Letter | New HOV lanes OK for SOV Islanders?
May 9, 2012 · Updated 10:44 AM
The April 4 article about the opening of a new eastbound HOV lane between 80th and the East Channel Bridge, and the May 2 editorial, both overlook a key benefit to Mercer Island residents. Mercer Island traffic is entitled to use all the I-90 HOV lanes between Seattle and the I-405 interchange; thus, we can use the new HOV lanes east of 80th even with a single-occupant car.
The 1976 Memorandum of Understanding between the state and the municipalities (www.mercergov.org/Files/I-90%20MOA%201976.pdf) guarantees to Mercer Island traffic the right to use the I-90 “transit lanes” (the HOV lanes), “between the south Bellevue interchange [I-90 /I-405] and I-5.” Nowhere in the MOU is there even a hint that the right of Mercer Island traffic to use the HOV lanes is restricted to the section between Island Crest and the west end of the Mount Baker tunnel. So, WSDOT signs notwithstanding, all HOV lanes between I-405 and the Seattle terminus by Uwajimaya are open to Mercer Island traffic under the terms of the MOU.
The city manager has acknowledged in the past that the WSDOT signs contravene the rights of Mercer Island traffic, but the city has failed to take steps to ensure the rights of MI traffic. Nonetheless, the signs cannot override the rights we have under the binding 1976 MOU. The HOV lanes between 80th and I-405 can be a real blessing when traffic on the East Channel Bridge is bad, and our right to use them should not be obstructed.
The agreements governing the use of HOV lanes by Islanders in SOVs are complex. We checked with former MI mayor, state senator and representative Fred Jarrett, now the deputy King County executive, to respond.
“The confusion is in the definition of ‘transit lanes.’ The configuration of I-90 under the MOA is 3-2T-3, or three general purpose lanes in each direction and two transit lanes — not HOV lanes — but transit lanes. The access granted to Islanders is for those two lanes, not any additional HOV lanes (unless that was changed in the R8A agreement).
To my knowledge, there never has been a document that provides Islander SOV access to any HOV lanes (center roadway or new HOV R8A lanes) east of Island Crest Way.
Behind the MOA grant of Mercer Island access to the center roadway was a series of traffic studies forecasting Islanders would generate 2,000 cars per hour at peak at ICW by the year 2000. When the Eastside cities agreed to let go of the 4-2T-4 configuration in favor of the 3-2T-3 configuration, Mercer Island access to the center roadway accommodated the loss of one general purpose (GP) lane in the peak direction by diverting Island traffic to the center roadway, thus maintaining the peak capacity of 4-2T-4 with two fewer GP lanes.
So, in short, the agreement was based on traffic generated at ICW westbound, not I-405.
In 1976, there was no expectation that peak would be bidirectional.”
Mr. Jarrett concludes: “I think people would be ill-advised to use the HOV lanes.”