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South Island Crest Way trail on hold

Stakes mark the planned route of a trail along Island Crest Way south of S.E. 68th Street. - Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter
Stakes mark the planned route of a trail along Island Crest Way south of S.E. 68th Street.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter

They say good things come to those who wait. And residents at the southern end of Island Crest Way will have to wait for their ideal meandering trail — if they get it at all.

Three months after the city cut down several trees and removed brush to begin the construction of a half-mile, gravel trail, known as the Island Crest Trail, the project has been stalled by the City Council.

Apparently, city staff members increased the scope of the project — and the cost — without the Council’s approval and work has stopped until the Council reaches a decision. In the meantime, neighborhood residents are angry the trees were cut and there is no plan to remedy the “eyesore” left today.

“I live directly across the street from the community’s current eyesore,” said resident Bill Duvall. “Most of us [neighbors] agree this stretch is arguably the ugliest on Mercer Island today. Please step up and fund [the project] or proceed with staff recommendation. We don’t want you to do nothing.”

However, last Monday the Council voted down a motion, 5-2, made by Councilmember Mike Cero. The motion called for the immediate completion with a separated, meandering design using money from the transportation improvement fund from other subsequently planned projects. Councilmember Bassett voted in favor of the motion along with Cero. Instead, the City Council directed city manager Rich Conrad and his staff to revisit the project and return with potential new designs and the respective costs.

“We’ve heard what the neighborhood wants and now we’ve heard what the objectives of the Council are,” Conrad said. “We’ll come back with a project of a different scope and budget.”

In January, several trees were cut by the city to begin the construction of the trail. The five-feet-wide, meandering pathway was expected to be completed last month but work more or less stopped since the trees were downed. To date, the city has spent $56,848 of the original $100,000 budget and bids for the final trail construction came in higher than expected. According to the city staff report, the city mitigated the cut trees by planting others in Clarke Beach park as part of an eagle habitat program.

During a public hearing of the meeting, 11 Island residents shared their desired outcome for the trail with the Council.

Deputy mayor El Jahncke said he was unhappy the trail had become something unsuitable for bikes, though others argued most bikes except road bikes could use the gravel trail.

“This has morphed into something that doesn’t involve bicycles and that doesn’t make sense to me,” Jahncke said. “Are we going to make a bike lane later? This was supposed to be multipurpose.”

In its transportation improvement plan, the Council approved a straight concrete shared pathway for bikes and pedestrians on the west side of Island Crest Way from S.E. 71st Street to 78th. However, during a neighborhood meeting last September, about 90 percent of the nearly 40 neighborhood residents favored the meandering trail separated from the roadway. Afterward, city staff came up with the desired pathway and began removing the trees and brush.

The city estimates the complete project will be about $135,000 if it continues its plans to construct the 2,236-foot trail with 5/8-inch gravel. That cost does not include the landscaping work of what is left of the downed trees. Building the path at the top of the steep hill near S.E. 78th Street also posed a problem for project designers. The hillside would have to be cut to separate the trail from the roadway and costly retaining walls would have to be installed. There were mixed opinions about which option was best for the area.

Regardless, many residents urged the Council to allow the city to continue working as soon as possible, even if it meant splitting the trail into two separate projects.

“To have a meandering, gravel trail would extend the Pioneer Park experience almost all the way to the south point of the Island,” said Marcia Dawson. “Take more time if there are budget constraints, but do it right.”

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