 74-seat light rail car every 2 minutes. While that may seem “frequent” to some it will have about half the current peak cross-lake bus capacity and a small fraction of the capacity needed to provide the equivalent of 10 lanes of freeway Sound Transit promised in their 2008 DEIS. Thus it’s doubtful islanders will consider East Link “high quality, frequent transit service”. (By comparison Sound Transit could easily route more than 20 buses across the I-90 center roadway in 2 minutes with 10 times East Link capacity, without spending a dime on light rail.)
Sound Transit had initially intended to use the Mercer Island station to transfer about half of the cross-lake bus riders to East Link (the other half at South Bellevue Station). That would have resulted in about 10,000 bus riders transferring to and from light rail at the MI station every morning and afternoon. MI objections ended that debacle.
However, even the fact “approximately 2,000 daily station boardings at Mercer Island by 2030” is dubious. The MI station is the last with access to East Link. It’s more than “likely” the “one 74-seat light rail car” will be full well before it reaches Mercer Island, at least during peak commute. After all, Sound Transit is currently still promising 50,000 East Link boarders by 2030. While 2000 islanders may eventually be able to get on, the “fact” is they will likely have a long wait before doing so. Thus it’s difficult to believe that East Link will “promote mixed use development at regional transit facilities (i.e. MI light rail station) and improves transit opportunities.”
The “Fact Sheet” is just another chapter in the MI East Link “saga”. A Sept. 19th city council presentation, “The Mercer Island I-90 Access & East Link Light Rail Project Update” informed islanders about an August FHWA notification they would not allow single occupancy vehicles (SOV) to use the HOV lane on Mercer Island for access to 1-90 Bridge. (The FHWA notification was apparently in response to a March query and a June mayoral presentation advocating for MI SOV use in a DC presentation to the FHWA and members of Congress. It’s not clear why no one thought to “query” the FHWA sooner)
The Sept 19th presentation included plans to challenge the FHWA decision using “hired experts” to assist in making a “formal rebuttal”. A draft of the rebuttal, “I-90 Mercer Island Access Alternatives” was presented at the November 7, 2016 Mercer Island City Council meeting, and then again to the community at a public meeting on November 9. My guess is the likely result will be MI cross-lake commuters having to endure the long lines other I-90 corridor SOV commuters encounter on controlled onramps.
The bottom line is ST3 funds a Prop 1 East Link extension that will essentially end Islanders’ easy access to Seattle. It isn’t clear what Sound Transit/MI negotiations regarding the resulting “loss of mobility” compensation have yielded. What is clear is Sound Transit’s “I-90 Segment Fact Sheet” does little to change that reality.