The island’s City Council had voted to sue the state agency over the loss of solo-driving residents’ access to high-occupancy vehicle lanes.
Mercer Island and Sound Transit have agreed to a tentative settlement that would end the city’s lawsuit against the agency over the loss of direct access to Interstate 90’s express lanes that island drivers have had access to for decades.
As Sound Transit prepares to spend the next five years building light rail on I-90’s express lanes across Lake Washington, the general lanes will be re-striped to add HOV lanes, and islanders’ access to the express lanes will end.
Under the agreement, reached just before a midnight deadline on Wednesday, Sound Transit would pay just over $10 million for traffic safety and mitigation programs and for parking spots to replace the South Bellevue Park-and-Ride lot, which will be closed for five years.
After a closed meeting that lasted more than six hours, the Mercer Island City Council voted 5-1 to approve Sound Transit’s offer just minutes before it was set to expire Wednesday, at the end of May. The Sound Transit board still must approve the settlement for it to become final. The board is expected to vote on it at its June 22 meeting.
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A hearing at King County Superior Court had been set for 10 a.m. Thursday, but has been canceled and the tentative agreement ends any other legal disputes between the agency and the city.
“We do believe this sets a path toward ensuring that the East Link is going to get built on time and on budget,” Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff said at a Sound Transit committee meeting Thursday. The agreement was “thrashed out with intense negotiations throughout the Memorial Day weekend.”
One of the lead negotiators for Sound Transit was Redmond Mayor John Marchione, a vice-chair of the Sound Transit board, whose city eventually will be served by the East Link rail line.
“This was a cooperative, collaborative,” Marchione said. “There was frustration at times, but in the end we found common interest. I would never characterize this as one party beating the other.”
Mercer Island Mayor Bruce Bassett said the agreement “advances the mobility needs of our residents.”
In a news release, the city said the agreement “will offset the impacts of light-rail construction and operation and partially compensate for permanent impacts to local traffic patterns.”
Under the tentative agreement, Sound Transit would pay $5.1 million to Mercer Island for unspecified traffic-safety enhancements, which will be determined by the city.
Sound Transit would pay about $4.5 million to build permanent park-and-ride spaces (not more than 200) on Mercer Island.
The agency also would pay $240,000 to lease 100 temporary-parking spots for transit users within one-third of a mile of the closed South Bellevue Park-and-Ride.
This weekend the I-90 express lanes will close as crews work to prepare for light-rail construction. Mercer Island residents, or anyone simply crossing the lake, are bracing for bottlenecks. Lanes will be re-striped and shoulders will be removed or reduced, among other changes.
Sound Transit is scheduled to take custody of the center express lanes on June 14 to begin light-rail construction.
The closure marks the end of an era for island drivers. Since 1989, they enjoyed unique access to the express lanes, a deal the city made to keep its commuters from drowning in regional traffic drawn by past I-90 expansions.
The Mercer Island City Council voted in February to sue Sound Transit and Washington State Department of Transportation.
The state — following federal requirements — told the city that it would not grant Mercer Island solo drivers special access to the new high-occupancy vehicle lanes while the existing HOV lanes are closed.
The City Council also had voted to withhold permits related to the construction of light rail and a Mercer Island Sound Transit station, which are both scheduled to be built over the next few years.
In notes describing the agreement Sound Transit wrote that they will “require a high degree of certainty” that the city will approve all necessary permits.