With city councils, chambers of commerce and other groups in the Puget Sound region weighing in on Sound Transit’s $54 billion Proposition 1, the city of Mercer Island has chosen to stay out of the discussion.
The Mercer Island City Council will not take a position on the ballot measure, known as Sound Transit 3 (ST3), because its hands are full dealing with the implications of Sound Transit 2, said Mayor Bruce Bassett. East Link, approved as part of the ST2 measure passed in 2008, will bring light rail to Mercer Island, Bellevue and Redmond in 2023.
Bassett said taking a position on ST3 could complicate the ongoing negotiations about loss of mobility in which the city is currently engaged, along with Sound Transit, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
The light rail trains will run in the reversible center lanes of the Interstate 90 bridge, which many Islanders use on a daily basis due to a 1976 agreement granting Single Occupancy Vehicle (SOV) traffic the privilege to use the HOV lanes. The center lanes will close next year, and a 2004 amendment to the agreement stated that Mercer Island must receive some sort of mitigation for that “loss of mobility,” which will significantly affect the way drivers get on and off the Island.
“The closure of the center roadway will create some temporary adjustments for residents during construction, and will also lead to permanent changes in HOV on/off-ramp alignment, traffic patterns, bus access and other transit-related matters,” according to the city’s website.
WSDOT has been working to add HOV lanes to the outer roadways in both directions of I-90 between Seattle and Bellevue, referred to as the R8A alignment. Mercer Island wants continued access to those lanes, though FHWA did not support that when they weighed in over the summer.
The city is providing frequent updates on its complicated negotiations with the different agencies.
Vision Mercer Island, a community organization created to educate Mercer Island residents about transportation issues, is watching the negotiations closely and attempting to find win/win solutions.
Some members believe that a vote on ST3 could give the city some leverage. Bassett said it was “hard to judge” if endorsing or not endorsing ST3 would enhance the city’s negotiating position.
Other cities in the area have been split in their support of ST3. The Issaquah City Council voted unanimously to endorse the measure, while the Sammamish City Council voted 5-2 vote to oppose it. The Bellevue Chamber of Commerce is also not in favor of ST3, but the Bellevue City Council voted 4-1 to support it.
The Mercer Island School Board discussed the possibility of holding a public hearing and taking a position on the measure at its Sept. 22 meeting, but decided the decision was best left up to the city.
School Board member Dave Myerson noted that Superintendent Randy Dorn has a public position (he opposes ST3 because he believes it will take property tax dollars away from education). Satisfying the McCleary decision is expected to cost at least $3 billion.
“As a school board director, I think it’s best not to wade into the city’s negotiations, and these discussions and communications are best conducted by the city,” School Board President Jorgenson said at the meeting. “That being said, I’ve offered … to the mayor and the city manager that we will support them during these negotiations.”
Former City Councilmember Mike Cero, who served from 2007 to 2014, said that the non-endorsement shows a “lack of leadership.”
“It’s irresponsible … to not make a statement on where Islanders should stand,” he said.
If approved, ST3 is slated during its 25-year building timeline to add 62 miles of light rail between Everett and Tacoma, including a 23-minute train line between Kirkland and Issaquah. ST3 would also provide more bus rapid transit and commuter parking on the Eastside.