Pressing pause on Sound Transit negotiations was needed for Mercer Island to preserve access and mobility for its residents.
THE city of Mercer Island is right to push back on Sound Transit and the state Department of Transportation with a lawsuit seeking to preserve access and mobility for its residents.
Mercer Island has long supported Sound Transit, but the city is being forced into an unacceptable situation. The transportation agencies are upending longstanding agreements affecting access for the city’s 24,000 residents.
This is not about special privileges at the expense of transit. It’s about the failure of negotiations between local, regional and state governments. They were trying to reach a reasonable agreement to mitigate the effects of light-rail construction starting in June.
Mercer Island access, new transit services and high-occupancy vehicle lanes on Interstate 90 can all be accommodated if the parties work together and agree on a solution that respects the island’s unique situation and the regional transportation work.
Mercer Island and its commercial center have one four-lane arterial to Interstate 90, which provides the only road access to the island. Other access to I-90 involves streets that aren’t designed for that much traffic.
Because of Mercer Island’s situation, state and local governments have long agreed that all traffic to and from the island could use the short stretch of high-occupancy vehicle lanes adjacent to the island. The arrangement was settled in 1976 and repeatedly upheld by subsequent agreements.
That arrangement was also factored into Sound Transit’s 2011 environmental review of the light rail across I-90.
Then, as rail construction approached, support for the arrangement mysteriously faded last summer. A federal highway administrator weighed in last August, saying that this use of HOV lanes could not continue.
Meanwhile there’s no agreement on the best way to mitigate the effect of ramp closures and other traffic problems that will result from Sound Transit’s East Link construction.
After negotiations stopped progressing, Mercer Island’s City Council voted Feb. 13 to seek more time to reach an agreement, by calling for a lawsuit and pausing permitting for six months.
Shockingly, Sound Transit responded by vowing to use “all legal actions necessary” against the city where it’s about to build a new rail station.
Regional investments in transportation are important.
But so is transit-agency cooperation with cities that support those investments and comprise the Sound Transit taxing district. Such cities rightly expect to benefit from these projects and not suffer because of them.