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.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Eastside Cities Should Sue to Block I-90 Bridge Construction

The WSDOT website travel times during this past week of closure are a clear indication east side cities have ample reasons to prepare for planning to take legal action to prevent Sound Transit from beginning constructing light rail on the I-90 Bridge center roadway.  They show the 4th lanes added for HOV on the I-90 bridge will not make up for the loss of the two center roadway lanes.  Three examples comparing current times with previous (i.e. before center roadway closure) averages are:

6/06/17 7:15 Issaquah to Seattle travel times increased from 27 to 37 minutes
6/07/17 7:30 Issaquah to Seattle travel times increased from 31 to 45 minutes
6/08/17 8:10 Issaquah to Seattle travel times increased from 30 to 46 minutes

The increases are no “surprise” to those who have “viewed” previous posts on this blog about the likely result.  It’s also a vindication of the 2004 FHWA ROD stipulating the center roadway lanes were still needed for vehicles with the added R-8A HOV lanes.  (Earlier posts raised “suspicions” Sound Transit delayed adding the 4th lanes for years to when they were ready to begin light rail construction in an attempt to avoid any outer roadway capacity demonstration.)

As a result of the center roadway closure I-90 commuters, who having had to endure years of congestion, frequently beginning near Issaquah to near I-405, now face congestion across Mercer Island and I-90 Bridge.  And it’s only going to get worse!  First with increasing numbers of cross-lake commuters based on Sound Transit's EIS predictions they'll double by 2030.   

Second, when East Link does begin operation, it will increase, not decrease the number of vehicles (and congestion) on the 1-90 GP lanes.  East Link’s share of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel will be limited to one 4-car train every 8 minutes.  The PSRC concluded that the 74-seat cars can reasonably average up to 148 riders.   East Link won't have the capacity to accommodate current transit traffic let alone future growth.  Yet Sound Transit intends to use this limited East Link to replace cross-lake buses, routing them to South Bellevue and Mercer Island light rail stations.  Presumably their attempt to claim East Link will reduce I-90 Bridge congestion.

The reality is, at least during the peak commute, East Link can only replace about 50 buses per hour on the HOV lanes; and it's never going to increase!  Even worse, it’s not the HOV lanes that have the most severe problem, it’s the GP lanes. The 50-bus HOV reduction will do nothing to reduce their congestion.   Instead GP congestion will likely increase because many of those forced to transfer to and from light rail trains will decide its not worth the hassle and choose to “drive” rather than "ride".  The increased number of vehicles with future growth and former transit riders will surely further increase the above cross-lake travel times.

It’s not clear who will make the final decision regarding whether the I-90 Bridge outer roadways provide sufficient capacity.  One of the problems with the WSDOT making that assessment is they’ve already told a federal judge in the Freeman litigation the modified outer roadways would have adequate capacity. (It was that decision that allowed Sound Transit to proceed with East Link.) They may be “reluctant” to reverse their position.  

They would also loose potential revenue since stopping I-90 light rail construction would end any need for the outer roadway HOT lanes they included in their 2007 commitments to Mercer Island.  It would also minimize any increased 520 toll revenue from those avoiding I-90 congestion.   Even the FHWA has been reluctant to enforce their 2004 ROD requirement to maintain center roadways for vehicles. 

What’s clear is Sound Transit should not be allowed to begin construction on I-90 bridge until some independent assessment confirms outer roadway capacity.   They surely can't complain about any delays since they could have done the demonstration years ago if they hadn't delayed adding the 4th lanes. The most likely way of doing so is for Mercer Island and/or other east side cities to take legal action to prevent Sound Transit from proceeding until the outer roadway capacity is deemed adequate.  They surely have an obligation to their commuters to do so.

It obviously has to be done very quickly.  The entire area will suffer for a very long time if they don't and Sound Transit is allowed to proceed.

Addendum:  The 7:20 June 12th travel times from Bellevue to Seattle increased from 15 to 24 minutes.

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