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Plans for Sound Transit light rail station on Mercer Island taking shape

For many who attended the East Link informational meeting on Tuesday evening, it came as a bit of a surprise that passenger service on light rail to Mercer Island will not begin until 2020 or 2021. Yet 10 years is no time at all when planning and building a regionwide transit system.

More than 100 Islanders attended the meeting and open house. And it seemed that at least as many Sound Transit and WSDOT staff were there, armed with drawings and information about the transit center planned for Mercer Island.

The transit center will be a key part of Sound Transit’s Eastlink light rail project. Eastlink is the eastern King County portion of light rail transportation that will link Seattle to East King County via Mercer Island, Bellevue and as far as Redmond. As part of their ongoing outreach program, the agencies came together to present their preliminary plans for the Mercer Island station, which sits below street level in between and on top of the I-90 lanes.

Sound Transit officials, including Katie Kuciemba, told participants that Sound Transit wanted “Islanders’ input on the station design.” The Sound Transit staff also made sure, several times throughout the evening, that each person who attended had a four-page comment form. They offered several ways to comment and communicate with them. But Islanders were more interested in how their lives and commutes would be affected by the overall changes to the bridge, access to center lanes and all-day parking by off-Islanders.

An Island physician stood first to offer his comments, stating that he felt that the installation of light rail on the Island presented a “net loss” to residents.

He said: “We are losing the 550 [bus], express lane access, and the use of the park and ride [to non-Islanders].” What transit officials should do, he offered, was to add three additional (express) bus stops on the Island.

Others, too, asked about the center lanes with concerns about fire and emergency access, disruption and noise during construction and access to the park and ride and transit during the day when “commuters take up all the available spaces.” Sound Transit officials agreed that this was a valid concern and were considering setting aside spots for midday users.

Many were clearly concerned about the types of changes which light rail would pose overall. However, questions about tolls, center lane access and parking would be best directed to WSDOT, which oversees the bridge and I-90, or state lawmakers who decided on tolls.

One man offered that the Island is “being used just to serve Eastside [commuters], not Mercer Islanders.”

Some, however, did have questions about the station regarding access for disabled travelers, the placement and usage of elevators, and what planners had in mind for landscaping.

Transit officials offered that more detail was available to whoever wanted it. Contact information was widely distributed. The final Environmental Impact Statement is to be released later this year.

For more on this segment of the project, go to www.soundtransit.org or call (206) 398-5459.

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