(I wrote the following in response to Mercer Island plans for legal action against Sound Transit.)
Why Mercer Island Should Sue Sound Transit
The entire area could benefit if Mercer Island sued Sound Transit to block East Link construction. East Link exemplifies Sound Transit’s historic failure to address the congestion problem facing the entire area’s commuters. However Islanders will pay an especially heavy price.
Barring additional roadway lanes the only way to reduce congestion is to dramatically increase the 10% of commuters who use public transit. Doing so requires providing transit capacity, transit access, and transit routes to where commuters wish to go. Sound Transit’s Prop 1 and ST3 “beyond Prop 1” proposals provide neither the capacity nor the access.
The Sound Transit 2008 DEIS promised East Link would have the capacity of up to 24,000 riders per hour (rph), the equivalent of up to 10 lanes of freeway, and will increase cross lake transit capacity by 60%. Also, travel times across I-90 for vehicles would improve or remain similar with East Link
A 2004 PSRC Report concluded the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) would limit the light rail spine to 8880 riders per hour per direction (rphpd). East Link’s share of DSTT capacity will be a fraction of the promised DEIS capacity. A 2004 FHWA ROD concluded the center roadway was still needed for vehicles once ST had added 4th lanes to outer roadways. Seventy-five minute commutes on I-5 HOV lanes between Everett and Seattle exemplify the “likely” result.
Sound Transit’s East Link extension website features a video whose narrative describes operation as 3 or 4 car trains every 8 to 10 minutes. As a result, East Link, at best, will have about half the current peak bus capacity. Mercer Island commuters will pay an especially heavy price since, at least during peak commute, East Link trains will be full before they ever reach the island.
Those unable to use East Link will face long lines on whatever SOV onramps the FHWA agrees to. Being the last with access to I-90 will likely increase the delays. Once on I-90, they will, like all cross-lake commuters, be forced to chose between paying very expensive tolls on HOT lanes or gridlock on GP lanes.
It didn’t have to happen. Fifteen years ago Sound Transit could have added 4th lanes to the I-90 Bridge outer roadways for non-transit commuters. They could have complied with RCW HCT planning requirements by considering two-way BRT on I-90 Bridge center roadway as the “no build” option in 2008 DEIS. It would have been infinitely better than light rail for transit commuters with 10 times light rail capacity, 10 years sooner, at 1/10th the cost.
The hundreds of millions spent on light rail planning could have been spent adding thousands of parking stalls at existing and new P&R lots. Each P&R could have its own BRT route directly into Seattle or Bellevue. Commuters would be allowed to leave the car near where they live easing congestion throughout the east side. Mercer Island’s loss of center roadway SOV access would be offset by additional parking at P&Rs with direct BRT routes into Seattle or Bellevue
Instead ST delayed adding the 4th lanes to I-90 Bridge outer roadways forcing thousands of cross-lake commuter from both sides of the lake, but especially “reverse commuters”, to endure years of additional congestion. Doing so avoided concerns they would be asked to initiate inbound and outbound BRT on center roadway that would have ended any thoughts of installing light rail.
They were also concerned temporarily closing center roadway to refute FHWA claim the center roadway was still needed for vehicles would fail to do so. Their 4th lane activation this summer just prior to beginning center roadway construction precluded both. Their ST3 plans also included no funding for added Mercer Island parking.
The WSDOT has gone along with ST not demonstrating outer roadway capacity. I’ll leave it to others to decide whether their decision was “influenced” by the potential for increased revenue from HOT lanes on I-90 Bridge they anticipated in 2007 as being needed to maintain 45 mph on HOV lanes with added congestion. Also whether the potential for added SR-520 tolls from those who previously used I-90 contributed. Others could also decide whether Sound Transit’s decision not to include 520 BRT in ST3 that would cut toll revenue contributed to WSDOT decision.
The bottom line is Mercer Island should sue to stop East Link because its operation will essentially end Islander easy access to Seattle. Not only are they the ones most adversely affected, they will likely pay the most to fund it. Their property valuations will likely be 3-4 times and their “mean car values” 8-10 times those Sound Transit used to estimate ST3 yearly costs.
However, the best reason of all is it should be an easy case to win. Sound Transit clearly violated RCW 81.104.00 (2) (b) regarding planning for their light rail spine. Their lead council conceded they didn’t consider the “low cost” option the RCW required for East Link claiming they weren’t required to comply. While I’m a retired engineer, my limited legal background “suggests” Mercer Island could successfully use the courts to block East Link.
The only question is whether they will. The entire area will benefit if they do.