Pictured is the Mercer Island East Link Light Rail project earlier this year. Courtesy of the city of Mercer Island

Pictured is the Mercer Island East Link Light Rail project earlier this year. Courtesy of the city of Mercer Island

Mercer Island prepares to take legal action against Sound Transit

Council says city has reached an impasse with agency on Bus/Rail Interchange design.

Mercer Island is considering a temporary utility tax increase to help pay for legal action against Sound Transit.

In an open letter to the community on Aug. 25, the Mercer Island City Council said that the city has reached an impasse with Sound Transit in discussions regarding the organization’s modification plans to North Mercer Way in the Bus/Rail Interchange design.

“It is essential for all Islanders to understand that the Bus/Rail Interchange, as currently proposed by Sound Transit, is in breach of the 2017 Settlement Agreement between Sound Transit and the City with the potential to adversely impact traffic patterns and public safety for all of our residents,” states the letter, posted on the city’s website.

The city will now prepare for legal action after “Sound Transit leadership refused the City’s good faith offer to engage in mediation with an independent third party as a final attempt to avoid litigation between public agencies” in August, according to the letter. Sound Transit will finalize its plans and submit its construction permit application in September 2020, according to the council.

The council has voiced concerns to Sound Transit about its plan, in which bus passengers will transfer to and from the East Link light rail. Notably, the council is in contention about the new curb cuts to accommodate bus layovers along North Mercer Way that fail to meet the terms of the settlement agreement, according to the letter. There’s also the safety issue once light rail is up and running with a multitude of bicyclists and pedestrians intermingling with cars and buses next to a packed park and ride. The council also penned an online letter to the community on May 27 that addressed these vital issues and more.

“In the midst of unprecedented public health and economic disruptions due to the pandemic, and despite diminished City finances, we believe we must resort to this course of action. We are unanimous in this approach because we believe it is in the best interest of our community now and going forward,” the letter states.

To fund the litigation, the council is considering implementing a temporary 36-month utility tax increase, which will cost the average ratepayer about $50 per year, the letter states, adding that a draft of the ordinance will be posted on the city’s website by Aug. 27. Council will review the draft at its Sept. 1 meeting and plans to take final action on the ordinance at its Sept. 15 meeting.

Residents are encouraged to speak out during the public comment portion of the council meetings or submit comments on the city’s Let’s Talk page at letstalk.mercergov.org.

The Mercer Island Reporter reached out to Sound Transit for a comment, and they attached a letter from Sound Transit CEO Peter M. Rogoff to Island City Manager Jessi Bon dated Aug. 10, five days after a city/Sound Transit meeting.

The letter reads, in part:

“Sound Transit wants very much to reach a solution for the bus intercept issue that is satisfactory to the City, is feasible for King County’s bus operations, and is safe for both Mercer Island residents and the region’s transit passengers,” the letter states.

“The City keeps insisting that we take the issue to mediation — an approach that Sound Transit has rejected with good reason. Metro was not a party to the Agreement or the underlying litigation and would not be party to any mediation. And Metro cannot be bound by any mediated resolution agreed by the City and Sound Transit,” the letter notes.

Regarding another meeting, the letter adds:

“As such, we must insist that any further meeting be conditioned on the City acknowledging that any resolution must be deemed by King County Metro to be safe, operationally feasible, and work within the confines of their existing collective bargaining agreements. Moreover, we must insist that the City abandon its threatened intent to hold up permits necessary for the delivery of the East Link project for the thousands of Seattle and Eastside residents who have waited a great many years for its arrival.”

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