Opinion

Merrimount/ICW plans unreasonable

Sally Garrett
Island Forum

On Sept. 6, the City of Mercer Island held an informational meeting about plans to narrow Island Crest Way to one lane in each direction and close access to 44th Street from Island Crest. These changes [shown in the Aug. 29 issue of the Reporter] will be put in place in an attempt to improve safety at the Merrimount intersection. Historically this intersection has the most accidents of any location on the Island. The city apparently must make changes to the intersection in order to preserve its insurance coverage.

But are the proposed changes reasonable? The 50 or so people at the meeting examined the plans and were unanimous that the planned changes were not acceptable. Despite the concerns expressed by those attending the meeting, the changes as presented will be implemented this fall.

Although many accidents have been attributed to this intersection over the last six years, the number is not increasing. It has remained relatively constant, other than in 2005, when for some unexplained reason the accidents tripled for just that year. Most of the accidents attributed to this intersection would not have been prevented by the changes proposed. Road modifications will not stop accidents caused by running off the road while reaching for a cell phone or running into parked cars. Two accidents attributed to this intersection occurred when cars were making lane changes. Implementing the planned road changes will actually increase the number of lane changes, potentially increasing the number of accidents.

By providing a protected northbound lane on Island Crest, the design intends to make turning left from Merrimount onto Island Crest safer. Review of the accident reports shows that the accidents involving cars turning northbound on Island Crest were struck by cars heading southbound on Island Crest. In the planned changes, cars southbound on IC are funneled into one lane, and the left turn from Merrimount is complicated and will take longer. This could potentially increase the number of accidents.

Are there other solutions that could reduce the number of accidents at this intersection? No solution will prevent all of the possible accidents. However, a very simple set of changes can prevent the most serious of accidents until a better solution can be funded. Do not allow cars from Merrimount or 44th Street to proceed straight across Island Crest, and only allow right turns from 44th onto Island Crest. Although these changes would not correct all of this intersection’s problems, they would not affect the flow of traffic on Island Crest and have only minimal impact on the neighborhoods adjacent to Island Crest. They would reduce the existing causes of accidents without introducing possible new causes. These changes can be made at the cost of three signs and some paint on the road to make 44th a right turn only and allow traffic from Merrimount to turn only left or right.

So why is the traffic consultant recommending narrowing Island Crest with the installation of curbs in the road center and turn lanes that in the consultant’s own words have unpredictable results? Could it be they have been retained for a $50,000 study of the design’s possible effects? Do they believe that physical barriers, which have the potential of causing accidents and affecting traffic flow, are required to ensure that people obey the law? Is there any way that the city council can be convinced to stop these changes that will cost dollars, time and injuries, and to trust people to take the time to be safer and more considerate drivers? If not, be prepared for longer drive times to the South end.

Vote needed on PEAK

Marguerite Sutherland
Island Forum

In 2005, citizens were stunned that the School Board was seriously considering allowing the private Boys and Girls Club to construct a massive (three-story, 45,000-square- foot) club building on scarce school land in a quiet neighborhood near the high school. Yet, the club’s PEAK project has advanced steadily, rebuffing citizens trying to comprehend why the School Board was so mesmerized by the grandiose proposal that it was on a fast track, shielded from public scrutiny.

Where was a creative long-term plan for the North Mercer campus’ future needs, with public participation and a program for adding needed buildings?

Where were the comprehensive discussions about the devastating effect from the increased traffic congestion, parking problems, noise, etc., on a quiet neighborhood? (The club’s SEPA document predicts 1100 NEW vehicular trips per day due to PEAK— the neighbors become innocent victims of the club’s ambitions.)

Where was the discussion and public approval for giving the club the irreplaceable public land needed for the future? The public was not allowed to weigh in.

In July, a public notice in the Reporter announced a Hearing regarding “Transfer of Real Property.” The School Board declared 100,000 square feet (more than two acres) of the North Mercer campus “surplus to the district’s educational needs.” Now it has leased the property to the Boys and Girls Club of King County.

What is the current and future value of Island land? At the public hearing on the PEAK lease, the School Board objected to citizens’ characterization of its action as “giving the land away,” but when the now-signed lease runs for 50 years at only one dollar a year, isn’t that a major gift from the taxpayers to a private club?

Several months ago, the district’s financial problems required it to cut 10 percent from its budget across the board. The City Council was approached with a request to place a tax measure on the ballot for school needs. To increase enrollment for the current school year, students from other cities have been recruited. Money is a problem.

Regardless, this year the district will be issuing $3 million in non-voted debt.

Meanwhile, our school buildings are aging, yet the district, wanting to sidestep a public vote on PEAK, is financing its $1.5 million contribution to PEAK by diverting reserved buildings repair funds for the next 15 years.

PEAK will cost taxpayers a lot in dollars and reckless land-use decisions. The first responsibility of the School Board is to provide for the education of the community’s children, and a sports and recreation facility is no substitute for teaching.

Peak boasts that the school district will have the “exclusive use” of the PEAK building from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily — just when schools are in session. Does that contribute to the district’s educational needs?

The city also will feel PEAK’s major effects from increased traffic volumes and congestion, and has already spent money on transportation consultants and public hearings. Expensive street expansions and traffic signals are in the works.

The city has $1 million in escrow for PEAK, carried over from 2006. The city should consider using those reserved funds for real community needs, not PEAK.

The citizens of Mercer Island must insist on a public vote on this divisive proposal before any more public money is spent.

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