The north entry for the planned South Bellevue station, which will include bus and paratransit transfer facilities and a 1,500-stall parking garage. Image courtesy of Sound Transit

Sound Transit’s South Bellevue parking mitigation plan could displace Mercer Island commuters

With the 519-stall South Bellevue Park and Ride shutting down as early as January 2017, the Mercer Island City Council requested that Sound Transit give a presentation about its plan to mitigate traffic impacts from the closure at a study session before its Dec. 5 meeting.

A light rail station, 1,500-stall parking garage and rail guideway will be constructed at the South Bellevue site, with a planned opening in 2023 to coincide with the start of East Link light rail service. South Bellevue will also serve as a staging zone during construction.

In the meantime, Sound Transit has to figure out where Bellevue commuters will park. Paul Cornish, light rail development manager, said that Sound Transit was able to lease about 350 total stalls from seven churches in Renton and Bellevue. A “one-to-one replacement” with the 519 lost stalls was not required, he said, though that was the goal. The agency also identified 850 available spaces at existing park and rides.

However, as Councilmember Dan Grausz pointed out, none of those lots fall along the 550 bus route, which Cornish said is the most popular one that runs through South Bellevue. Where the 550 does stop, and frequently, is Mercer Island.

Grausz said that it is “not only a possibility, but a high risk probability” that 550 riders will park at the Mercer Island Park and Ride, and asked if Sound Transit had a contingency plan for that scenario. Cornish said that Sound Transit had scoped out some locations along the 550 route in Bellevue and contacted churches and private businesses, but “none of that came to fruition.”

Grausz predicted that many people who usually use the 447-stall Mercer Island Park and Ride will be displaced. He noted that the garage is usually filled by 7:30 a.m., and with at least 50 percent “off-Islanders.” He suggested that Sound Transit have some sort of back-up plan, even a temporary solution, so that it doesn’t displace its customers on the Island and “leave 100 to 150 people stranded.”

Many community members want Sound Transit to build more commuter parking in Mercer Island. Mayor Bruce Bassett said that won’t solve the problem, as additional spaces are more likely to be filled by other Eastside commuters than Island residents. What the city needs is Mercer Island-only parking, which will also be useful when light rail service begins.

Cornish said that all park and rides operate on a first come, first served basis, but said that Sound Transit could do license plate studies and other monitoring to see if its parking plan is working or if it needs to “step up its game” on the Eastside.

Residents who addressed the council after Sound Transit’s presentation said it was “half-hearted” and even “insulting,” that Sound Transit was “not as creative as they could have been” and that it “doesn’t sound like anyone prioritizes Mercer Island,” imploring the council to stand up for their interests.

Sound Transit had committed about $6 million to build about 200 stalls of parking in a green area near the Mercer Island Community and Event Center that would be used by South Bellevue commuters during the closure, then revert to Mercer Island, but residents opposed that location. The agency then decided that it would seek parking alternatives east of the East Channel bridge. Cornish said that when Sound Transit was developing its plan for South Bellevue, it intentionally did not look for parking in Mercer Island.

East Link is in “various stages” of construction at the moment, Cornish said. Sound Transit recently broke ground in Bellevue, starting work on the downtown tunnel.

It is planning to start work on Interstate 90 in 2017, closing down the center roadway in July when HOV lanes in the outer roadways open.

Cornish also noted that Bellevue Way Southeast will be narrowed to three lanes, with a reversible lane in the middle.

The 550 will continue to run its current route on Bellevue Way throughout construction, along with ST Express buses 555 and 556, and Metro buses 241 and 249.

For other mitigation measures, Sound Transit added 12 trips a day to the 554 bus route (six each way, with East Link paying for eight of the trips), but did not lease any extra stalls in Issaquah or Sammamish.

It also plans to create awareness of existing travel programs like VanPool, RideShare, emergency ride home credits, bicycle and pedestrian options and other awards and incentives programs.

Mercer Island was initially part of a permit program that Sound Transit is implementing at nine park and rides to encourage carpools. City Manager Pam Bissonette said that the city requested to be taken out of that program, as it would take up commuter parking spaces and wouldn’t grant priority to Island residents.

Cornish said that Sound Transit will continue to work on community outreach, and give a two-month warning before closing the South Bellevue Park and Ride. He said that the contractor may not start work until the “things warm up and dry out.”

See www.soundtransit.org/sites/default/files/east-link-replacement-parking-map.pdf for the East Link replacement parking map.

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