Light rail to bring more commuters and idle buses to Island

Light rail’s eventual presence on Mercer Island, will bring many new commuters to an already bustling corridor and at capacity Park-and-Ride. At an extended study session Tuesday, Jan. 21, King County Metro and Sound Transit convened conversations about how East Link could create a transit hub at the north end of the Island, and how the city can prepare.

Light rail will absorb many commuters currently riding bus routes or Sound Transit Express lines, like 550. That creates opportunities to truncate and intercept bus service, says Don Billen, ST’s East Link Deputy Project Director. Representatives from either agency brought the issue to city council hoping to discuss how to create a facility that works for everyone.

“To avoid duplicating transit services, we’re looking at how [we] can better manage Park-and-Ride systems, because nearly all are at or above capacity,” continued Billen.

There are currently 400 daily bus trips that now traverse the Island in that I-90 corridor. Once East Link arrives, those buses may spend more time at the north end. Buses would park and sit idle for five to ten minutes to wait for the next train to arrive. That could congest circulation around the facility, given the limited curb space. Not every bus would park but at peak hours up to seven could sit idle. It’s too early to determine how many buses would still stop at the facility when East Link begins rolling in 2023, but representatives estimated between 300 and 500 daily, if built out for growth.

Councilmember Debbie Bertlin reminded representatives that the Park-and-Ride was in a residential neighborhood.

ST, Metro, the city and WSDOT will shortly begin a study to assess the impacts of the proposed “transit hub” on neighboring residences and businesses. The study will look at travel times, environmental impacts, effects on private property and station design, among other things.

In February, Metro and ST will also kick-off a pilot program that will try out a new system of incentives at several Park-and-Rides, like priority parking for carpools and parking reservation for a nominal fee.

Several councilmembers reproached ST and Metro for not considering the Island for the pilot program, claiming that it portrayed to Islanders that it wasn’t worth bothering with mass transit.

“We don’t know where we’re going to land,” said Mayor Bruce Bassett of changes to the transportion network, “but I think it’s worth having further conversation rather than cutting this off.”


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