Opinion

Region officials confirm MI SOV/HOV access

Mayor Alan Merkle

It is time for both thanks and congratulations.

A sincere thank you to our regional leaders and congratulations to Mercer Island for another big step in finding balanced, fair solutions to our region's traffic challenges. A very positive and significant event has just occurred.

In the beginning

The now famous 1976 Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) allowed MI access to the transit lanes (yes, the MOA calls them transit lanes, not center lanes) until the transit lanes were used for transit. More than 20 years later, the region's rapid growth and robust transportation planning made it clear to many, that some form of transit - in the transit lanes - was coming.

The Amendment

Accordingly, we started planning how best to protect MI mobility. After 5 years of negotiations, our regional leaders agreed the first step should be to add capacity to the bridge -- hence the MOA Amendment. The Amendment memorialized the obligation to build two new HOV lanes before putting transit in the transit lanes. It also did something more -- it committed the region to finding ways to preserve MI mobility when transit does come, an additional obligation some would say was not in the 1976 MOA.

During Amendment negotiations, we suggested one way to do that would be to allow us full access to those new outside lanes. Their response then was -- we're not yet ready to agree that is the right answer but we'll think about it. And think about it they did. Since then, some of us have been working hard helping them come to the right conclusion.

The letter

Last week, they stepped up big. Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, Bellevue Mayor Connie Marshall, King County Executive Ron Sims and Sound Transit Board Chairman, John Ladenburg, all signed a letter to the state Secretary of Transportation confirming their support for MI use of the two new HOV lanes. That shows true regional thinking and significant political courage. Not all of their constituents agree with them (now there's a shocker) and they will take some heat. However, they recognized the unique circumstances MI faces and did the right thing by supporting our use of the outside lanes. We owe them a big thanks for their leadership and support of MI. Of course we may disagree on many other issues, but for their support on this one, I urge MI citizens to express your appreciation.

The critics

No doubt some of our own will again sound alarms. Its hard to imagine a credible reason to be critical of this overt statement of support from our neighbors. Although its timing may not be helpful to certain campaign strategies, it is exactly what all have been working for and unquestionably a great development for the Island.

I've already been criticized for not distributing a draft of the letter to the general public the week before last Monday's Council meeting. Face to face meetings and multiple phone calls finally secured the last of the commitments to sign late Monday, shortly before the Council meeting began. Since the contents and agreement to sign, or not, were still under negotiation until late in the day, I elected to not distribute something we were not sure would even be before us. The Council was fully informed. The agenda item left us the option to bring it forward if we were successful in getting agreement. Although it didn't happen until late in the day, it was a great result

The Outcome

Late Monday afternoon while helping to persuade the last of the un-decideds, Senator Brian Weinstein asked for a copy of the draft letter. A couple of hours later, we had the last commitment. We owe significant thanks to our 41st District legislators. Representatives Judy Clibborn, Fred Jarrett and Senator Weinstein were key to helping those folks come to the right decision.They deserve our support and thanks.

Although some of us always believed this was the right answer, it is comforting to have the other MOA signatories now confirm their agreement in writing. It is an important development to be celebrated.

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