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City mulls sites for light rail parking

King County Executive Dow Constantine paid a visit to Mercer Island’s Town Center on July 20 as part of a recent walking tour of 39 regional and rural communities. City Manager Rich Conrad, Mayor Jim Pearman, Deputy Mayor El Jahncke and Development Service Director Tim Stewart discussed the upcoming light rail project with Constantine with a focus on its proximity to a new transit station and the amount of additional parking facilities that will be needed. - Jenny Manning/Mercer Island Reporter
King County Executive Dow Constantine paid a visit to Mercer Island’s Town Center on July 20 as part of a recent walking tour of 39 regional and rural communities. City Manager Rich Conrad, Mayor Jim Pearman, Deputy Mayor El Jahncke and Development Service Director Tim Stewart discussed the upcoming light rail project with Constantine with a focus on its proximity to a new transit station and the amount of additional parking facilities that will be needed.
— image credit: Jenny Manning/Mercer Island Reporter

Travel via light rail might be fast, but the development process isn't so.

King County Voters approved transit improvements in November 2008 and Sound Transit released two different options for the Mercer Island light rail station later that year.

Sound Transit officials estimate the east link light rail — from Seattle across Lake Washington on I-90, through Mercer Island, Bellevue, and toward the Overlake Transit Center in Redmond — will be completed by 2030 and serve up to 50,000 daily riders. Light rail is expected to reach Mercer Island by 2021.

King County Executive Dow Constantine paid a visit to Mercer Island's Town Center on July 20 as part of a recent walking tour of 39 regional and rural communities. City Manager Rich Conrad, Mayor Jim Pearman, Deputy Mayor El Jahncke and Development Service Director Tim Stewart discussed the upcoming light rail project with Constantine with a focus on its proximity to the new station and the amount of additional parking facilities it'll require.

The city has three locations in mind, including an area near Walgreens on S.E. 27th Street and 77th Avenue S.E., owned by James Cassan; a lot located off Sunset Hwy. between Aljoya and Mercer Island Texaco at the intersection of Sunset Hwy with 77th Avenue S.E., owned by the O'Shea family; or a grassy area at the intersection of S.E. 24th Street and 76th Avenue S.E., owned by Leon Cohen.

Depending on the type of lot constructed, the number of parking spaces will vary, said Conrad, who emphasized Islander's interest in a facility that's a short walking distance from the future light rail station.

Jahncke hopes the light rail will increase the walking traffic and entice more businesses to open shop in the Town Center.

"All we need here is the retail tenants," he said.

Pearman is convinced that access is key to the success of the light rail.

"If this thing is going to work, it's parking, parking, parking," he said.

Conrad agreed, and added that the park and ride on N. Mercer Way is already a popular place to park. Despite nearly 440 spaces, the lot routinely fills on weekdays, he said, and other parking areas are needed.

In consideration of increased traffic and South-ender's need to reach the station, Conrad proposed a van-pool experiment to Constantine as a way to pave the way for a permanent fixed-route option for South-end Islanders to quickly and easily travel to the park and ride, and, eventually to the new light rail station.

"We'd do it ourselves if we could afford it," he said.

Stewart added that the city is working with Island churches to share empty church lots during low-use times to fix the overflow parking problem at the park and ride. The city is also exploring the possibility of volunteer drivers to save on costs.

Receptive to the idea, Constantine said, "I'm looking forward to us being able to help you test this out."

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