I-90 lawsuit results in setback for Mercer Island

In an April 7 King County Superior Court hearing, Judge Beth Andrus ruled in favor of Sound Transit in one of the lawsuits regarding Interstate 90 access, prohibiting the city of Mercer Island from rescinding the Shoreline Substantial Development Permit.

The city suspended the permit after the Mercer Island City Council voted to sue Sound Transit and the Washington State Department of Transportation and enacted two moratoria in an attempt to delay the closure of the Interstate 90 center lanes, and therefore East Link light rail construction, so adverse impacts could be addressed and mitigated.

The city then reinstated the shoreline permit in March after Sound Transit promised to publish an Addendum to its Final Environmental Impact Statement and do no work under the permit until June 2017 at the earliest, which is when the I-90 center lanes are scheduled to close.

The judge determined that state law does not allow the city to address adverse impacts that occur outside the shoreline jurisdiction using the shoreline permit. Mercer Island intends to appeal the decision to the Washington State Supreme Court.

Andrus also heard oral arguments on April 13 on a lawsuit initiated by Sound Transit and the Washington State Department of Transportation challenging the city’s authority to address the adverse parking, traffic and safety impacts caused by the East Link Project.

“The city’s position was that it had authority with respect to its issuance and review of Sound Transit’s shoreline development permit and light rail station building permit,” according to a city news release.

Andrus did not rule on issues involving the pending building permit, and was waiting to see what the Mercer Island City Council did at its April 17 meeting.

There is also a third lawsuit in the mix, initiated by the city of Mercer Island and claiming a breach of contract by the two transportation agencies based on a memorandum from 1976. No hearing date has been set.

At its April 17 meeting, the council discussed funding possibilities to continue its legal efforts. The city has spent about $720,000 already, Finance Director Chip Corder said at the meeting. Councilmember Dan Grausz advocated for raising taxes temporarily, and said he thought Islanders would support that. A majority of the council agreed.

On a parallel track with litigation, the city is actively pursuing the possibility of a negotiated solution.

“Litigation is expensive and time-consuming, and the outcome is uncertain,” Mercer Island City Manager Julie Underwood said in a statement.

A small negotiating team composed of three Sound Transit Board members and three City Councilmembers was recently formed. They have tentatively planned to meet on April 24.

Earlier this month, Sound Transit and WSDOT published two important documents regarding the East Link Extension project. The agencies jointly released a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) Addendum that updates the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) originally issued in July 2011, and WSDOT released the “I-90 and Mercer Island Mobility Study.”

The documents conclude that “prohibit[ing] SOVs from using the R8A HOV lanes between Seattle and Mercer Island” will cause “[n]o new probable significant adverse environmental impacts” and “no loss of mobility to or from Mercer Island.”

“They form the basis for Sound Transit’s and WSDOT’s conclusions that only minimal mitigation measures are required,” according to the news release. “The city disagrees with these conclusions and will prepare its own Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) on a fast-track basis.”

The city welcomes public comment on these documents, which can be submitted online at www.mercergov.org/Rail_Comments.

“Mercer Island residents have only one route on and off the Island: I-90. The change in the project reduces Town Center on-ramps from three to just one for single occupant vehicles (SOVs), and eliminates the SOV onramp for our only four-lane arterial road. This is a significant alteration to the project that definitely will impact the Island,” Underwood stated. “This would be similar to eliminating the SOV on-ramps from Mercer Street to I-5 in Seattle or Northeast 8th Street to I-405 in Bellevue.”

Underwood stated that the I-90 center roadway is still likely to close in early June. The city will be working with residents to make sure they have the information needed to be prepared for significant changes in their morning commute.