Mayor Bruce Bassett discusses how light rail construction and operation will change the Interstate 90 configuration at the Nov. 3 Mercer Island Chamber of Commerce meeting. Katie Metzger/staff photo

Light rail discussions with Mercer Island public continue

The city released a traffic impact study and preliminary list of freeway access options Monday.

Seeking to educate the public and get feedback on the construction of light rail and the reconfiguration of exits along Mercer Island’s portion of Interstate 90, the city will host a community-wide meeting from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Nov. 9 at the Community and Event Center.

The city of Mercer Island is negotiating with several agencies, including Sound Transit and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), to maintain mobility and quality of life for residents following the permanent closure of the I-90 Center roadway express lanes in mid-2017. The discussions were set back when the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) sent a letter in August indicating its intention to end the long-standing practice of Single Occupant Vehicles (SOV’s) using HOV lanes, including the Island Crest Way on-ramp.

At the Nov. 7 City Council meeting, the council reviewed a range of potential I-90 vehicle access alternatives identified by an interagency working group over the past two months. The options explore various ways to accommodate vehicles wishing to enter or exit I-90 on the Island after the start of light rail construction.

It’s an important moment to engage the public, said Mayor Bruce Bassett, to see if any options should be added to the list for further study.

Local engineering firm KPG presented its analysis of the traffic impacts expected if the westbound Island Crest Way on-ramp to I-90 becomes HOV-only when light rail construction begins.

Bassett said the city felt that the FHWA’s decision would be “unworkable,” and now it has the data to back up that sentiment and quantify the impacts.

“This is new data because the scenario created by the FHWA decision was not previously envisioned by any of the parties,” according to the council agenda bill. “[T]he impacts are significant, and were not covered in the East Link Light Rail FEIS.”

Citing historic agreements, the city objected to the FHWA position by various means, including issuing a formal letter, advocating the city’s positions in meetings with the Congressional and State delegations, and commissioning the independent analysis released Monday.

“The city believes the FHWA decision to be in contradiction to contractual agreements, previous traffic analyses, and environmental law,” according to a statement, also released Monday.

Sound Transit is currently funding analyses of various alternatives, performed by outside consultants, and the results of each analysis will be made available when concluded. Decisions on which alternatives are viable and acceptable will be based on a number of factors including compliance with federal and state laws, accordance with historical agreements, benefits to regional and local traffic and ability to mitigate any adverse impacts.

KPG was not commissioned to develop or analyze mitigation to local traffic impacts, and was not asked to analyze impacts on I-90.

All interested residents are encouraged to watch these presentations live on MI-TV Channel 21, or live via webcast on the city’s website at www.mercergov.org/CouncilMeetings. Archived video is usually available online by the end of the following day.

KPG will also present at Wednesday’s community meeting, at 7 p.m. All residents are invited to attend as the city solicits comments on the I-90 access options, and gathers suggestions for other viable alternatives.

“We want to know if there’s anything we’re missing,” Bassett said.

The options cover a wide range of possibilities and “some options submitted would clearly be unacceptable and untenable to the city,” according to its statement.

City staff and Bassett have led outreach meetings with the Mercer Island PTA, Rotary Club and most recently the Chamber of Commerce, where Bassett answered questions about the impacts on Town Center. Meetings are scheduled with Aljoya on Nov. 15, the Osher current events roundtable on Nov. 16 and the Mercer Island Clergy Association, also on Nov. 16. Contact Assistant City Manager Kirsten Taylor at kirsten.taylor@mercergov.org if your group is interested in a presentation.

For more information about future vehicle access to I-90 (the “R8A Lanes”), and copies of historical agreements and correspondence, visit www.mercergov.org/R8A.

To learn about Sound Transit light rail plans in general, visit www.mercergov.org/Rail.

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