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City’s Transportation Improvement Program update on hold

Time is running out for the Mercer Island City Council to approve the six-year transportation improvement program.

The City Council could not reach a consensus last Monday night on the annual update to the program that is due for submittal to the Washington State Department of Transportation and Puget Sound Regional Council by July 1.

A draft of the 2011-2016 plan was last presented to the City Council on May 17 for a public hearing, although no one from the community appeared to comment on the program.

City staff took Council members’ input, which focused on the chip seal pilot project, available funding sources and redistributing the amount of funding given to certain aspects of the project, among other inquiries, and returned with more information at last week’s meeting.

City Engineer Patrick Yamashita and Transportation Manager Nick Afzali recommended that the City Council approve the plan with either one of two given options at the June 7 meeting.

Option A calls for an increase in funding for residential streets to $595,000 in 2011 and $506,000 in 2012, the same plan approved in 2009 as part of the 2010-2015 program. By removing several program components, namely analysis, the traffic calming program and a reduction in the program’s capital support, option A may result in a positive balance of $33,000 in the 2011-2012 biennium; however, city officials forecast a dip in funds to the tune of $2.29 million by the end of 2016, according to city documents.

Option B will increase residential street funding to $700,000 in 2011 and $500 in 2012. The additional funds would be garnered by shifting support for the “right-of-way tree maintenance program” to the general fund in addition to the savings measures taken in option A.

Council member Dan Grausz opposed both options outright.

“I won’t vote for either,” he said, calling the project “premature at best.”

Council member Cero wasn’t excited about the aesthetics of the chip seal.

“It’s rough,” he said. “I don’t want to spent $100,000 on something that looks more appropriate in front of a trailer park than Mercer Island. There could be some blow back from the citizens that have to commute on that.”

Cero, however, felt that the program, specifically option B, “is a good re-prioritization to keep these roads maintained.”

The City Council first entertained a motion to approve option B; however, the vote failed by way of a tie. Council members Steve Litzow, El Jahncke and Cero voted in favor of the motion; Grausz, Bruce Bassett and Mike Grady voted against it.

In light of Council member Bassett’s suggestion to find a compromise, Grausz motioned for a vote on option A with a handful of modifications to reduce the amount of debt that may accrue over time.

The motion failed by a 2-4 vote. Grausz and Bassett voted in favor of the motion; Litzow, Jahncke, Cero and Grady voted against it.

The 2011-2016 transportation Improvement Program will return to the City Council on June 21 at 7 p.m. in the Council chambers.

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