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2/16/2017



Rail News: Passenger Rail

Mercer Island to sue Sound Transit, WSDOT over light-rail plans


Part of Sound Transit's East Link light-rail extension will operate on HOV lanes on I-90.
Photo – Sound Transit

Mercer Island, Wash., city officials are pursuing legal options against Sound Transit and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) in an effort to temporarily halt the closure of the Interstate-90 center roadway, where a portion of the agency's East Link light-rail extension would operate.

The roadway is now used as an express lane for single-occupant vehicles and high-occupancy vehicles (HOV). In June, WSDOT is slated to open a new set of HOV lanes on the outer roadways as it begins light-rail construction in the center of the highway.

However, the new lanes would be limited to HOV only, per guidance WSDOT received from the Federal Highway Administration. Barring solo drivers from accessing the lanes would create "serious traffic safety and economic-impact concerns" for Mercer Island, city officials said in a press release.

"After two years of negotiation, we still have not reached a satisfactory agreement with Sound Transit and WSDOT that would avoid the diversion of heavy commuter traffic to local neighborhood streets and school zones. No community would accept that," said Mercer Island Mayor Bruce Bassett. "With the June closure approaching, we had no other choice but to exercise our available legal options."

The city also adopted moratoria on permitting and zoning for up to six months each.

Halting the center lane's closure will give WSDOT and Sound Transit the opportunity to continue "ongoing negotiations about preserving mobility and safety for Mercer Island residents," Mercer Island city officials said.

But delaying the project could pose "significant risks of increased costs to regional taxpayers," said Sound Transit Chief Executive Officer Peter Rogoff in a prepared statement. Delays also could affect Sound Transit's plan to open the light-rail line in 2023.
 
"It is highly regrettable that the city of Mercer Island is now attempting to delay the project in mid-construction," Rogoff said. "While Sound Transit remains ready to reach solutions through negotiations, the agency will take all legal actions necessary to avoid delays or increased costs to taxpayers in fulfilling our promise to voters to complete East Link."

Despite the concerns about the new HOV lanes, Bassett reiterated residents' support for light rail as a whole.

"As a community, we still believe in the benefits the [East Link light-rail] project will provide to the region and to us," Bassett added. "But even the best public works projects bring consequences that must be taken seriously and mitigated effectively. So far, negotiations with Sound Transit and WSDOT haven’t yielded results, but we remain hopeful this issue can be resolved favorably and swiftly."

In 2008, voters in Central Puget Sound approved the East Link project as part of the Sound Transit 2 ballot measure. The 14-mile, $3.7 billion route would run from Redmond, Wash., to the future Judkins Park Station in Seattle's Central District.



Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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