Last Wednesday, CH2M submitted the I-90 and Mercer Island Mobility Study prepared on behalf of Sound Transit.
If you’ve not been following the drama, a quick recap: Mercer Island has been making considerable noise since 2015 about perceived loss of mobility due to East Link construction. Whereas prior complaints were more generic and white-hot, of late the complaints have been much more focused on mitigation for the closing of the express lanes for East Link construction and the coming SOV-to-HOV conversion of the westbound ramp from Island Crest Way to I-90. Islanders maintain that they are owed mitigation for this by the 1976 agreement granting their solo vehicles special access to the I-90 express lanes, and also by a 2004 amendment to the agreement holds that:
[t]o the extent of any loss of mobility to and from Mercer Island based on the outcome of studies, additional transit facilities and services such as additional bus service, parking available for Mercer Island residents, and other measures shall be identified and satisfactorily addressed by the Commission, in consultation with the affected jurisdictions.”
To date, WSDOT and Sound Transit have held that the agreement clearly and permanently committed the center lanes for transit and that Mercer Island SOV access was a temporary and conditional use. The agencies noted in a letter to Mercer Island that SOV use of HOV lanes, even temporarily, would be a violation of federal law and a trigger to repay grant funds to the federal government. In response, Mercer Island announced its intent to sue Sound Transit, threatening both the schedule and budget for East Link.
Things have softened a bit since then. Mercer Island reneged on its threat to revoke shoreline permits for Sound Transit, and the ST Board committed in March that the city and agencies meet regularly to negotiate issues around Mercer Island Station beyond traffic. The current study was an olive branch between the agencies and the city, seeking data to quantify the scale of any lost mobility, in the spirit of the 2004 amendment.
Well, the study results are out. In a memo to Sound Transit board members last week, Secretary Millar summarized that:
the Mobility Study concludes that the overall mobility for people traveling to or from Mercer Island will be similar to or slightly improved compared to existing conditions during the six-year East Link construction period, and will be improved once East Link light rail service begins in 2023. A short summary of the study is attached. [emphasis mine]