Opinion

Re-striping I-90 critical for Islanders

Judy Clibborn
Island Forum

Last fall I was T-boned by irony. I was trying to leave Seattle after an afternoon transportation meeting and got stuck in gridlock. Despite the fact that the weather was fine and no major events were underway, it was nearly impossible to get to I-90.

An accident shut down the center lanes of the I-90 Bridge, squeezing afternoon traffic onto the outer lanes. Downtown Seattle streets were jammed and I had no choice but to sit in my car and wait.

Though accidents like this are rare, this incident reminded me how important those center lanes are to Mercer Island. The traffic jam also gave me ample time to think about how important it is for transportation planners to get it right when we move forward with improvements to the I-90 corridor.

In 1976, plans to improve I-90 began and Mercer Island entered into an agreement with King County, Seattle, Bellevue and the Washington State Transportation Commission. Though the agreement is more than 30 years old, some of the provisions are still relevant to current planning discussion. One of the provisions covered in this agreement is how to prioritize the use of the center lanes as our region’s transportation needs change.

Sound Transit began in 1998 to look at incorporating carpool lanes on I-90 to accommodate regional transportation demands. After a great deal of analysis and public input, a plan to re-stripe the bridge to add a new carpool lane to each of the outer roadways and dedicate the center lanes to light rail, was approved. This new plan is known as R-8A.

Many details must still be worked out, and some funding must be finalized, but I believe the most critical part of R-8A that must be resolved is the sequencing of the center lane conversion and re-striping projects.

Looking at the plans, reading the reports, and sitting in traffic tells me that the re-striping portion of the project must happen before the center lane is turned over to light rail. This means guaranteeing that single occupancy vehicles have a way to get on and off Mercer Island safely and efficiently. Doing it the other way around would cut traffic capacity and turn the grind of getting on and off the island into an outright nightmare.

From my post as Chair of the House Transportation Committee, I have made it abundantly clear that I will do whatever it takes to make sure the re-striping project is completed before the center lanes are used for light rail. While negotiations over the funding components of the re-striping project are still underway, I am confident that folks at Sound Transit and the state Department of Transportation are fully aware of my position.

I know my friend and seatmate Rep. Fred Jarrett is also well aware of this issue. When I finally made it home from that fall trip to Seattle, I called Fred to vent my frustrations and to make sure that we were on the same page. I had to leave a message, he wasn’t home — he was tied up in the same gridlock.

State Representative Judy Clibborn represents the 41st Legislative District and is a resident of Mercer Island. She is Chair of the House Transportation Committee.

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