The May 17th MI Weekly article “City Files Motion for Injunction Against WSDOT and Sound Transit” details Mercer Islands next step in their efforts to maintain single occupancy vehicle (SOV) access to the HOV lanes on I-90 Bridge. It included the following request regarding the City’s February breach of contract lawsuit concerning commitments made under a 1976 Agreement and subsequent 2004 amendment.
In order to preserve the time necessary for adequate and effective Court-supervised consultation, the motion requests the Court to delay the June 3 closure of the center roadway, and delay the transition of newly-painted "R8A" vehicle lanes across the I-90 floating bridge to HOV-only operation.
Any rational review of the 1976 Agreement and 2004 Amendment the Mercer Island action cites would conclude they allowed Islander residents HOV access. This access was later confirmed in a 2007 letter from the governor and WSDOT. (Typical of Sound Transit, they disagree as their counter suit uses these same documents to insist they be allowed to proceed. It’s “interesting” they chose not to object to Islander access prior to the 2008 Prop 1 voting which “might” have affected their support)
The problem is none of the parties involved bothered to check with the FHWA prior to March 2016. The FHWA, which had the authority to decide, transmitted their decision not to allow HOV access to Mercer Island in August 2016. (It’s also not clear how exclusive Islander SOV access to HOV lanes could ever be implemented.) Thus it’s “unlikely” the MI Feb. 17th lawsuit regarding commitments made to MI regarding access to R-8A HOV lane under the “1976 Agreement and subsequent 2004 Amendment” will succeed.
It’s also unclear what delaying center roadway closure to allow “adequate and effective Court-supervised consultation” could achieve regarding Islander access. (Delaying adding HOV-only use of R-8A lanes on I-90 Bridge would benefit all SOV drivers at the expense of transit and carpoolers. It would also avoid the problem of implementing exclusive Mercer Island use.)
Mercer Island however has ample justification to ask the courts to delay center roadway closure. They could ask the judge to delay closure until Sound Transit complies with the Revised Code of Washington. RCW 81.104.100 details the code requirement for high capacity transit system planning. RCW 81.104.00 (2) and section (b) are shown below:
(2) High capacity transportation system planning is the detailed evaluation of a range of high capacity transportation system options, including: Do nothing, low capital, and ranges of higher capital facilities. High capacity transportation system planning shall proceed as follows:
(b) Development of options. Options to be studied shall be developed to ensure an appropriate range of technologies and service policies can be evaluated. A do-nothing option and a low capital option that maximizes the current system shall be developed.
However there was never any indication Sound Transit had ever considered bus rapid transit (BRT) as “a low capital option that maximizes the current system” on either the I-5 or I-90 corridors. Sound Transit’s response to a request by the Attorney General’s office to respond to my complaint regarding the issue included the following:
Project level reviews are not subject to the requirements in RCW 81.104.100. As noted in your complaint, the project level review of the East Link project did include a no-build option. Your presumption that this was due to the requirement in RCW 81.104.100(2)(b) is not correct. As indicated above, this statutory requirement applies to system-wide plans, not project level reviews.
Your assertion that Sound Transit’s failure to consider bus rapid transit (BRT) use of the center roadway failed to meet the statutory requirement outlined in 81.104.100(2](b) is misplaced. As noted above, the cited statute does not apply to project level reviews.
It would be interesting to see if a judge concurs with this decision. If not, Sound Transit could be “enjoined” from closing center roadway until Sound Transit complies. That may take awhile!
Mercer Island needs to recognize the loss of access to HOV lanes is just the next step in their loss of easy access into Seattle. Sound Transit’s closure of the South Bellevue P&R will essentially end Islander access to transit since the Mercer Island P&R will be full with “off-islanders” well before most arrive.
Sound Transit plans to transfer bus riders to and from light rail on the island will inundate their light rail station during the morning and afternoon commutes. Their preferred "integrated service plan" shows 84 buses an hour arriving at the station during peak morning commute. Yet Sound Transit's East Link schedule will provide only one 4-car train every 8 minutes or thirty 74-seat cars an hour.
Being the last with access to this limited capacity means it's likely to be fully “in use” when the trains reach the island. Thus those forced to transfer as well as Islanders hoping to use light rail will likely have a long wait. Sound Transit’s closure of the outer roadway without demonstrating outer roadway capacity is a sure recipe for gridlock for Islanders as well as the entire east side; if not initially, with future cross-lake commuter growth.
The bottom line is the loss of access to HOV lanes is just the “beginning of the end” for Islander access to Seattle. Mercer Island is right to ask a judge to require Sound Transit delay closing center roadway. They just need to do so to force Sound Transit comply with the RCW. It should be an easy decision for the judge to make and an impossible requirement for Sound Transit to satisfy. The entire area would benefit!